Months ago, I received a text message from one of my closest friends. She’s the godmother to my girls, the kind of heart friend who’s walked miles beside me through the ups and downs of life. Lots of life. (College, love and marriage the births our kids, divorce and death–yup, we’ve done it all together. And, now, this too.)
The text read: “I’m in the waiting room. I just had a mammogram. They think I have cancer.”
My heart skipped a beat. I took a deep breath and thought silently, “Oh God, I can’t lose her too.”
She did indeed have cancer, Stage 3.
I flew down a couple of weeks later, just a few days before she was scheduled to have a double mastectomy.
We meditated every day, and the final day before the surgery, I held her as she cried—the same way she had held me years earlier during my grief.
I was there when she went in for her second round of chemo and sat with her through the struggle with nausea, that deep heart-stirring, gut-wrenching struggle when your body is hurting–and so is your soul.
And, I offered to be there whenever she needed me to be. I said, “I’ll fly in any time you ask.” She didn’t ask though.
Instead, what she needed from everyone was to step back from her physically, but to hold space for her through thought and prayer. She retreated inward for the duration of her chemo. She had one good week each month, the other three weeks were a sea of sickness.
I sent her text messages often that read: “I love you, and I’m praying that you have a good day.”
I told members of her family and her friends, “Let her be. Just stop in with food for her family but don’t expect her to come out and visit. Just let her know that you’re there. That’s all. Let her decide what’s right for her.”
One of the things we had discussed early on was that this was her time to learn true self-care. And that meant potentially disappointing those who wanted to “help”–those who couldn’t help but make “helping” about themselves.
You see, it’s not helpful when the person who is ill feels like she must make you feel better because you’re worried.
In the face of sickness and sorrow, the single best thing you can do is simply be available–by phone, in person, or however your friend chooses to express that he or she needs support. Just be there when they ask, and check in often with simple reminders that you’re holding space for them.
We all heal in our own way.
My friend has wisdom. She sees the cancer as her wake up call to live differently.
My friend is on her way to being a survivor and awakening to her health and deeper emotional well-being. She is learning to put herself higher on the totem pole with better practices of self-care. She has cared for everyone else for years; this season is her time–a shift that’s beautiful, necessary, and healing.
She says, “Cancer arrived to wake me up. I will heal my mind with my intention to let go of my worries and choose to live my life differently from here on out. This is a gift.”