When a Friend is Diagnosed with Cancer

By Kate Riley August 27, 2018

Last week, my best friend Karin died of cancer. I mentioned my friend’s condition last month in this post about designing a life you love. I took the week off to process the grief and the loss. It felt wrong to dive back into writing about design or travel without addressing it.

I’ve lived with the reality of my friend’s diagnosis for the last ten months, watching her journey and being by her side each day. I was there when she received those dreaded words, “You have cancer”. I was there through her chemo, through her surgery, through her follow up chemo, through her recovery when we thought she’d beat it. I was there when the CT scans showed the cancer was back with a vengeance, when her oncologist told her it was terminal, and when it took her life six short weeks later.

I thought today I’d share what I’ve lived and learned in the hopes it may help any one of you when a friend or family member receives a cancer diagnosis.

 

my friend Karin wearing her favorite dress on our trip to Paris in 2016

Do Your Research. This was my first exposure to a cancer diagnosis in someone close to me, so I took the time to learn about this disease. There are many forms of cancer and several stages of cancer and there is a lot of information online that will educate you. Surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are the three ways oncologists fight cancer. There are also experimental trials. My friend had colon cancer so learned everything I could about it, and what her options were for survival.  By researching the disease, I learned the medical terminology and treatment courses and it helped so much when talking about it while she was going through treatment.

My friend was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer, which has a tragically low rate of survivability. Her cancer was caught too late. She was a champion through multiple months of chemo and major surgery, but because her cancer had metastasized, it was able to spread quickly. This is a good time to mention to never ignore strange physical symptoms and to get yourself screened at the recommended age of 45.

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Protect Their Privacy. When word got out that my friend had cancer, I was inundated with questions from well meaning friends. Karin was a very private person and did not want the details of her condition shared until she was ready to share them. I respected that and would only tell people the minimum amount of information. Ask your friend just how much they want people to know and protect that with all your power.

Keep visitors away if they don’t want to be seen. Honor their wishes to not be seen in a compromised condition. This was tough since so many of our mutual friends and family wanted to see her and hold her hand in those last weeks and tell her how they felt. If your friend doesn’t want to be seen looking sick, write a loving note, send flowers, make meals, or donate to their family’s expenses if there is a need. I count myself as very lucky to be one of the few that my friend allowed to be with her in her dying days, but don’t be offended if they request you stay away.

Be Their Advocate to Medical Professionals. There were times when my friend wasn’t getting the medical attention she needed so if you’re in the inner circle, make sure doctors and nurses are meeting the needs of the patient. I found it was also helpful to personalize the patient to nurses in the hospital or medical assistants doing procedures or tests. When they knew her story, it seemed they gave her a more sensitive and loving degree of care.

Offer Support Wherever Needed. In the beginning, my friend just needed an understanding ear and emotional support. We would have coffee together or take long walks together so she could share her fears and frustrations. We reminisced about our adventures together. Offering your time and friendship and a safe space for them to share is an incredible gift of support.

When the time came, we had talks about her assets and her will so she could make final arrangements. We talked about when hospice would be necessary, and when it was I was so relieved they were there to make her as comfortable as possible.

As Karin got sicker, she became angry and depressed, a completely normal reaction to the circumstances. There were times I felt I couldn’t bring her out of her deep depression, so I just sat by her side to comfort her. There were a couple of times her anger made her lash out, but I realized it was the cancer talking. These were both stages in her grief process. Her anger passed when she accepted that her time was short, and she was just grateful that I was there to tell her everything would be okay.

Rally The Community. As her health deteriorated, my friend needed more. Her husband stopped working and became her caretaker which meant there was no income to pay the monthly bills. Thankfully we had an overwhelming outpouring of financial support from the local community through a GoFundMe and a fundraising benefit. These helped immensely. There was also a meal train set up by the elementary school moms to bring meals to the house during a time of great need. Orchestrating and contributing financially is a great way to show support for a friend diagnosed with cancer.

Say What You Need to Say. Before she died, I told my friend how grateful I was that she has blessed me with her friendship, how inspired I am by her life, what a wonderful mother she is, and how much I love her. I told her our friendship continues because I would continue to live the same way and to do the same things to honor her memory. It gives me peace knowing that she knew how very much I loved her and how much I treasured our time together.

