Friends: How many of us have them?
I just think it's funny how -- Yeah, you know when a black woman leads with that it’s about to get good.
I just think it's funny how people that I’ve known only a few months have stepped up and been there for me more than people that I've known for decades.
Before you title me, Cancer-Zilla, let me break down my expectations of people going into my Breast Cancer journey. I had none. And if you want me to be completely honest, my motto has always been, “The people that are supposed to show up for you, WILL.”
Let me break down what I mean by “showing up”. Showing up means, “Hey girl. I know you are fighting for your life, and I know if anyone is going to kick this bitch’s ass, it's YOU.” Simple enough. I wasn’t expecting people to get on the first flight to come hold my hand. Even though some people did. Or drive through the night to lend me their shoulder to cry on. People did that too. This post is not about that. This post is about being a good human.
People will show up in droves to laugh and sip cocktails. Most of us can do that with our eyes closed. But what’s the protocol when we have to take a break from laughing because shit isn’t funny anymore?
I know that many of my family and friends have never experienced having someone in their early 30’s fighting breast cancer. But guess what? I was most peoples guinea pig. And I’m happy to have been.
This isn’t meant to be some whiny post about how I didn't have enough support. I had an outpouring of love and support from my wonderful tribe. But there's always a few who fumble that you wish hadn’t. My father is one of them. He has fumbled on having a consistent presence in my life for my entire life. So when a time like this unfortunately arrives, you expect certain people to catch the ball. For whatever reason, he could not. To be honest, it wasn’t surprising but it still doesn’t make it any less disappointing. I had friends who fumbled as well. And I don’t know about any of my other breasties, but even though you may be showered with love and support, certain people’s absence from the fight can sting a little.
Most people jumped up immediately and reached out to me. Others stood frozen like statues. Paralyzed by their nerves. or frankly too self-involved or cowardly to say anything at all. Let me tell you something, THIS is one of few times that it’s not about YOU.
I understand raising kids keeps you busy. I understand the intimidating grad school classes or the crazy work schedule. I even understand not knowing what the heck you could possibly say to make someone fighting cancer feel better. I get all of that. But it's still not an excuse. Even though you see me smiling and thriving and trying to live my life like I haven’t missed a beat, this is a disease that could have killed me. And even though I may be fighting and winning physically, there is a whole mental aspect that I’m fighting that I haven’t shown my followers on Instagram. When I don't have a sectional couch filled with visitors from end to end -- there’s a loneliness that fills the room. When I’m not posting a selfie rocking my poppin lip and “Slay Cancer” hat —there’s still real shit going on.
“Showing up” is taking 5 minutes out of your day to make a quick phone call or sending a quick text to let me (US) know we’re on your mind. It's remembering to ask how I'm feeling during ”Hell Week” or just calling to say ”hey girl heeeey!!!
I had so many people reaching out to me in the beginning. Everything was so fresh. “Homegirl just got married and now she's about to lose her titties. I better call her.” Yes, it's a shocker. The shock still hasn't gone away for many of us. Myself especially. But what happens after the initial diagnosis? What happens after the surgery is done? The double mastectomy is just one of many hurdles. Chemo was MAJOR. And life after cancer is another hurdle all in itself. It’s all such a heavy process no matter how easy anyone makes it look.
I’ve received more flowers than a flower shop. They are beautiful and I’ve appreciated every single bouquet. I've received care packages galore that include everything from fuzzy socks that say ”Fuck Cancer”, special teas to help with nausea, cute scarves to cover my bald head, a doll that you can punch to get out your frustrations, and sage bundles to help get rid of the bad ju-ju. But you know what a cancer patient (like me) appreciates most? Your presence.
There are people who live across the country who have checked in regularly, cheered me on before a chemo session or have checked on my sanity after. Then there's my friend Craig who has made me cry from laughter with all of his hilarious made up of scenarios of me wearing a wig and it sliding off in public .
I have friends who have called me and asked if they can come to make MJ and I breakfast on a Saturday/Sunday morning following chemo. There are the friends who called to ask if they can fly in or drive over to come to lay with me on the couch. Then there were people who I thought didn't know me well enough to care, who made their presence felt every step of the way by just DM’ing me or shooting me a text to let me know they're thinking of me and cheering me on. I’ve had old classmates from college that I haven’t spoken to in 10 years, reach out to me.
It's not about plane tickets, gifts or anything material. It's about being a part of my cheer squad. Consistently. That is what has offered me comfort. It has made me feel like I have this huge army behind me that isn’t going to let me fall. No matter how brave the persona or how big the smile, there is still a little fear and a little sadness there.
Don't get it confused. I’m not mad. I’m just being honest. Maybe you didn’t realize. Maybe you still don’t. What I will say to you is that I noticed every person that made their presence felt and I noticed every person who sat in silence. If you're rooting for me in silence are you really rooting for me?
Not knowing what to say doesn't mean that you get to sit there in shock because you can’t find the words. It doesn’t mean you get to say NOTHING because “I saw that you had so many other people supporting you.” What if I want YOUR support too? Find the time. Find the words. Look under the sofa cushions. The words that you can’t seem to find might be down there with the change and the bobby-pins.
Here are a few things you can do the next time you have a friend/family member fighting for their life:
Don’t overthink it - Pick up the phone. You can talk about it or not talk about it. If the topic makes you nervous and you don’t know what to say, that’s fine. The person fighting this disease is probably tired of talking about it anyway. It will be nice to hear from you.
It doesn’t matter if we haven’t spoken in years - If at any point we called each other friends, I would like to hear from you. Doesn’t have to be a phone call. It could be a text or an email or even a Facebook message.
Throwback Thursday can be any day of the week! -Sometimes when you’re suffering or in a dark place, it’s hard to see that you will make it through this. An old picture or a funny memory can put a big smile on their face. If there is one thing I love to do, it is to reminisce.
Time > Gifts - The most meaningful things that I received during my battle with breast cancer was the folks that gave me their time. It’s easy to just go on with your day to day life but I truly appreciated the people that came to visit me. Near and far. Even for just an hour or two.
Thoughtfulness - Some of my best friends kept a calendar of my appointments. A tad excessive but very thoughtful and much appreciated. They’d call me after an appointment and ask me how it went or wish me luck going into the appointment. This bullet is a little extreme, I know. But even if you could do something on a micro level of this, it would be very heartwarming.
Check on the patient AND the caregiver - That deserves a post all its own. (COMING SOON)
Write it out - Maybe you are better with expressing yourself via paper/email. That’s fine too! We know it’s not always easy to express yourself verbally. If writing it out works better for you, Go for it!
No matter what you do, don’t be silent. Don’t stand still. Get that throat chakra together and find your voice! The person fighting needs to hear it. ☺️
Lastly, thank you to all of the people in my tribe that showed up for me day after day, week after week, month after month. Even when you didn’t know what to say but called anyway, I appreciated it. Even if you couldn't get on a plane, but you called to check on me on the days I couldn’t get out of bed or didn’t want to open the blinds, thank you for being my light. Thank you to the wonderful people in my tribe that kept me laughing because that is what I love to do most. Thank you to my prayer warriors who did not cease. Thank you to my entire tribe for loving me and fighting with me.