My Friend is Dying

I am a cancer survivor.  I have written about it here and here, and I plan to write a full essay on how I managed to beat it without chemo and radiation soon, but this particular essay is not really about me.  In a way, I have to talk about my feelings and experiences, because it is all intertwined, but really, this essay is about my friend.

I have known her since we were in fourth-grade, which, by my math, is 35 years now.  My family moved to Fair Oaks from the Oak Park area of South Sacramento in early 1978.  This was about halfway through fourth-grade for me, and I entered a new school as a new student with no friends.  I was able to make friends rather quickly, and I am proud to say that many of us are still friends today.

Well, let me back that up.  Grade school turned into junior high school, and many of those friendships dissipated as new cliques friendships began.  In many cases, we went our separate ways, which is typical in junior high, but some of us remained, at the very least, friendly.  Then, junior high school became high school, and even more cliques friendships emerged, and many (but not all) of the old grade school friends became strangers to each other.

In the high school hierarchy, I was the really weird kid of the lowest castes. I was a band geek, a stoner, a longhaired rocker, and painfully shy and insecure.  It is easy for me to say that the other kids were cruel and that they cast me away, but I am equally responsible, since I made no effort to fit in, or to even mumble an occasional “hello” to anyone.  Sure, I had a few friends, but I think that I was even on the fringe of that little clique of band geeks.

I actually dropped-out of high school one month before graduation.  I felt so alienated from the other kids that I could not bear even one more day there.  Moreover, I had aspirations of being a big rich rock star, so there was that.  When I left high school, I did not look back.  I did not even try to communicate in any way with anyone from my high school, which meant avoiding my old grade school friends.  I literally ducked behind bushes or corners if I saw anyone because I did not want to have anything to do with any of these people.  I believed that they hated me then, and that was something that I did not wish to relive. I had no fond memories of anyone or anything from that time.  I constructed that reality.

Fast forward 20 years, and we had our 20-year reunion in 2006.  A lot of time had passed; a lot of growing, and a lot of healing.  I personally gained a lot of inner wisdom in that time, and I felt no antipathy toward anyone from high school.  I actually wanted to go to the reunion, and when I got there, I found that I was excited to see many people; even the ones that I believed hated me in high school.  I felt that enough time had passed to make none of the old high school angst mean anything.

The most important thing for me was that all of these people had shared experiences with me and that they were a huge part of my childhood, for good or ill.  I did not feel this way in 1986, but by 2006, I thought it was odd that I spent almost every single day of my life with a certain group of individuals, during our most formative years, and then I try hard to forget their existence after high school.  I wanted to know these people again, and share experiences, memories.

This led to a reunion within a reunion.  I, with the help of a few friends, got all of the people who went to our elementary school together for a group photo and chat session, and I found that to be far more rewarding than the actual reunion.

This led to what we call the “Roberts Gang” reunion (named for the school), which was held a few years later at my friend’s house.  We always planned to have them more often, but never have.  Some live too far away, and life gets in the way, etc…

We stay in touch through FaceBook, and some of us meet up occasionally at events and whatnot, and I am glad for the rekindled friendships, however distant they may be.  These people are important to me now, and I hope that we can remain friends forever.

One of our clan, however, is dying.  I do not know the exact details, but it seems as though she will be passing very soon.  Her family is keeping a tight net around her so that she may be at peace, and we get bits of information from time to time.  She could go at any minute, or next week, or it may have happened an hour ago already.

She had breast cancer a few years ago, which went into remission, and then came back about two years ago.  This cancer spread to her lungs, throat, and brain quickly and aggressively.  She tried every single protocol that her doctors recommended, even the experimental ones, and she just got worse and worse.

I tried to help her by sharing my non-invasive protocol of diet and exercise.  I gave her recipes, and even brought her fresh veggies and meals on occasion.  However, my protocol meant a major lifestyle change, and oncologists and western doctors everywhere mocked it.  She was scared, and did whatever her doctors told her that she needed to do to prolong her life.

Note: in these kinds of situations, the doctors never say that they are going to kill the cancer or help the patient to beat it, but only to prolong the inevitable death.  How is that okay with anyone?!?!?

Anyway, I beat my pancreatic cancer with nutrition and exercise and a major lifestyle change.  I did not do the chemo and radiation that my doctor recommended, and I am healthier now than I have ever been.