_____________________________________________

 

Watching my best friend die from cancer was the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced, and it’s changed me. It’s made me appreciate life even more. It’s made me even kinder to strangers. It’s compelled me to tell everyone I care about at every opportunity that I love them. Her death does not end our friendship. We traveled together, we had so many crazy adventures together, we worked out together, we enjoyed life together; her legacy is woven into my life as I continue to do those things.

Karin wanted everyone to realize that each day we are alive is a gift. Be happy that you are healthy, that you have a home and food on the table, and people around you that you love. In the end, nothing else matters.

I recommend this book on preparing for a meaningful death, it’s titled No One Has to Die Alone and it was full of wisdom and helped me know what to do and what to say when my friend was facing death.

If any of you have any insight or experience on how you handled a friend or family member’s diagnosis with a terminal disease, please feel free to share. Thanks for listening today everyone. Be back soon. :)

128 comments

  1. I am so sorry for your loss. Truly. Thanks for sharing this post. One can never have too many reminders that life’s short, so be kind and tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. Praying for you and Karin’s loved ones.

  2. Sorry for your great loss.
    Wonderful words from Karin – live each day to the fullest.

    Take care of yourself.

  3. Sounds like you were a wonderful friend! I have been in the same boat – twice – my best friend died from leukemia in 2010, then another very close friend (my “next best” friend) died of Huntington’s disease in 2016. I loved them both and learned a lot about life from their deaths!

  4. I am so so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this with us.
    She must have loved you very much. All the best

  5. I’m so sorry for your loss. I was with my Mom when she died of cancer in 1995 and she was the same way about having people visit her which was so hard for the people who loved her other than her immediate family. But I can certainly understand and would probably wish the same.
    Thanks for all the reminders about what really matters in life.

  6. My sincere condolences on your loss, Kate. One of my closest friends was diagnosed with a relapse of cancer earlier this year and many times I do not know what to say. Thanks for what you have shared as it has made me realize that there’s a lot more that I can say and do to support my friend.

    • I struggled with what to say too. I learned to not say “How are you?” since her condition wasn’t getting any better. I learned to instead say, “Hello, it’s nice to see you” and “I am here for you, what do you need?”

  7. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend Karin. I recently lost a friend to cancer too. It is a pain which runs deep. The reason we lose good people is not for us to understand. I believe I will see our friends again. Take care of yourself Kate.

  8. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing so that others may have an easier time dealing with it. Lots of love to you and all of Karin’s friends and family.

  9. I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my dear friend a few years ago, and know how hard it is to lose a friend. The best thing I’ve heard about loss/grief is “the depth of your sorrow is proof of the depth of your love.” I clung hard to that in moments when the tsunami of grief hit hardest. Love to you and to Karin’s family.

  10. I am so very sorry for the loss of your friend. You were both truly fortunate to have each other. You being by her side during these last ten months was the greatest gift you could possibly have given her. Even though you will always mourn her tragic passing I hope that you will heal over time.

  11. Kate, as a long-time reader for so many years I know that in a lot of ways you already seem to live your life to the fullest, as if there is no time to waste. And to be inspired to do this even more so than ever…well your friend would be so, so proud. I lost my best friend in a tragic car accident almost 5 years ago; she was on a mission trip in Africa. Thankfully, we had Skyped a week before. I’ve never been the same, both in good ways and not so good. When asked by a journalist how to describe her mission, she said simply, “Everyday love changing everyday lives.” I do my best to live those words, as hard as it is sometimes. Even after years have passed, I can hear her laugh as clear as day, and I often say to myself, ”Sarah would have found that so funny” if the moment presents itself. It is comforting knowing that we can still share a sense of humor. At the end of the day, all I can say is that I am so thankful to have been hers. One of the ones she chose. I’m sure you feel the same. To have walked with her on this excruciating journey and bear her load…i’m sure not a day went by that she wasn’t just as thankful to have been yours. Hang in there. ~Jill

    • I heard my friend’s laugh today when I relived a memory I had forgotten about. It was so nice to smile about a moment we had shared together. :)
      “Everyday love changing everyday lives” – I love that mission statement, so beautiful.

  12. What a wonderful friend you are. Thank you for sharing these words of wisdom. My condolences to you on this very sad loss.

  13. I am sorry for your loss. She was fortunate to have you there with her on the journey and you were able to spend the time with her which is all so important.

