My doctor just called. It’s cancer. It’s bad

My best friend’s voice was shaking. She was crying and in shock over the news she just received. Her world was crashing in and she was calling to let me know.

That phone call would be the beginning of a cancer journey that would take her into the depths of the deepest valleys. Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, side effects, hospitals.

I’ve learned that cancer takes you on the spin cycle – diagnosis, treatment, period of waiting, remission. And then, re-occurrence, more surgery, chemo, complications.

She is the strongest woman I know. Enduring horrific pain, debilitating side effects, hopeless nights, unending sickness. And all with double-fisted faith in God – a faith that could truly move mountains. Not the pretty and calm faith we sometimes have. A faith that’s gritty, trudging, fighting. More of a sweaty faith. She is an example to hundreds of what resilience in the face of trial looks like.

What do you do when you’re best friend lets you know she has cancer? Stage four of one of the most aggressive and rarest forms? A kind of cancer that doesn’t have its own assigned rally color because too few have it? A cancer that has never been researched in a clinical trial because too few have it?

You cry with her. You hold her hand when she’s still out from surgery and doesn’t even know you’re there. You sit at her bedside and tell her jokes, hoping she’ll crack a smile. You sit with her during chemo and let her fall asleep. You are there. Just there.

You might get it wrong a few times. Say the wrong thing or don’t say the right thing. You might not know what to do or what to say – so sometimes you don’t say anything.

And there are times she doesn’t want me to say anything. She knows I don’t have the answer. And I’m not going to make one up. So we just sit and let the silence in.

And sometimes, we talk. A lot. About wanting her kids to remember her. About not wanting to die. About what’s important in this life. About God and Heaven and the hard things no one wants to say out loud.

Those moments take my breath away. They are intense and uncomfortable and realistic and raw. They are real and painful to talk about. But we do. Because we need to. She needs to. And so, we do.

We also go to happy hour and dye our hair burnt orange (her favorite color and so now it’s her cancer’s rally color) and we eat lots of dessert and celebrate remissions.

Because I’ve discovered it’s not about focusing on treatment and suffering and dying – it’s about celebrating life and choosing joy in the journey – I’ve discovered that because that’s what she’s discovered. Joy – not happiness. There’s a difference.

What do you do when your best friend has cancer? Whatever she needs you to. Take the journey with her, best as you can. Hold her hand and she’ll hold yours. One day at a time. One step at a time. One moment at a time.

That’s all. That’s it. You’ll discover though, it’s really just the beginning of something deeper. You may not want to just jump right in – and she definitely doesn’t want to either. But she is, and so do you.

Together.