My best friend’s struggle with cancer may be over

…but my struggle with her passing continues. September is cancer awareness month. In honor of my best friend’s struggle with cancer, here is my story.

When a loved one dies after a long illness, there is a period where you are grateful that it is over. Not for you, but for the patient. As I have seen too many times, the last days, weeks, sometimes even months of cancer are nothing to look forward to. Let’s be honest. Not for the patient, nor the people around.

And a year after my best friend, Suzanne passed away after a long fight with cancer I am still struggling with images from those last months overshadowing the good memories I want to have of her.  But one thing is unchanged. I am thankful for is that it is over. All the people she loved wish this story had a different ending, but we knew it was a battle she could not win.

Suzanne was vivacious and opinionated, strong and the best friend you can think of. That showed, as when she got sick, her friends all rallied around her and helped with caregiving right through the end. It forged new friendship among us. She built lasting friendships, for herself, and for others. I will always admire her for that. And it makes me miss her more.

I remember the moment well, when she told me about a lump on her breast and we took another sip of wine and laughed about how she’d always thought she would have a little correction as gravity started to take a toll. Not for one moment did we think this would be the start of the end. But only weeks later after her diagnosis the disease that had already spread, we had to face the fact that we needed to get everything possible from life in time that was now short.

Next, you knew, all of us who helped here were living a never-ending to-do list. From bucket list to organizing who got what trip with her, to scheduling lunches and other life events. And more and more, those schedules and systems revolved around care instead of quality time – we could plan care, but fun was more ephemeral, more spontaneous, and we had to take what we could get. The lives of all of the people giving care had to be flexible, built around making as many good memories as possible while dealing with the bad ones that we were building at the same time — whether we wanted to or not.

The first year was packed with a grueling schedule of chemo and radiation and I still have no idea how Suzanne managed to handle it all and still have the passion and determination to fill her free time with travel, socializing, and love. We all were, of course, keeping on our brave faces. We made chemo trips fun picnics and doctor appointments dry and scientific, because that is what she needed. My last trip with Suzanne was to Scotland and while the trip was doomed from the start with lice (don‘t ask), minor accidents, and 4-wheel mishaps (yes, my fault), it my last memory of Suzann that is untainted by doctors, tasks, or caretaking.

We had a short burst of hope when a new medication was out and approved, but it was not meant to be. Suzanne suddenly got worse and within a few short weeks, she was gone.

Dealing with what happened will still take time for me. For almost a year after she passed, there were still to-dos – things to take care of. But those also kept me close to her in a strange way. They made me think of her and deal with what had happened. And through this year, some of her friends became mine. I am very grateful to Susan for that. While I would have loved more time to create more memories with Susan, I know that it was better for Susan to go quickly.

She gave me her friendship for 26 years and new me better than my own family, and then left me with new friendships. Almost as if to help me remember and keep her alive in our hearts.