“Fearless Friends” is an emerging phrase in the breast cancer world. A Fearless Friend is someone who has early stage cancer or no cancer at all, yet advocates for and supports those with terminal cancer. A Fearless Friend may be someone who steps up to be a caregiver; they may be someone who researches metastatic breast cancer; they may be someone who does online work to educate; they may be the person who sits and really listens to a terminal friend, looks them in the eyes knowing their lives are mostly over and asks: “What can I do for you?” Fearless Friend is meant as a term of endearment. It’s meant to acknowledge that it is scary to be around people with a terminal disease. But it is also a misnomer; if we were really fearless, our acts and our friendship wouldn’t be so significant. The truth is, I am scared every fucking day, but that fear compels me to act rather than turn a blind eye.
If you aren’t scared, you can’t be brave. Metastatic advocacy work is brave for anyone doing it. It takes courage, and that’s why it touches people. We are sad all the time, and we are not alone in this. I join a vast network of people, both metastatic and otherwise who refuse to let their fear draw them into complacency. The online world of folks living with or advocating around MBC is very interconnected. With 113 people dying in the US every day, it is common to know someone who will die on any given day, even if we only knew them online. I read messages and posts from friends who are terminal. I see that they are grieving lost friends too. What title do terminal patients get when their friends are also terminal? Are they Fearless Friends as well?As impacted as I am by these deaths, I know that my emotional impact is so very different from my terminal friends. I have the freedom to walk away. At least, in theory I do. I can choose to not attend conferences about MBC. I can choose to not get close to people with the disease. My involvement is entirely chosen, whereas for someone with MBC there is no turning away. Metastatic patients lose friends who can’t bear closeness to death. They don’t have a choice about keeping those friends. Even I have alienated many friends by talking about cancer all the time. While I know that I do have a choice to not make this disease such a large part of my life, it doesn’t really feel that way.It is my distinct honor to stand up for these people; to be let into their lives, know their hopes and fears, and watch their outrage become action. For as long as I can stand I will stand with and for them; for as long as I have my voice, I will join my voice with theirs. While this seems to be a choice I need you to hear me when I say that it is not. It is NOT A CHOICE. I am simply not capable of knowing the injustices that lead to so many deaths due to MBC and doing nothing. I am not capable of knowing these friends so intimately and turning my back on them out of fear. They don’t turn their back on me out of fear of my life. My energy and health are not insults to them, they are attributes.The term “Grateful Friend” is much more appropriate. We enter into these friendships knowing what’s at stake, but still grateful to have that friendship and all its potential for as long as we can experience it. If we were indeed fearless, these friendships wouldn’t be so impactful. We love people in part because of this fear, including it, not despite it.
When someone opens up and lets me into the bloom spaces of their raw emotion – fears and joys and all – I can only be filled with a distinct gratitude at being trusted to hold that space. It takes bravery to open up in such a way, so we are none of us fearless. We are all filled with fear like a fever, and for those who use that fear as fuel we should all be grateful. If we can focus on gratitude rather than fear, we will find ourselves infused with the bravery to carry on.
Here I am, ever your Grateful Friend,