Can We Talk at Lunch?

I heard what I didn’t want to hear. Greta had cancer. Again. I didn’t know her through her first bout with uterine cancer, but I had heard the stories. I knew it was going to be difficult. It was the last thing I wanted to hear that day. When she answered me, I panicked and ran, afraid to hear any more. My instinct was to pull back from our budding friendship to protect myself. I couldn’t go through that kind of heartache and lose a friend I had just found. It was better to cut myself off now before things went any further.

For a few days, I ignored Greta. Didn’t call her, didn’t e-mail her, and only uttered the barest of words needed to communicate at work. I confided in Alex about Greta’s cancer. I was afraid of losing her. Alex didn’t seem to concerned about it. He told me that everything would be okay. But I wasn’t so sure about that. I thought why get involved with someone if they’re only going to leave me?

Ding-dong! My e-mail blinked in front of me at my work desk. Sighing, I saw that it was from Greta.  Can we talk at lunch? Minutes passed by as I gazed at her question. It’s not that I didn’t want to be friends with her. I did. She was funny, sarcastic, loving, tender, gentle, but headstrong, determined, and opinionated. I had never met anyone quite like her. The problem was I didn’t want to go through the pain of losing her. My fear was that she was going to die from the cancer. I had no idea how bad it was or wasn’t, what the treatment was, and so forth. All I had was my late night Web MD searches on the Internet. By the way, not a good thing to do when you’re already paranoid and upset about a diagnosis. It gives you the bleakest picture possible. With trepidation, I hit the Enter button on the keyboard. OK.

Now what do I do? I had agreed to meet her for lunch, but my stomach was in knots. Again, I wanted to stick my head in the sand, and refuse to hear or see reality. Around noon, I wandered downstairs to her office, trudging along as though I were headed to my execution. Melodramatic? Probably. But you have someone you cared about and prayed for to come into your life and then be told they have cancer. All you hear are the bells tolling doom.

I sat at the little white wooden table in her office, our lunches heating up in the microwave. The air was redolent of spicy tomato sauce and melting cheese. Spaghetti leftovers. I stared at the floor, avoiding eye contact. She heaved a sigh and sat down heavily beside me.

“Kat…I know you’re upset. Talk to me. Let’s work it out together. What’s going on with you? Please talk to me. I know you’ve been avoiding me.” Greta gently touched my shoulder. I wondered if she could feel my trembles as I tried not to cry.

In a subdued, small voice, I replied, “I’m afraid of losing you. I’m afraid that you’re going to die. We just became friends and I don’t want to lose you!” A single tear slipped down my cheek. I was embarrassed by my lack of control of my emotions. I hastily swiped the tear away.

“Kat, can you look at me please?” I lifted my aqua eyes to meet her baby blue ones. Her hand was heavy on my shoulder, gently caressing, “I’m not going anywhere. I promise. I’m here with you forever. My cancer isn’t that bad. Yes, it’s cancer, but it’s minimal and easily treated. You don’t need to worry.”

“Are you sure, Greta?”

“Yes, I’m sure. The doctor is calling Stage 1 uterine cancer, but she said it’s more like a half stage. It’s not even a full stage one. We caught it very early.”
She brushed another tear away from my cheek.

“What do they do for treatment? Do you have to have chemotherapy?” I asked, feeling steadier by the moment with her answers. I snuffled and snorted into a tissue.

“No. The treatment is hormone therapy. All I have to do is take some pills every day.” Greta smiled and stood up to get our lukewarm lunches from the microwave.

“Does it hurt? What’s the cancer like? Will the treatment make you sick?” The better I felt, the more curious I became. My mother called me the “why” baby when I was little because I asked so many questions. It hadn’t changed much as an adult.

“Yes, it hurts. I get really bad cramps and back pain. I also bleed a lot and it’s very heavy. The hormones do have side effects, but not like chemo. It’ll make me really tired and have less energy, possibly cause hot flashes and headaches. I’ve been through this before. It’ll be okay, I promise.” Greta set the plates down on the table. She grinned, took hold of my hand, and squeezed reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Kat. I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me now.”

2 responses to “Can We Talk at Lunch?

  • Rebecca Trotter

    I’m going to leave a comment that I’m afraid is going to be mean or hurtful which isn’t my intention. It’s just that I have been on the receiving end of people who react to my problems by pulling away and cutting me off. Sometimes they have come right out and told me that it’s because they don’t want to be hurt. I don’t understand this reaction and it makes me so angry. Loving people does mean that we are open to being hurt, but how can you cut off someone who is already in pain like that? It compounds pain with rejection. Normally I’m one of the most compassionate, understanding and empathetic people you will ever meet. I have forgiven many things that other people consider unforgivable. But I don’t understand and have never been able to make peace with this reaction to another person’s suffering. I have family members who I don’t speak to because they cut me off during times of great need. Greta must be a very good, special person because I have never been able to deal well with people who do this. I get angry and confront and they get defensive and make things worse and then the whole relationship gets broken. Perhaps you can help me understand why I should just let it go or be more understanding or whatever. Unfortunately, my way has wound up leaving it so that if the other person doesn’t come and apologize I don’t even know how to go about trying to fix it.

    • Kat

      I’m not upset or offended by your comment at all, Rebecca. It’s an honest concern and I understand what you’re saying. I can’t speak for others, but I can speak for myself in this situation. I know it was selfish and hurtful of me to feel that way and pull back from Greta when she needed a friend most. I had significant losses in my life and it destroyed me. At this point in my life, I was extremely insecure. My self-esteem was rock bottom. I believed I was no better than the sludge on the bottom of someone’s shoe. I prayed for years to have a friend like Greta, but yet, I was terrified of losing another friend. I didn’t want to face the pain of that loss again, albeit this one would be more permanent if she died from cancer. When I met Greta, I didn’t originally even want to be friends because of the potential of being hurt, not to mention I couldn’t be friends unless Alex, my husband, approved of them. I had shut myself off from forming relationships of any kind because it was easier. I had friends through Alex, but I only let them get so deep and then I backed away. Fortunately for me, Greta knew this and persisted in reaching out to me despite my walls. It’s the main reason she pursued me in friendship. She could see beyond the wall I had erected. If she hadn’t, and had left it up to me, we probably would’ve never continued our friendship!

      There are times in my life when I needed people most, they bailed. I can relate to your anger and pain and hurt. I agree that it’s selfish. But, you always have to see where the other person is coming from. It doesn’t mean that it makes it right, but it can allow you to have empathy for their feelings. Fear is a powerful motivator, good and bad, and it takes all forms. Most of the time, they want to help you, but don’t know how and they’re afraid to ask. Our friends aren’t mind readers. Don’t be afraid to gently say to them that you need their help, and be specific. Give them specific tasks. Let them help you. If they still can’t support you, don’t write them off. Understand that some people just aren’t able to do that and look to those who can during those times of need. Different friends serve different purposes and you’ll learn which ones you can lean on when you need to.

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