Local Support

There are moments in life—oh, life, you are so hilarious—when everything turns on its head. And then there are moments, say, five years later, when everything turns again. And yet nothing is the same as it was the before it changed the first time, and you wind up cross-eyed and kinda nauseous.

One of my dear friends, Amanda, has just been diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. It’s bad, and it sucks, and there are basically no other words. I mean there are—some of them are Latiny medical words and some of them are very bad words and almost all of them are adjectives, but none of them mean anything except cancer. Cancer that has made itself quite at home in Amanda’s body, in a bunch of places, without so much as telling her it was squatting until she bought a house, moved in, thought she’d tweaked her knee, and the MRI showed a tumor. It wasn’t until two weeks and five appointments later that the focus shifted from suspected lymphoma to, “Wait, no… not lymphoma. Breast.”

Everything changed when that word entered the conversation. Suddenly the PET scan that looked “unsurprising” when they thought it was lymphoma was a whole different ball game, and the bases were loaded.

It’s funny, in that not-at-all-humorous way… every time I would hear about someone diagnosed with stage IV cancer, I would think, “How did they not feel something was different?” Now I know the answer. Amanda was diligent about her health; her father died at age 34 from cancer, and she is obsessive about annual physicals, blood work, colonoscopies, and, yes, a mammogram every year since she turned 40. She had one less than a year ago. Clear. But mammograms in women under 50 are much less effective because the tissues are still dense, and Amanda is 43. And though she did notice a change that may indicate inflammatory breast cancer about a year ago, and did go to two or three doctors to check it out, all the tests came back clean. Amanda is also cursed with a useless metabolism, and her weight hid the “very enlarged” lymph nodes under her arm that only showed up in scans. There was just no way to know.

She is feeling every emotion you can imagine. She’s cried so much that she doesn’t think she can cry anymore, and then she does.

Her family is very small and not local, so there are five of us who live within an hour who will be her “on the ground” care team. I asked her, sitting in the car after the watershed appointment where the breast surgeon told her what we were dealing with, who she felt comfortable with knowing all her intimate details and being there even on her worst days. She gave me the names. We’ve already launched a small operation to keep things organized and keep each other informed as we take turns accompanying Amanda to appointments and, going forward, treatments and post-treatment days. We are functioning exactly as we did in our jobs when we worked together: project managing and troubleshooting, thinking of everything we can in the early going so that things might be a tiny bit easier later. There’s a Google Drive and a calendar and a binder and a lot of coordinating amongst ourselves so that everything goes seamlessly to anyone who might observe from outside.

Now there’s a new name on the list, one Amanda didn’t mention at first, but said she was okay with when Liz asked, and while she’s not a full-on member of Local Support (bra logo pending), she’s already the exposed underwire that’s going to poke the shit out of me.

She’s my old boss.

Terri has Hodgkins Disease, and she’s currently in relapse number four. She also has a manipulative personality and a tendency to want to be in charge of, and wield power over, everyone. She’s not Amanda’s friend, but when Amanda thought she had lymphoma, she reached out to Terri for guidance. It made total sense, and Terri still has valuable insight that will help Amanda, and that is all that matters.

But Terri treated me horribly pretty much every day for four and a half years, threatened on paper and in person to fire me, humiliated me, ignored me, called me names, and made me miserable, and I’ve only been away from her for 13 gloriously liberating, rebuilding months. And now she’s part of this.

The whole care team used to work for Terri; Liz still does. She doesn’t have a problem with Terri, but knows my history and was sensitive enough to ask me if it was okay to give her my email address and if it was okay to invite her to a team meeting we’re having Tuesday night at Liz and her wife Molly’s house. I told her Amanda needs Terri’s insight, and that’s all that matters.

And then the chest pains started and I realized I’m going to need to get a new anti-anxiety med prescription, because apparently I can handle my sweet friend having stage IV breast cancer, but I can’t handle having to deal with Terri again. Terri, who emailed me seconds after I gave Liz permission to share my email address, seemingly to say not much of anything, and then, after a few really courteous exchanges, said, “I know it’s a shitty way to reconnect, but I’m glad we are. Still miss you here…”

And then I yelled at the screen and threw up.