    I have been there. Last year on this day I found out my father (who had battled skin cancer on and off for over 30 years) had cancer that had metastasized. My mother and siblings and my nieces and nephews were able to spend 6 more weeks with my father as he passed last October.
    In 2000 my younger sister had been diagnosed with stage four cancer as well. We are all fortunate as she is still able to experience life. She went thru chemo and then radiation.

    Here I am 10 1/2 months later after my father’s passing and I still get choked up. When you are able to experience love and friendship with someone the loss is always felt.

    I wish you the knowledge that it will get better in time but you will never forget. (OK others have been telling me this).

    • I am so sorry Maureen for the loss of your father. I was so grateful to experience such a true friendship, it was the greatest gift she gave me.
      xo

  14. I just want to extend my condolences to you. I dont know if you’ve read this poem by Lamartine called ‘Le Lac’ about the loss of a loved one. I wish like him that we could stop time, and enjoy the ones we love a bit longer.
    Hugs to you.

  15. Thank you for sharing about Karin with us. She sounds like an amazing person and I know you will miss her every day. Cancer is such an awful disease! A friend’s 5 year old grandson died just a couple weeks ago from a brain tumor – seems so unfair.

  16. Hi Kate,
    So sorry for your lost. We lost my sister to cancer 13 years ago. I can’t say that I know your pain because everyone’s pain is different but you are in my thoughts. How wonderful a friend you are to be there through it all with her. My sister once said that cancer shows who you can really count on in life. Many of her friends couldn’t deal with it and disappeared. The ones left were her true friends, there through thick and thin. Although sadness is a big part of your life right now, your memories will pull you through. Take your time. We all grieve at different speeds, don’t let anyone tell you that you should be “over it by now” . You’re never “over it” you just learn to deal with life being different. One of my favourite quotes:

    “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just
    love. It’s all the love you want to
    give but cannot. All of that
    unspent love gathers up in the
    corners of your eyes, the lump in
    your throat, and in that hollow
    part of your chest. Grief is just
    love with no place to go.”

    Take care, lots of love

  17. I’m so sorry for your loss. Karin was fortunate to have such a good friend. I remember telling my best friend those same words and relying on her counsel and support as I went through surgery and chemo (Stage 3C colon cancer).

    I have a few suggestions for those who would like to help. Offer a specific way to help. Many don’t know what the friend needs and offer a vague “let me know how I can help.” While fighting cancer, most don’t have the time or energy to figure out what they need. Instead, start a meal train (https://www.mealtrain.com/) for days during their treatment cycle when they won’t have the energy for cooking. Offer to do laundry. My neighbor showed up insisting to do laundry. She did sheets and towels and it was SO helpful. Sign them up for a free house cleaning (http://cleaningforareason.org/). Does the friend have kids? Offer to take them on a fun adventure out. One of my teacher friends tutored my youngest, who is autistic, when I was during the difficult days of my chemo cycle. Married? Make sure the spouse has an outlet as well. I spent a lot of time worrying about my husband and kids and knowing they had a support system was as important to me as anything else.

    As I went through surgeries and 600 hours of chemo, friends who did the above recommendations made my path a little easier. Three years later, I’m still humbled by their support. I’m sure Karin treasures your support Kate. It was the single best gift you could give her.

    • Great advice Therese. I didn’t mention it in the post, but we did those things too. I did her laundry and cleaned her bathroom and sheets because she couldn’t. I entertained her girls as did many friends. Other close friends managed the meal train. She was so humbled by that support.

  18. Hi Kate,
    I am very sorry to hear about your best friend’s passing. It is indeed very courageous and thoughtful of your decision to share your thoughts in this post in order to honor her. Thank you and may her soul rest in peace. My condolences to her family and friends.

  19. I’m so sorry for your loss of your dear friend. Thank you for sharing her story and your thoughts with us. Love and light to you in this difficult time.

  20. Kate, I’ve only left comments on a blog 2 times, but I’ve enjoyed yours for many years. My mom died 2 years ago, 3 months after being diagnosed with a stupid, rare blood disease. My mom was my best friend & place of calm. I literally think about her all the time & the horror she went through. It will never make sense. During my mom’s last few days… most people talk about the things that matter, but I thought about all the things that don’t. Like people who just aren’t very nice, jobs that don’t make you happy, jerks in traffic & all the supposed big/small everyday frustrations. I’ve always tried to keep perspective, but now my mantra is, when you’re on your deathbed, are you going to be happy you gave time/yourself to a person or situation? Or are you going to realize it wasn’t worth your time & energy? Spending time with the people who love you for who you are matter. Doing the things that make you happy & relaxed matter.

