I have not written in a while. I’m finding myself struggling to write, in part because my struggle isn’t really my struggle, so much as it is the struggle of a good friend.
I know few people here. I got diagnosed just after arriving, so social circle revolves around the amazing people I met at cancer support groups. But, unlike a lot of those friends, they have other friends. They have lived here their whole lives, and as a result have so many other friends, that I know are closer than I will ever be. I am a cancer friend.
Recently my hiking buddy, Lori, is dealing with the next progression in her disease. She has metastatic breast cancer. Metastatic breast cancer is the type of breast cancer that kills. It is terminal. Her life revolves around what the next treatment might be.
We started hiking together when she was on horrible chemo #1. This was a clinical trial chemo. It did a good job of stopping her cancer from growing, but it also meant that one in every three weeks she was chemo sick. The rhythm was chemo, sucky week, two good weeks, repeat. We hiked during the two good weeks.
Then that chemo stopped working. She then jumped onto another trial, of a PARP inhibitor. This one didn’t work, so she didn’t last long on that one. Then came xeloda. This one worked for a while, but caused a side effect known as “hand-and-foot syndrome” where her hands and feet went red and felt like they were burning. Her skin changed and she had no fingerprints. Her heals would crack and bleed. She described her skin as being smooth like plastic wrap. This was a pill-based chemo that she took for two weeks then had a week off. During her off week and the first week she could still hike.
While hubby and I were off on vacation, the xeloda stopped working. She had a really bad progression. It was not just tumors growing, but new tumors showing up on scans in different organs. Not good. She is now hoping to be on an immunotherapy trial starting next week. Hoping. She has not been on any chemo for more than 20 days (required for the wash-out period before joining a clinical trial). I am crossing my fingers and praying that she gets into this trial and that the immunotherapy works for her. If it does (or her next chemo does), then I’ll get my hiking buddy back – but regardless of hiking she has become a close friend and it breaks my heart when I think about losing her, but I know that is inevitable – her disease is terminal.
That is Lori’s story. My challenge has been that I have few other friends. She has a 40+ years of friends and family that want to spend time with her. I know that I am a good friend, just that she has so many people wanting to see her and very little energy to do it. I’m staying in the background, but offering up my support in any way I can. But, it is already leaving a hole in my world.
I realize that too much of my social world is either in the cancer sphere or virtual. I love my cancer friends and I love my virtual friends, but I am feeling the emptiness in the non-cancer, non-virtual sphere. It leads to loneliness, which in turn leads to depression. I know this is happening. When you add this to the weight of knowing your closest local friend is going to die, and it might be soon.
I’m struggling. I’m working on my dissertation. I’m teaching. When hubby first moved here (he moved a year before me), I started reaching out to others. I started to make friends. I was doing the emotional labor that is required to help make new friends. But then a cancer diagnosis changed that. I couldn’t go out and make new friends outside of the cancer sphere when I was in active treatment.
I’m two years out of active treatment now, and I am realizing that I need to start putting in the emotional labor of making new friends. I need to figure out what I’m doing professionally, and connecting to others that do what I do. I will try to get involved in meet-ups, so that I meet new people. Working from home makes this an extra challenge. Working on my dissertation also means that I don’t have a lot of extra time. I’m pushing to get it done, but the cost is that is that I don’t have the time or energy to seek out new connections which might lead to new friendships. But if I want to fight off depression, I know that I need to do this. Depression also slows down the dissertation process, so it does not serve me well. And so, as a first step, we are going back to church. My only non-cancer friends down here are Unitarian friends, who have started to engage with the Palo Alto Unitarian church. I’ve not been there. We will give it a try and hopefully find a new spiritual home. I think that is what I need right now more than anything, and that will help me when I have to deal with the intense grief that I know one day I will need to deal with.
If you’ve moved to a new place, what have you done to make new local friends?