(I only actually did one of those things.)

I met Amanda, as well as Alicia and Miriam and Liz, when I started my old job, not quite six years ago. The four of us were like an internal support group in a rough industry, constantly keeping each other laughing, helping each other with the work, or listening to each other’s gripes. I met Molly when Liz, during a snowstorm, offered to have me stay at their place, two miles from work instead of my 50,  because we had to work the next day. Together, we have all been through a raft of ridiculousness.  Of all of us, Amanda left first. I left a few months later; Alicia and Miriam left on the same day, seven months after that.

Miriam (who also hates Terri) reminded me that sometimes the Devil has an answer, so you talk to the Devil about that one thing and you ignore the rest. I’m going to try to keep that in mind. It occurred to me that this is what some families must endure… that sense of being thrown into something awful with someone who has caused a great deal of pain, because someone else needs them both at the same time.

I just got home from spending much of the day at Amanda’s house with her, her friend Noel from college, and another of our former coworkers. There’s a weird sense of conflict within me about giving non-team members any information on Amanda’s illness. I’m fiercely protective and I don’t want others to know more than she’s comfortable with sharing, but when they ask you point-blank and Amanda’s not yet home from Target, it’s an awkward situation.

I’ve known about Amanda’s cancer, in whatever form it was going to take, for two weeks, and I’ve already learned so much. Some of it is about myself. And it may be uglier and more insidious than triple-negative stage IV possibly inflammatory breast cancer. Tomorrow morning, Alicia takes Amanda to her first radiation appointment to try to get a handle on her somewhat debilitating pain, and in the afternoon, I take her to her first meeting with her medical oncologist, who will determine and order all her chemo treatments and coordinate with the breast surgeon and the radiation oncologist about others. And Tuesday, Terri and I sit down with the rest of Local Support, bra logo pending, and figure out how to hold Amanda up without fraying at the edges.




15 thoughts on “Local Support

  1. It is so important and good that you are supporting your friend this way. Local Support will be your friend’s last and greatest hope. As a cancer survivor, I can’t tell you how much what you are doing matters.

  2. Maybe cancer has gotten rid of some of Terri’s aggressive, negative behaviour. God knows if she’s going to bully anything it should be her disease and not you or anyone else. Easier said than done, I know, but don’t let her get to you. She’s back in your life for only one reason and that’s to see (and help) your friend through a terrible ordeal. The Universe works in mysterious ways. Maybe part of her healing journey is to make things right with you. you never know. Very sorry about your friend. That is just rotten. It’s a wonderful thing you are doing. Keep focused on that. It’s all that matters. Google can be your best friend, btw. Read lots. There could be some good clinical trials out there. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of her doctors and medical team.

    • To date, Google has been a horrible bitch. But I have access to academic journals, so that’s where I’m headed. Amanda, on the other hand… I’m going to break the internet. The stats aren’t good, and none of us like her reading them. They have nothing to do with her.

      But you are right about Terri, and I have thought that maybe this experience will teach me a few things. Unfortunately, we have known Terri through her entire ordeal, and although my heart goes out to her about her illness, I can tell you, as can many of my former coworkers, that it has not made her a nicer person It’s a shame. But we are focused on Amanda, and that’s all there is to that!

      • It is a shame, but that’s her problem and her loss. You’re there for Amanda and that’s all that matters. Thankfully there’s a group of you. You can support each other, while you are supporting your friend. I know from personal experience, from caring for my mother and a gravely ill friend, how important it is to have someone to talk to who knows what you’re going through. Sometimes we just need a shoulder to cry on. Good luck to all of you. Positive thoughts …

  3. So sorry to hear your friend’s news. Glad she has a great group of friends who are stepping up to support her. While things are intense now – as more is known and you settle into routines, you’ll likely be able to minimize contact with Terri. And who knows – maybe she has a different (better) persona outside of work? Or maybe her sincere interest in helping Amanda will help you see a different, more redemptive side of her over the coming months? Or maybe – despite the bad – the perspective from this whole ordeal will make even the ugly in the process seem like a gift. In any case – good luck, much strength and many hugs. It’s not fun.