    Feel what you need to feel when you need to. I still cry at inexplicable moments. The people who love you will understand, just as you did for your dear friend. The emotional trauma will probably never leave you, but it will get less intense, over time… maybe a lot of time. Blessings, chloe

    • Thank you for sharing, I agree, times like these make you hyper focused on the things that truly matter. I feel the grief will come in waves, bigger ones at first, and lesser ones over time, but it was all worth it. Grief is just proof that you loved.

  21. I am so very sorry to hear this Kate and my heart goes out to Karin’s family. I survived my fight with cancer it knocked me stupid but I did survive however others I befriended at the time did not. I was not close to those strong beautiful women but still I felt the loss experienced by those who loved them. There was a Chaplain who hung around Oncology who said one day ‘go lovingly and gently through life ‘. Wise words I will always remember.

  22. What a good friend you were and I am sure Karin appreciated you. Reading your story brought back a sad period for me when I lost my husband and friend to cancer. Thank you for sharing your advice on how to support dear ones during these trying times of illness. So sorry for your loss. Take care of yourself.

  23. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Words can’t do anything in these sad days but know that there’s a lot of people out there thinking of you and your friends family at this difficult time. You did all that you could and I’m sure that was a great comfort to Karin.

    Sending love and kisses. xxxx

  24. Deepest sympathies to you Kate and to Karin’s family. Cancer is a beast, it took my lovely Dad three years ago. But I was so glad that my situation in life meant that I could be there with him and my Mum through all the treatments and still make him laugh right to the end. I miss him all the time, but I have coped with it as I feared I might not be able to. I talk to him and about him with friends and family, he will always be alive to us, as I’m sure Karin with live on with you. Take some time for yourself, we will all be here when you get back xxx

    • Thank you Catherine.
      Saying their name and talking about them is what keeps them alive.

  25. I am so sorry to hear about your friend, Karin. It is so hard losing someone so close. She was lucky to have a good friend like you be right there for her. I, too had a very close friend die of breast cancer at age 53. I think of her everyday and the fun times we had. I also believe that maybe someday we will be reunited.

    Thinking of you and your friend. Sending hugs your way.

  26. I’m so sorry for your heartbreaking loss. I lost my 40 year old sister to colon cancer 3 years ago and know what a devastating disease it is and how scary it is to see it happen so quickly.

  27. This is one of the best writings I have ever read about the subject of cancer. I have been on both sides of the issues you speak of. My first husband died of colon cancer at the age of 22. It was tragic but oh did I learn incredible life lessons. One of the hardest things is when they don’t want others to see them. You have to protect them and their wishes when you are the trusted one. Your advise about cards, flowers, help to the family, etc is excellent. People have to wrap their head around the fact that there are other ways to show their love for the person. This happened 50 yrs ago when when there were many people that had never known a person with cancer, especially terminal cancer. There was no hospice. His wish was to take him home so he didn’t die in the hospital when I wasn’t there. An incredible doctor in his veterans hospital taught me how to take care of him at home, how to administer his IV, how to take care of his gastrointestinal machine, etc etc. I am forever grateful for teaching me to be his nurse. I’ve also been on the other side as the cancer patient. I was diagnosed early and I’m now cancer free after surgery, chemo & radiation! I am truly blessed!! I had an incredible support system.They were my inner circle at the time. I trusted them. I could depend on them. I knew they would not try to “confess” things of perhaps talking behind my back, or times of being upset with me that were not important. If they were my friend I loved them and forgiveness even for silly things or serious things were automatic anyway! My concern now is for those people that are going through a cancer journey that do not have a support system. I try to tell people that they need to pay attention to others that are going through a journey alone. Even if it’s just taking them to a dr appt or a treatment or preparing a meal. We are an extension of God to do His will. Thank you for your incredible story of Karin’s journey and your compassion, love and respect for her.
    Blessings to you always, Edie Marie

    • Wow Edie thank you so much. Karin also did not want to die in the hospital. She hated it there. Her husband and I were trained to administer meds and also for her feeding tube that required a pump for a short time. She spent her last month at home surrounded by family. very close friends, and hospice nurses.

