I already posted earlier this month about my grandmother. Today I’m going to post about my friend, Donna.
When I met Donna, a little over two years ago, she’d just finished a double mastectomy and a round of chemo to fight cancer still affecting lymph nodes and her skin. She suffered from lymphedema, a condition that causes swelling in arms or legs. In her case it was her right arm.
Did you know that lymph nodes are an essential part of your body? I didn’t. Sure, I took basic Biology and heard about the crazy bone and muscle memorizing tests friends took in Anatomy, but I never learned that lymph nodes regulate the fluid in your body. Until I started seeing my friend’s arm swell a little more every day.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because the cancer required the doctor to remove more lymph nodes in that area then others and now my cells can’t disperse fluid evenly,” she said.
Then came the news the cancer wasn’t really gone, she wasn’t in remission. More rounds of chemo treatment came. More stress, continuous doctor appointments, and my friend in pain. Finally, a leave of absence from work was required. Something she’d avoided, but needed to take, since her surgery.
That’s right, Donna, a divorced, mother of two, couldn’t even take the requisite time from work to recover from her illness because she had to take care of her children and her mother. She didn’t have a good support structure because we as humans tend to be less empathetic unless we can visibly see your suffering. We’re assholes. Donna was tough so she put on a strong face for everyone and tried to pretend it was always alright, when it wasn’t.
The months during which she disappeared from life allowed me to see her one time. She’d looked fine then, arm still swollen, but upbeat and positive. Two months later I got a disturbing text from her saying something about wanting to die. I never could get her on the phone, but turns out the cancer was winning. No chemo treatment option worked, so she stopped taking them. No amount of rest staved off the problem, and then she got sick. Immune system compromised and with an infection in her swollen arm, Donna succumbed to the devil of cancer on 5/14/2014.
Before I met Donna I’ll admit to being ignorant of a lot of potential problems or situations cancer survivors face. Sure you can have the breasts removed, but there is more to it then a simple surgery.
We need to get educated on cancer, know the complications, the challenges, and the pains that are faced so we can stop being assholes, stop being disconnected from the truth. Stop pretending the simple solution is to buy a pink, rubber band to wear or simply wear a pink t-shirt. No, we need to find ways to help. Have a friend recovering cancer, offer to cook a well-balanced healthy meal. Spend time with them, not to offer comfort, but to be a person who they can talk to. Be a friend by always being there and not expecting them to return the favor.
I’m not only screaming for a cure. I’m screaming for people to embrace those attempting to recover and find a way to help.
Losing Donna hurts. She was a friend and I miss her. This battle isn’t over, we’ll still lose ones we love, but the way to win the war is to do everything within our power to educate, empathize, and embrace.