    • Thank you. Hugs back. I’m just home from today’s appointment and post-appointment dinner and processing. Today I didn’t care in the slightest about Terri being involved. It may be tense sometimes, but it’s not about either of us,

  4. I’m so sorry about your friend. Your support, and the support of all of her close friends, will mean the world to her in the months to come. And you’re right – it’s all about her now, even if that means you have to lie down with the devil.

    • Thank you, Peg-O. I have trepidation, but I’m over my initial irritation. I think the high level of anxiety and concern at the moment made the idea worse, but Terri has been very helpful so far without horning in, and I truly do appreciate that.

  5. I am so sorry. It is proof of the insidiousness of the disease that each of us has at least one cancer story. Muri was diagnosed with breast cancer almost fifteen years ago and fortunately, radiation, two surgeries and tamoxifen seem to have put an end to it. But every six months the mammogram brings several weeks of worries and more if there is a false alarm. I have lost one friend to a brain tumor … I was there when he passed … and my sister-in-law, who was one of my favorite people on the planet, to abdominal cancer. Each loss has changed me, in some ways for the better, made me value life and their memories more than I thought possible. Regarding Terri, I will tell you that my business partner can be one of the coldest people I know, yet, when his brother and sister-in-law were killed in an auto accident. he became a different person for a while. It was the only time we were close beyond professionally. So I hope Terri will be different in this situation. But I can tell you that we honor our friends by standing by their sides when it hurts the most, and regardless of how Amanda’s cancer plays out, you will treasure the time spent and how it changes you. Take care. You and Amanda are in my prayers.

    • Thank you so much, Bud. I know you have suffered terrible heartache and heartbreak because of cancer, and I appreciate greatly your thoughts. I am, days later, feeling a little embarrassed by my feelings about Terri. My anxieties kick up all over again when I feel like I have to deal with her, and I remain cautious. But this is obviously not about me in the slightest, and it will be what it will be between Terri and me. Her own battle with cancer has not changed her (and I am not the only person who would tell you that, so I know it’s not my bias speaking), but she has been very helpful so far, and that is so appreciated. Wild horses aren’t going to drag me from Amanda – though, of course, she could shove me if she wants – so the only concern with Terri is whether my flaws manifest themselves enough to cause tension in Local Support. My job is to keep that from happening.

      Thank you for your kindness… now, and always.

  6. It is SO important that Amanda has friends to support her and to advocate for her through the medical process. So many people without local family feel they must go it alone. And it’s amazing that you’re all keeping good notes through a central repository. That will be invaluable. Kudos.
    And your “acceptance” of “Terri” on the team may ultimately help you deal with a worm that is eating your insides, as well. Peace!

    • I think that might be true, Joanne. At least, I hope it is. Terri has a lot to handle with her own treatments, and I hope for the best in her case, as well. Amanda’s friends are glad to be able to help. I keep thinking we all have to take care of each other – we’re all away from family and we’re all happily unmarried, so we all need our girlfriends!

  7. I am so sorry about your friend. My father in law has lung cancer and the family is his local support right now. It’s crazy and amazing the level of medical jargon and procedures you learn about with something like that. You are an excellent friend and she is lucky to have you and the others in the group. As to Terri, we have that in our family. A black sheep sister that is HORRIBLE and pays no attention to anyone in the family except for in emergencies, then she looks like the best and most angelic person ever! It’s frustrating, but you have to think about how it’s helping the person in need. It is tough to swallow all the personal animosity, but you have to for your friend. It sucks. I know.

    • So far I have gotten past the issue with Terri and she has been very helpful in limited doses. I am not going to worry about her unless something comes up that causes a problem. Amanda’s port is inserted on Monday morning and Terri has helped a lot in calming her down about that, which I will be grateful for when I take her in for the procedure.

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