  28. Kate,
    I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. I too lost my best friend to cancer. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. In a way, if feel like part of me is gone. The part that only she knew. But part of her lives on in me too. I appreciate your post so very much. One thing that I wish I had done differently is to say how I feel. I didn’t . Not the way I should have. It is so important ( for them AND you) to tell someone who is dying how much they mean to you. I know she knew, but I never wanted her to think that I had given up hope for healing and recovery by discussing the possibility of death or anything that seemed remotely like I thought she would die. I should have said some things that were on my heart while I had the chance. Your post is solid advice and I will keep these things in mind moving forward and also share with others who may need to hear it as well. Wishing you and Karin’s family comfort and love in this difficult time.

    • I think this is so common Kelly. Saying what you feel is SO HARD for so many people, not just when someone is dying but when they’re alive too. I think people struggle speaking their heart because many of us are not raised to express our emotions.

      I used to be so bottled up but I started by practicing being more vulnerable and just saying how I felt in an authentic way. It takes courage. So many people are afraid to say how they feel because they think when they express something real that it’s perceived as a weakness and they’re afraid that the other person won’t reciprocate.

      Expressing honest emotion or real feelings is not a weakness, it’s a strength. It connects you to that person even more, and connection is what life is all about. I remember it used to take a lot of courage for me to say “I love ___ about you” but once I started doing that, over time it just began to happen naturally. I decided that I wouldn’t be afraid anymore and started taking that emotional risk. Now I’m completely comfortable with telling someone honestly how I see them and how I feel about them and it’s really life changing to be that open. My friendships are all so much more real as a result.

      • Kate, I am so very sorry for your loss.
        These word are just what my heart needed to hear at this moment. Gratitude to you and to Karin for giving such a gift.

  29. Wonderful insight! I am a survivor of a brain tumor and your post resonates with me – you are a good friend. I let only family and a few select friends share my journey of recovery. I now call them my tribe – and I have the BEST TRIBE EVER! Your advice is spot on. Sharing your story is brave and helpful. This is the best quote – “Everyday love changing everyday lives.” Thank you!

    • Thank you for sharing Lisa, it is so great to have a tribe! I’ve got one too and I love them so much.

  30. I am so sorry for your loss. Two members of my immediate family had cancer in the last two years. It was so difficult to know what to do and as a family we really struggled. Fortunately my family members are now cancer free but your words truly resonate. Thank you for sharing what had to be a difficult post to write.

  31. Kate, I am so very sorry you have lost your best buddy. It is so hard, and even though you watched her die, you are probably still in shock. And it must be so very raw right now. Your post was amazing and you were correct in all your suggestions.
    My 25 year old son took his life 6 years ago, and even when you don’t want to carry on, you do. And you do so on their behalf and in their honor.
    We send out cards for a random act of kindness to be done in his memory on his birthday every year.

  32. Thank you for writing this beautiful and importance piece. I am so very sorry for your loss.

    Although it looks like it doesn’t treat colon cancer, there’s a new groundbreaking technology called focused ultrasound which is a noninvasive treatment for some cancers and many other diseases and conditions. I know someone who used it and simply had miraculous results.

    Passing along in case someone is looking for other options: https://www.fusfoundation.org/diseases-and-conditions-all/overview

    Big hugs to you and Karin’s family! xo

  33. I’m so sorry to read about your dear friend. Like many people, I’m very familiar with cancer, not only due to friends and family but my own personal battle with it. I think you gave some great advice. We only told a handful of people because I didn’t want sympathy, I didn’t want a constant barrage of “How are you feeling today?”, and the people we did tell, we made sure that they knew we were telling them because we wanted their support, which they all gave very willingly. I always took someone with me to my appointments because sometimes information was just overwhelming so whoever went with me took notes and I also let the medical staff know that the person was allowed to ask questions and to please answer those questions. I did not Google anything about my cancer because you can always find the worst case scenario. I did my research and chose a great teaching/university hospital and one of the best doctors in the country – people come from all over the world to see my surgeon so I knew I was in good hands and my family and I liked her bedside manner and felt very comfortable with her. For those that do survive cancer, I think it is important to not let it define you but it does change you.in many ways. I am terrified when I have to have a medical test or if I have a weird pain because I wonder “Oh man, is it cancer again?” But I also know that I am doing everything I can to prevent having cancer again but I know that it is also beyond my control and when it is my time, it is my time so I live life to the best that I can and try to be a positive person and I do my best to give to those that do have cancer and return the favors that I received as a result of my diagnosis.

