Thankfully, my direct family hasn’t been touched by this cancer…touch wood. I do have a personal story from when I was young though, and it’s stuck with me (and always will).
I was about nine or ten when my best friend in primary school told me her mum had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was too young to fully comprehend what this meant. I knew she’d get sick, of course, and I knew cancer was bad, but that was about it. I’d often go over to their house, and I watched her get sicker, and her hair fell out. I knew that was what happened with cancer. She was always such a happy lady…other than no hair and looking tired, you’d never know she was sick. She always had a smile on her face and was always happy to have me over.
Things got better. I didn’t know the specifics because nobody wanted to tell kids that kind of stuff, and kids don’t talk about it with each other, but looking back I believe she must have gone into remission for a little while. Her hair started growing back, she started getting her strength back, everything started going back to normal.
A year or two later (roughly, I’m not 100% sure), my best friend once again told me her mum had cancer. Although a little older now, I was still fairly naive to what this could mean. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I knew cancer could kill people. I just could never imagine the world without her. She was too full of life, too happy. No, she’d get past this too. She had to.
I remember when my best friend told me her mum had to have her breast removed. I’d never realized that was one of the treatment options. I’d always heard people having chemotherapy, it just kind of went hand-in-hand…and I knew sometimes they cut the cancer out. I just didn’t think they’d remove whole body parts because of it. It kind of rocked my world a little bit. Nevertheless, my best friend’s mum kept her chin up. She’d gone through major surgery and she was still smiling. It can’t be that bad, I wrongly assumed. She started losing her hair again. She started looking tired, weaker. Then she went back into hospital.
“They’re saying she isn’t going to come back out.” My friend had told me. What? I thought. No. No, they must have it wrong. How could that be right? I remember wholeheartedly believing the doctors were wrong. There’s no way she’s not going to make it. She’s too friendly. Too kind. Too smiley. Her personality is too big. It’s not possible. She stayed in hospital for some time. Two weeks, three. I’m not sure exactly.
I wanted to be there for my friend. I wanted to go over to her house, keep her company, help her through it. My mum told me “no, it’s best to leave her to have family time”. I remember it clear as day. Now, my mum is usually good with advice (as I’ve come to realize), but in this instance, she was wrong. I should never have left my friend to have “family time”. Not like I did. We began drifting apart, and I’m sure I’m completely to blame. She became closer with one of our other friends…a friend that was there for her when I wasn’t. I still to this day wish I’d never listened to my mum. I feel terrible I was so distant. It wasn’t my intention, in fact, it was the opposite of my intention. I’d never been through anything even remotely like what my friend was going through, so I didn’t know what was expected. I didn’t know what she needed. All I could do was listen to the (poor) advice I was given. It still doesn’t make me feel any less guilty. I’m so sorry.
Anyway, I got a call from my friend’s new best friend, saying that she’d passed on. I remember it vividly. I was crying before the phone call had ended. I went and told mum and she broke down too. How could this happen? How could this be real? How could she just be gone?
We went to the funeral. I’d only been to one other funeral in my life, a few years before, but that was for my 97-year-old great-grandpa, who had been in a nursing home for a long time and was suffering terribly from dementia. This was totally different, and a lot sadder. Plus, I was a bit older, so I guess I knew what was going on more than the previous one. I remember the drive home, and still being a bit shellshocked about it all.
Part of me still can’t believe she’s gone…and that she’s been gone for so long. It was my first taste of what cancer can do. It has no mercy. It comes back when you think it’s gone. It choses it’s victims at random. It doesn’t matter how strong and bubbly and loved someone is, they can still be lost to it.
Rest Easy, Lynne. We all still think of you and miss you.
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