Which brings me to the emotional aspect of my friend dying; I cannot help but to feel shame and bitterness that she is dying while I am healthier than ever.  Why am I okay and she is dying?  She does not deserve to die so horribly, so why do I deserve to live so healthfully?  She is a good person who has done nothing but work hard and do right for her family.  I also cannot help but be a little angry at her for not really taking my advice seriously, just as I am also deeply saddened by her sickness and loss of life.

I am also ashamed that I could not do more for her.  Our friends have done all sorts of things to help her and her family from buying groceries to paying bills to raising money for funeral costs.  My financial ruin in the past couple years prevented me from doing much for her, and I feel guilty about that.  I want to do more, but I have been so limited in my capacities.

And when she passes, I feel like a link to my childhood will also pass.  Another friend from our elementary school recently passed from a sudden heart attack, and I could not help but feel that loss, as well.  I am not ready to lose another childhood friend, for her sake as well as my own.

I never realized that loss could be so selfish.

She and I were not best friends, but she was a good friend.  She is a kind soul that loved her family and all the people in her life.  She is an important memory—a link to my past—and she is a significant participant in my reconnecting with this past and all our friends.

And of course I never told her any of this, because that is not what I do, so I also feel a little shame that I did not try harder to be a better friend when there was time.  And so, with what time is left, I write this meaningless tribute.

I love you, Connie.  Thank you for being my friend.  Rest well, and be at peace.



Filed under Cancer Musings, Deep Thoughts, man...

23 responses to “My Friend is Dying

  1. This is really hard. i hope you’ll get along it well. And may God bless your friend.

  2. My condolences to you and congratulations on being beating your own cancer!

  3. Shana Christensen Hathaway

    Joel – One of your friends shared this beautiful post with me. I happen to be the sister of this friend with cancer. It is a wonderful tribute and she would be so flattered by it. I am so glad that you have beat your cancer and hope you never have to go through all that she has. Best wishes to you!!

  4. Crystal

    Hi, this is Connies daughter
    Thank you for this honest tribute. Knowing how many people loved my mom makes loosing her a little easier.
    I appreciate the support through these difficult times

    • Thank you Crystal. I wrote this as a way for me to process how I feel about all of this. I had no idea that any of Connie’s family would read this. I wasn’t sure that I would publish this in the first place, but if this helps you in any way at all, then I am glad that I did. Be at peace.

  5. Sherilyn

    Wow! The tears are streaming down my face. Connie is also a friend of mine and Shana is my sister-in-law. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences. I think many of us have had feelings like you expressed in your well written tribute. Thank you for sharing so candidly your feelings. I think is it always hard for those left behind when one passes, we almost grieve for ourselves. We know the person who left us is in a much better place and freed from pain, but we are left to carry on. To try to live a little better, smile a little more, do things for others and try to brighten someone elses day so in some little way we can spread a bit of sunshine for all those who watch over us from above.

    • Thank you Sherilyn. I just wrote this as a way to get it out. I almost didn’t publish it, and I certainly did not expect my FaceBook friends to pass it on to their friends, and ultimately Connie’s family. I am happy for the positive responses that I got from my little post. She was dear to me. I just needed a way to process my grief. I am relieved that she is free from her suffering now, but I am sad that she is gone. Ultimately, I am just blessed to have called her a friend.

  6. It’s never too late to tell her. I am glad she has your good energy sent in her direction.

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  8. Boy this is a tough one but your writing is so beautiful, honest, raw, authentic, painful, lovely, engaging… and my heart is with you, that you may continue know health, and joy for many years to come. Paulette

  9. These are the questions. You’ve addresses some of them so well. Some of us will sail through life with ne’er a health concern, bu with cruddy family relationships. Others will have glistening family relationships but cancer. SOme get cancer, abuse, war and poverty. Others escape from here relatively unscathed with health, mind, country and bank account intact. But they might never learn the essentials of what it means to be human, and to be human means to join the ranks of the suffering. we come here to learn, and pain is a strict school master. When we’ve known pain, we’re hopefully more inclined rush to the side of those who are in it.

    You’ve suffered and rushed to a friend’s side to suffer with her. An example to us all. Thanks for writing this.—Melissa

  10. I’m so sorry. This must have been tough for you, but I really hope you won’t blame yourself any more. My sister died of cancer and, like your friend, she took everything the doctors said as gospel. She was afraid to try anything else. It was no one’s fault–it was her choice.

  11. Please write an entry about how you beat the cancer. I am so happy for you. I lost my mother to cancer… and we also left modern medicine and used a special form of diet and exercise. Unfortunately, it was too late for her. I think your story is amazing.

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