    • Karin hated when someone said “How are you feeling?” because she could never give a positive answer and hated talking about her condition for the same reasons, she didn’t want the sympathy, but she always appreciated the support.

      I totally agree with you about accompanying them to appointments. I remember during her chemo and hospital stays that her doctor would tell her a lot about what was happening and she couldn’t remember it all so I tried to keep notes too. That’s a great piece of advice. I also agree about sources of information, best to rely on the established medical sites and an oncologist or specialist.

  34. So sorry for the loss of your dear friend. The power of love and comfort of friendship is everything.

  35. Kate, I am so sorry for your loss. I watched my 71 year old mom die of a rare liver disease. Grief is so hard. But I had joy in my grief – which may sound really strange to some people. Because my mom and I believe that Jesus died for us and through His death we have eternal life, we know we will be reunited again in heaven. I no longer fear death for myself or anyone in my family. As Christians we can celebrate life – as it’s eternal. It was in my deepest moments of grief that I saw how God works…giving me joy in my grief. Countless “coincidences” occurred which I don’t believe were coincidences but His divine providence. I”m praying for God to comfort you and for your friend’s family in your grief.

    • Thank you for sharing Jennifer. I can’t say I find joy in my grief, but I do find joy in the little ways it feels like she’s still talking to me, the memories that come back from songs or places we’ve been and that makes me laugh. I do feel that something divine is at work.

  36. Beautifully written, and I am very sorry for your loss. I too lost a very close friend to cancer 19 years ago.. The most important thing is to just “be there’ when needed. There was a period of about 5 weeks during her treatment she didnt want to see anyone, but her live in nurse (Her husband had to travel for work to keep their insurance).. I was in constant contact with her nurse for updates, errands etc., then one day out of the blue my friend was ready for me to come back. It was a very tough time, as you know. I am very grateful for the time I had with her, and even happier that our daughters (now in their late 30’s) are still best friends. Let memories bring you comfort. Time will come when you think of her, there wont be any sadness, but joy for having known her.

  37. I don’t often check this email , but something drew me in to read your post.
    I have not experienced a loss like yours and I am very sorry for your loss.
    The other day, my husband got a call for me from the doctor’s office reminding me that it was time for a colonoscopy checkup. He told me about it, and I have blown it off…nobody likes to go to the doctor…I feel fine. But after reading this, I will be sure to follow up and make an appt….thanks for putting this message out there. Maybe you have inspired others to do the same and get the checkup they’ve been postponing!

    • yes definitely get the checkup. the procedure is really no big deal and it could save your life.

  38. I am so sorry for your loss but grateful for your courage in sharing your grief. Your friend was very lucky to have you in her life. I have been through this and it is never easy but your advice will be beneficial to many. I would only add that the ongoing care of those left behind is equally as important. I sent a weekly letter to our friend’s widow and she told me how much she looked forward to them and how it reminded her that she was not alone during this difficult time. I did it for 6 months and then slowly weaned us both off of them and now, a year and a half later, she is moving forward with her life. Thank you for sharing.

  39. So sorry for your loss. We are all sadly touched by cancer these days. Prayers for you and Karin’s family!
    Take care, Barbara

  40. What were the strange symptoms that Karen did not pay attention to? I am always worried about getting cancer and want to be on the alert for any symptoms. Sometimes there is no pain until you are Stage IV and by then it is very difficult to win the battle.

  41. I am so sorry for your loss. I lost my sister, Katie, to anal/rectal colon cancer a year ago this Sept 7th. Her story sounds exactly like your friend’s. Every year now I walk and raise money and tell everyone I know to get a colonoscopy, early. She was a nurse and she waited…she was also diagnosed at Stage 4 and survived a remarkable 2.5 years, through chemo, radiation, and experimental drugs, one that was even used for lung cancer.
    I pray every day for a cure. I will never be the same and I miss her every single second, she was my touchstone. Sending love and a hug, Sallie Bailie

    • Thank you Sallie, I will do the same by participating in fundraising efforts to help find a cure.

  42. As a mom of a cancer kiddo I would say- don’t be afraid to reach out!
    We want some normalcy and when people start avoiding you cause it’s “awkward” it makes it so much harder for us.

    • I am so sorry about your child Trisha. I agree, so many people just don’t know what to say or do. It takes courage to just form the words, “I’m so sorry, how can I help?” Thank you for sharing your advice.

