Cancer survivor: When a friend receives a cancer diagnosis

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Brandie Sellers

By Brandie Sellers

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011, I didn't have many close friends who had been through any sort of cancer treatment

Most of my friends, like me, were between 35 and 45, and we are not the usual cancer demographic. The median age of breast cancer patients, for example, is 61.

Most of my friends had little experience with cancer and we all fumbled around for what to do and say to each other -- me as the patient and them as the caregivers. 

We learned and worked our way through it. 

The importance of holding space
When I was in treatment, I learned that the thing that was the biggest help to me, other than food, was when people held space with me. Sitting with me and not talking a lot, just being there. Or, on the phone, it was a relief when someone would say, "That must be so hard. I'm here for you."  

That is what I attempt to do when I know someone who is going through cancer treatment.

Holding space is hard, though, because we want to take away the fear and pain. It isn't ours to take. We also project our own fears of mortality onto others' situations. I think that's where the "I know you'll be just fine" statement comes from.

I think when we say that, we are trying to convince ourselves. It does nothing to help the person going through treatment. He or she is not, in fact, fine. He or she has cancer.

"I know how difficult it is to walk that road"
I am more empathic in this area since I have been through cancer treatment because I know how difficult it is to walk that road. I know how tiring, sickening, angry and lonely that road can feel.

When a close friend was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, I grieved for her, not only because she has cancer but because I know what that means in terms of surgeries and scans and treatments. And living with the possibility of recurrence. Forever.

I know that it means that life will never be the same for her again.

Cancer's long-term effects: The New Normal
Another friend with cancer said that she can't wait to be normal again. I gently told her that Old Normal is gone. There will be a New Normal. It will be great, but it will not be the same.

New Normal has its highs and lows, just like Old Normal did. There are many difficult long-term side effects from many of the cancer treatments we have had. Some cause physical scars and organ problems and carry increased risks of secondary cancers. Some cause neuropathy and lymphedema. 

There are also many wonderful long-term effects that go with New Normal. For me, these include increased empathy, the ability be still for a long time, a deeper awareness that love really is the most important thing and a vast sense of God living within me. 

I also know it does no good for me to point out these long-term benefits when someone is still in treatment. People did that with me. I wanted to punch them in the throat.

"This moment is all we have"
When you are in pain from surgery and you feel like dying from chemotherapy or your chest is so burned that your skin is raw, you really don't care that one day you'll realize you learned to love deeper.  All you care about is taking the next breath, the next step, the next moment.

And that is the greatest lesson I learned: that wherever I am and wherever you are in this exact moment is perfect because this moment is all we have.    

Brandie Sellers teaches yoga, meditation, nutrition and cooking. She paints, writes, runs and plays with her children. She is a divorcee and two-time breast cancer survivor who's undergone a double mastectomy. Brandie is crazy about her three children, and is blessed with a slew of sister friends who pick her up when she's down, keep her honest with herself when she's full of it, and make her laugh until she cries. Follow her at

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Brandie Sellers


Very well said, Brandie! I'm dealing with sarcoma and the hardest part for me is realizing I'll never have my "old normal" again.
I wish my friends and family could read this. Thank you.

Your words and thoughts hit close to home. I definitely agree that the new "normal" is different and always will be. I feel as if I am waiting for the next shoe to drop, even though its been two years since my diagnosis and treatment. I try to realize though, that each day is precious and should not be taken for granted.

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