My Best Friend Has Cancer, And It Makes Me Feel Like An A-Hole

I’ve never thought about cancer. I’ve never known anyone who has had it, and while people around me participated in charity events and wore those little pink ribbons, I’ve always felt sort of a guilty detachment toward the disease. I’m not some kind of monster — it’s obviously a devastating illness, but without a face to put on it I’ve always had a hard time feeling any type of real connection to cancer awareness.

As of about a month ago, cancer now has a face in my mind. It’s young and blonde and lovely, and so familiar that it sends me James Franco memes on a daily basis. One of my best friends was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a bone cancer that I know almost nothing about, aside from what I’ve learned from insomnia-fueled Google searches that scare the shit out of me.

Due to years of frequent meditation, the fact that I’m a Scorpio and other new-agey stars that I’ve conveniently aligned in my life to make me feel perceptive about these things, I convinced myself that I should have somehow known it was going to happen. I felt like I should have sensed the dark presence in her knee when we sat next to each other in the back seat of friends’ cars, when we shared infectious, youthful energy drinking whiskey and dancing around each others’ tiny apartments, when our legs bumped together under endless dinner tables at restaurants we couldn’t afford. When she tried on a skirt that I had bought at a thrift store knowing that it wouldn’t fit me but thinking it would look great on her, I should have felt the negative energy in the weaves of the cheap 80s polyester fabric. I should have known.

More important than my helpless worry and blame is her attitude, which is the exact opposite. She is brave, positive and still hilariously snarky, despite her weekends spent in chemo and her uncertain diagnosis. She calls me out when I nervously ask the same questions over and over again, but she also answers me honestly and with a sense of acceptance that, to my limited understanding, seems so rare. She doesn’t want me to tell her she’ll be okay, she wants to tell me about her treatment without sugarcoating a thing, the needles and the vomit and the soft, duckling feathers that are left of her blonde hair. She is realistic about her disease but she is also confident, and she continues to think about her life in terms of what she wants to accomplish, rather than dwell on the unlucky hand she’s been dealt.

While I try to coddle her and speak to her gently, she wants to talk to me about her plans to travel the world. She spontaneously got a puppy because she said she “deserves it” (and clearly, she does). She told me that the kale-heavy diet I’m always preaching is bullshit, because she ate a ton of it and still got cancer. She is brave and strong and sparkling when I am constantly weepy, and she rocks a bald head like there’s no tomorrow. I love this girl, but she still makes me feel like a real asshole. TC mark

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