  43. Kate, I’m so sorry for your loss. I lost my best friend, Karen, about six years ago to breast cancer. Your advice was spot on! So good of you to share it. Karin will live on because of your beautiful memories together. My friend, Karen, and I have the same birthday so I always honor her by buying some hydrangeas- her favorite- on that day. She was very lucky to have you. God bless.

    • Beautiful gesture Sharon. I’m so sorry for your loss of your best friend. It hurts so much, but I wouldn’t trade the pain for the memories.
      xo

  44. I am so sorry for the loss of your best friend. I pray for healing for you, and all those that have been left behind. It is a hard journey, but we survive somehow. I helped my mom care for my very fun-loving and active dad when he was diagnosed with cancer 3 years ago. It was the best thing I did, yet the hardest thing I have ever done. To see someone so full of life just slowly slip away in a short time frame and the doctors gave up on him as well and he believed them and would not go for second opinions. Your post is spot-on and I thank you so much for writing it. Kim from Texas

  45. I am so sorry for your loss. Everything you’ve written is so true and so beneficial for those going through the journey with a friend or family member.

  46. Kate my heart goes out to you of the loss of your very special friend Karin. Thank you for sharing this very personal story with us. So many of us have lost dear friends and family. I have a new friend who I just met 5 months ago in our new community and your words really will be a guide for me to be there for her and her husband. I am sending you a hug and a prayer as your heart works to heal.

  47. I’m so sorry, Kate. I lost one of my dearest friends to pancreatic cancer a few years ago. Here was the rule her friends put into place: draw a circle around her, with her at the center. Family’s the next ring, friends the next, acquaintences the next etc. All the positive feelings and expressions flow towards the center. All our worry, our grief, anything angst-y flows outward and farther away from the people who don’t need to be burdened further. Peace and cyberhugs to you in your loss; I’m sorry you’re suffering.

    • Wow Jen, love that circle rule. I felt that in the last weeks, that the community was all holding hands and forming a circle around her family with the love flowing to the center.

  48. So sorry for your loss Kate. I admire your sensitivity and insight to do the best you could to help your friend. Your post shared some helpful wisdom. It breaks my heart that so many young adults get such devastating illness. Take care. Everyone should have a friend like you.

    • It worries me that colon cancer is on an exponential rise. It’s got to be something in our food and in our environment. They lowered the age of recommended tests from 50 to 45. I have heard of others at even younger ages diagnosed with it too. Very scary stuff.

  49. Kate, you are a wonderful friend. I was not as supportive to a neighbor that was dying. I was never quire sure what was going on and was afraid to ask. We were not close and I did not know what to say or do. This post you have written is so well done and helpful. You are an angel. God blessed your beautiful friend with you. I am heartbroken she is gone.

    • I am heartbroken too. She doesn’t want me to be sad though. She got upset when she learned I had canceled a trip because of her condition. She wants me to keep living my life and to be happy. I need to do that for her.
      :)

  50. I am so sorry for your loss. My own sister died from stage IV colon cancer. She had refused to get a colonoscopy the year before saying “its a needless procedure”, neither of us knew our grandfather died from the same disease until she was diagnosed. I was angry that she might have beaten the cancer by having her screening done the year prior to the diagnosis. I lost her five years after my father and 7 years before my mother. I have no other biological siblings but many sister-friends that support me in my life. I miss her terribly, such a waste. She was 51 years young.

    • My friend was 51 years young too. She had some nagging symptoms but it was HER DOCTOR that told her no tests were necessary. She always regretted getting a second opinion and insisting on additional screenings. She carried that anger with her during her entire battle.

  51. I’m so touched by this piece, your wonderful suggestions, and most of all, your devotion to your beloved friend. My mom died of metastatic lung cancer 18 months ago, two years after her diagnosis, and my father, sister, and I cared for her in my parents’ home with hospice care until her death. We all found Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal, extremely helpful.

  52. Thank you for sharing your experience through this crappy and painful time in your life. My sincere sympathies to you, Karin’s family and friends. Your uplifting reminder to tell everyone we love that we love them is a blessing to us all.

  53. Hi Kate,

    I’m sorry for your loss. Both of you are very lucky to have each other. This just goes to show that all of us needs to be grateful everyday.

