The first time I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I only told a handful of people. I was faced with the decision between a lumpectomy and radiation or a mastectomy. I wanted to make this choice with as little “noise” as possible. Instead, I wanted to rely on the guidance of my doctors, my intuition, and my faith.
I didn’t announce my breast cancer diagnosis until twelve days after I had my bilateral, direct-to-implant mastectomy. I was bombarded with medical appointments and anxiety leading up to the surgery day. Afterward, I had a six-week recovery. I felt it was best to take time to process what had happened and was happening to me before I brought others in to my journey.
I spent an hour drafting and editing a post to my personal social media account. I shared that I had breast cancer, then surgery, and then got the happy news that I was NED (no evidence of disease). Despite all the good news I’d received, my recovery would be long and difficult. Additionally, I had experienced trauma—and I knew that healing my mental health would take far longer than my physical.
After posting, I received many supportive, encouraging comments. Some friends brought us dinner, dropped off coffee on our porch, offered to watch our children, and asked if we needed any rides to medical appointments. I was surrounded with people who loved and cared about us. But not everyone in my circle was so kind.
Three friends ghosted me after I posted that I had breast cancer. None of them slowly faded away, either. This was cold ghosting. There one day, gone the next. It took me years to get over their absence, which honestly felt like betrayal and abandonment. I asked myself, over and over, who dumps a friend with breast cancer?
I think one of two things could have happened. The first is that these three women were never my real friends to begin with. I look at friendships a little like marriages. We have vows—though they aren’t spoken in front of a congregation. True friends should be ride-or-die, for richer or poorer, and definitely in sickness and in health. Divorce shouldn’t be readily on the table—but in our case, this is the option they chose.
“I don’t know why they ditched me, but I suspect that for some people, proximity to mortality is too much for them.”
I already experienced anger with my own body that decided to go rogue and somehow let cancer in. How could these women just dump me, as if we didn’t have a history together—and frankly, what I thought was a good history? I was in one of their weddings, serving as a bridesmaid. I helped throw a baby shower for another. I attended their children’s birthday parties, staying afterward to clean up empty cups and cake crumbs. These were women I exchanged intimate details with — not just acquaintances. I spent too much time asking myself if I was too much or what was wrong with me.
Eventually, I realized I did nothing wrong. After all, I didn’t choose cancer. Also, excuse me that my life-threatening disease interrupted our good times? I wasn’t the problem.
This led me to — and please bear with me — have empathy for these women. I don’t know why they ditched me, but I suspect that for some people, proximity to mortality is too much for them. This is the second reason I feel that perhaps some friends ditch those in a health crisis. You know, the idea of “too close for comfort.” Perhaps something about me getting cancer triggered them to the point they simply couldn’t handle being my friend anymore. For their own mental stability, they chose to bid me farewell — abruptly.
Yet, they should be the brave ones on this journey, right? I’m supposed to be the patient—fighting, resting, and healing. They are supposed to show up with cinnamon rolls, offer to clean our house, and send a funny card. But they didn’t, and I had to accept it.
I wanted to, in my weeks upon weeks of lying in my bed recovering, contact them and find out what went awry. However, the more my body healed, the more my mind was strengthened. I knew it wouldn’t be healthy for me to chase these women down and implore them to give me an explanation. Plus, what if I didn’t like what they had to say? I knew I had to spend my energy fighting cancer and recovering from surgery — not beating down their doors and pathetically begging for answers.
It’s been five years since I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. Three years after my first diagnosis, I had a recurrence in my chest wall. More surgeries, twelve rounds of chemo, thirty-three radiation treatments, and a year of immunotherapy followed. I’m exhausted and grateful.
I look back at the three who ghosted me, and I sometimes wonder how they are now. Has enough time passed that if we saw each other, there would be some gentle understanding between us? I’m not sure. I do know that I’m a much different person now than I was five years ago, and I imagine they are, too.
I’ve chosen to forgive them silently and privately. They never came to me and apologized or explained why they ghosted me, nor do I expect them to at this point. I forgave them for the sake of my own healing, but obviously, I have not forgotten — and never will.
I wish them the best in their lives—wherever they are and whatever they are doing. (Maybe they are even reading this?) I hope that whatever caused them to dump me in my time of need has been resolved. Breast cancer has taught me that life is too fragile and unpredictable to cling to what’s no good.
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