I Need to Address the Elephant in the Room: Cancer

Heartbreak and loss trail behind us every day in the cancer world. But so does understanding, friendship and love.

Yesterday, my friend Katie died. She was 35 years old, beautiful, and one of the funniest people I’ve ever known. Katie and I met because of our shared title of “cancer patient.”

We became friends because of our mutual love of things like “Spicy Sprite” (the amazing Sprite only sold at McDonald’s) and dark humor. I never met Katie in person. I will never get to meet her in person. Still, I will never be the same without Katie.

So much of cancer feels isolating and lonely. It’s hard to believe that anyone feels like you do. As much as you try to explain the experience to your friends or family — they just don’t get it.

How do I explain that cancer has fundamentally changed every fiber of my being? How do I articulate that I am equal parts grateful and sad to have survived? I never had to explain any of this to Katie. She just understood. It was her reality too.

With the growth of the online cancer space, it is so much easier to find other people who “get it.” When you are diagnosed with cancer you join a “club” you never asked for. A membership we all would have turned down. However, I have met some of the most amazing people because of cancer. I have also lost some of the most amazing people because of cancer.

In the past few weeks there have been several profound losses across the cancer community. The second we find a way forward from one loss — there’s another. The heartbreaking elephant in the room we all live with has trampled us. A reminder that death is an inevitable and constant member of our community.

When Katie died, I found myself feeling lost. Not only because she was my friend, but because nobody in my “real life” knew she was my friend. Sure, I spoke about her here and there but no one outside of the cancer community understands who she was to me.

No one outside of the cancer community can understand just how deeply our cancer friends “see” us. I want to talk about her. I want to hear stories about her. I want to be at her memorial service. I want to keep her in my life. Grief is uncomfortable and even more so when it feels like you’re grieving a ghost.

Heartbreak and loss trail behind us every day in the cancer world. But so does understanding, friendship and love. My life is forever better because of the amazing people that cancer has brought into my life. Despite the grief and pain — I would choose them every single time. Katie, I am toasting a “Spicy Sprite” in your honor. I love you.

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