Is this Real Life? My Best Friend Has Cancer

Mel and I talk every day.

 Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Melissa and I at the Harvard Latina's LEAD conference. February, 2018

Sometimes we talk twice a day. We chat about everything from marriage to kids and career. She is amazing at a giving me advice about a ton of life challenges but she steals the show when giving me career advice. You can find her always pumping me up and giving me time to reflect on what I have accomplished. We were introduced to each other about 14 years ago as a mutual friend thought we would be a good support to each other as we both struggled with infertility. She was right!  I always say our grief brought us together but our love kept us together. Mel is just another way God used my loss to give me an amazing gift. I think that’s why we are so good at comforting each other now…now that Mel has cancer. To use the term best friend at 44 years old seems silly.  Mel is so much more than that. Over the last 14 years, we have kept it real, grown in love, and raised our kids together, all from over 600 miles away. My life’s journey has been one of uprooting and starting fresh. Hers has been constant and full of much growth. Somehow we have made it work.

Many tears have been shed. We laugh, we cry, and we cuss people out privately who just don’t get the struggle. Many of you may remember the piece that I wrote “The Five Things I learned at Harvard” where I shared what I learned last winter at the Harvard Latina’s LEAD conference. As soon as I told Mel about it she said, “I’m going with you.” That’s how she is. She is loyal to a fault. As she walks this journey now I’m the one going with her. While at LEAD we were immersed in a group of strong Latina’s on the verge of something great.  What I didn’t realize is that Mel was about to emerge on a journey that will show the world how strong she is. Our time in Boston, albeit cold, gave us the chance to catch up face to face after a long eight-year hiatus. This trip left us inspired and knowing that we had to do it every year.

When the opportunity for me to take on a new position in Florida presented itself Mel was the first person to say, “ You are ready.” Here was my journey moving me further away from her when she needs me most. I send her care packages to help ease the challenges that chemo brings but that isn’t enough. Not to me.  What she doesn’t know are the times I cry silently like when she first told me what her treatments would ultimately do to her body, or when she described losing her hair as “my hair painted the walls of my shower.” Even in that, she discusses how she plans to glam up. If I could describe her in one word it would be resilient.  As I lean into what Mel needs from me I have discovered four ways to support a loved one experiencing cancer;

1.     Be there.  Don’t offer platitudes. Just hold their hands (in my case virtually) and let them talk. I listen intently and when she asks I make her laugh by moving on to point 2. Send brief text messages, listen intently, and cry together when the moment calls for it.

2.     Shoot the sh**t about everyday life. Like I said, Mel and I keep it real. Often times a day or so after treatments I check in. Mel gives me her update and quickly says “Ok tell me all about you. I need that.” We laugh about crazy life stuff, talk about my new life in Florida, and share dreams we have for our kids. We simply keep it real.

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3.     Pray. Mel and I have had our own faith journeys but we have always prayed for each other. Shortly after she told me about her diagnosis I read a quote that says, “ Today…you are loved. You are thought of. You are prayed for.” That is how I want Mel to feel every day. A verse that keeps coming to mind is Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

4.    Give. It doesn’t have to be something huge or overly expensive. Just something that lets your loved one know you are thinking about them. Warm socks, blankets, or even ChapStick can help ease the challenges that come with treatment. Give of your time. That’s right. Time is so important. Be intentional about taking care of those you love.

Mel and I have no idea what lies ahead. What we do know is that we will face this together. As I see her face this journey I am reminded that Mel is brave even when she cries. Mel is courageous even when the news is hard. Mel is beautiful especially when she smiles.  Above all things, Mel is loved.