What I learned from my best friend's brave battle with cancer
The day my best friend was diagnosed with cancer was the beginning of a three and a half year journey of blood transfusions, chemotherapy, surgeries, radiation, and scans of every sort. You name it, she was getting it; while I watched from the sidelines. It was a journey of fear, sadness, love, connection, and growing up. We were both fourteen when she was diagnosed, and seven years into our friendship.
Being the best friend of someone with cancer at a young age is a balancing act. I was always walking a fine line between supporting her and not intruding on the family. Even though her family always treated me as one of them, the fact is, I wasn’t. This led to things like sitting with them in the surgery waiting room one day, and then not hearing from anyone for the next three. You never want to bother them by calling, but until you do hear from them, your day is on pause, the fear overwhelming. But I always knew it was so much worse for her family, and I never wanted to add to their stress load. They were immersed in cancer all the time, while I was able to go home at the end of the day.
Whenever she needed me, I would be there. My biggest role was distraction. I would come in when my friend was tired of being in the hospital, when a scary new procedure was happening, when she was feeling crabby, or when the family needed a moment to themselves. I brought a connection to the outside world in a way her family couldn’t. She was missing out on a lot of teenage things and used to joke about living vicariously through me. I brought my homework to the hospital so we could sit and do it together. I brought my homecoming dress to the hospital, so she could give me an opinion on whether I should add the flower pin to it or not. I took her with me to be in my graduation pictures.
I didn’t only go to the hospital when she needed me. Not being there was often a lot scarier than being there, and when I was with my friend, it seemed impossible to me that she was dying. She was always so vibrant and cheerful. But going wasn’t just about getting rid of the fear — I also wanted to see my friend. Even though our friendship dynamic had changed so that I was supporting her a lot of the time, she still supported me in other ways. I would tell her about my petty problems, and she always treated them as important as anything else. She was still the first person I wanted to call when anything went right or wrong in my life. School sucked at the time. It was a place where I felt I had to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. When I was with her I got to be myself and I could feel good about who that was.
She passed away when we were both seventeen. Even though I knew it was coming, it was still a shock. Losing her so young made it clear to me that I’m not invincible either. We all know that one day we will die, but after losing her it really hit me. No one is off limits. That’s a pretty terrifying and all-consuming thing to realize, but eventually it just becomes a fact: I’m going to die. People I love are going to die and there isn’t a way to stop it. Instead of fearing that all the time, the best thing to do is to live my life the best I can. For me, that is being with the ones I love, and following my passions. And while maybe that sounds a little cliché, I can’t think of anything more true.
A born and raised Vancouver, BC girl, Roselie LeBlanc is an undergraduate student studying Creative Writing and Political Science at the University of British Columbia. When not living vicariously through Mindy Lahiri and Leslie Knope she can be found working at a bookstore where she lives vicariously through the characters in the books. You can check her out on Twitter @roselieleblanc and Instagram @roselieleblanc.
(Image via Francesco Bongiorni.)