  54. I was there when my sister received her terminal diagnosis and am doing my best to assist her during this process. Life is short, and people are what’s important

  55. Sorry for your loss. My dad died of colon cancer in 1989. At that time they didn’t have as many options to treat it. Dad died seven years after he was diagnosed so we were prepared, but it still wasn’t expected when it happened. I keep hoping that one day I hear that no ones else has to die from colon cancer. I believe we will see our friends and family again.

  56. Sounds like you two had an incredible bond. Thank you for sharing and for the reminder to live each day to the fullest.

  57. I am so very sorry for your loss Kate. You were lucky to have each other. It must have been a comfort to you both to share the last few months together.

    One of my own dearest friends passed away almost a decade ago. My fondest memory is of us sitting in my kitchen. It was empty and mid-renovation and Wendy asked me to cut her hair so she could donate it before it fell out because of the chemo. Chloe was not yet a year old but when I finally cut her hair months later, sitting in her highchair in that very same kitchen, I did it through tears. I could tell you more stories of the life lessons Wendy taught me in those last few months. Of how she did bookkeeping for non-profits when she could no longer work full time as an accountant. And how, frail and weak, she somehow pushed through to do a 200km bike ride for cancer research. I’m sure Karin in her moments of strength taught you much the same.

    The words and guidance you’ve given to others facing loss are beautiful and kind. You’re so very right, death does not end a friendship. I hope you feel Karin the next time you’re away on a trip, enjoying something fun, or just standing in the sunshine feeling grateful for the life we get to live. Sending much love to you. XX

  58. I’m so very sorry for your tremendous loss; thank you for sharing your wisdom with us!

  59. I feel your pain, as I, too, lost my oldest dearest childhood friend this year. She had lost all three of her sons within the previous 4 years, the last one to colon cancer less than a year ago. He actually had not had any of the usual symptoms, and finally went to the doctor because he thought he might be having gall bladder trouble. By then it was stage IV, and he did not live more than a year after the diagnosis. I think she died of a broken heart as much as from the post-polio syndrome which had overtaken her in the last few years. She had polio when she was 5, but recovered and lived a very normal active life till then.
    Your post is so eloquent and heart-felt that I think everyone who reads it will take away something fine and wonderful. I have saved it, and will share it with anyone I know who is dealing with something like this. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend.

  60. Oh, Kate, I’m so sorry for the loss of such a special friend. She was blessed to have you by her side. Much love to you friend as you grieve and go on. I know you’ll be forever changed. You’ve changed us by sharing this personal and tender story, thank you.

  61. Thank you for an excellent post with so many helpful comments.I lost my 53 year old best friend after she was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. My dear neice lost her best friend at 28 from colon cancer. These were tremendous losses of very vibrant, loving, funny women. I am reminded of my friend every day and am so grateful that the memories are happy. Please be encouraged that your memories will sustain you, too. You were a blessing to Karin and her family and have helped so many with your writing.

  62. Oh, Kate. I am so sorry for your loss, and for all the pain and heartache that led up to it. Your friendship was an incredible gift to your friend. I went through surgery and radiation for cancer a number of years ago when my oldest child was a baby. He was a few months old when I was diagnosed, and a year old when my treatments ended. One of the hardest parts of that experience was the loneliness. My husband and I were new to our town, I was a new mother, and our families did not live close by. This was before social media and texting made it easy to stay connected with friends and family. Many neighbors and relatives simply faded away; I’m guessing they avoided us because they were uncomfortable and did not know what to say or do. My husband and I were incredibly overwhelmed just trying to keep up with our daily obligations and everything related to my medical care. The loneliness was, at times, unbearable. The handful of people who actively supported my husband and me during that time were an incredible gift. I feel like I can never pay them back, and so I will happily pay it forward for the rest of my life. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your friend with us. You have given me pause to remember how grateful I am for my health, for my life. I am very sorry for your loss.

  63. Your blog has become so much richer than just decor, Kate! Thank you for sharing your life’s experiences.

  64. Blessings to you, and Karin’s memory. Thanks for this, life is short and we need more love, appreciation of life and certainly understanding.

  65. I’m so very sorry for your loss, Kate! Thank you for sharing this personal journey with your readers. I know this post is going to help so many. All my love to you, my friend! xo

  66. I am so sorry for your loss Kate. This post was so beautifully written- I’m sitting here in tears as I board a plane to visit my aunt who also has metastasized colon cancer and been told she has a couple months left. Thank you for writing and sharing this post. Xoxo

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