How to be a Good Friend to Someone with Terminal Cancer

Her husband Patrick has big plans for the Northwest Arkansas METSquerade. Plans to double year one donations in year two, three, and stand up METSquerades all across the country. There’s a disenchanted look in Lisa’s eyes and her lips spread into a half frown. I know what she’s thinking; that she won’t be alive to watch this baby grow. But that’s not the worst of it…

Cooper and Karis are Lisa and Patrick’s world. Two of the most expressive and imaginative children I have ever met. Cooper tells people with great conviction that his mom has been imprisioned for stealing, buys his sneakers at the liquor store [where she buys EVERYTHING], and that he makes his own shirts out of sheep’s wool from their farm. All complete fabrications. 100% bombastic. Authentic Cooper.

Karis’ best friend is her momma Lisa. She’s barely four, but there’s an ancient understanding in her clear aqua eyes. Her hair is wavy, wild, and BIG, Dallas big and will not be tamed. She’s a real life version of the cabbage patch doll and lots more lovable. She takes me by the hand to show me her favorite room which is really not a room- it’s storage under the stairs. There’s an avalanche of pink toys there but she knows exactly where everything is. She’s the kind of little sister who just wants to tag along with big brother. Who tries to play as rough but gets twice as irked. She’s daddy’s princess who secretly wants to be a tomboy and the light in momma’s eyes. You can’t help but to adore her. That’s Karebear.

Lisa was diagnosed with de novo MBC to bone last summer at the age of 36. She had been healthy and still technically is in spite of the rogue cells that sleep inside of her. She has responded exceptionally well to her first line therapy of Letrozole and Ibrance and the only active cancer in her breast will be removed next month. Our prayer and sincere hope is that she’ll be an exceptional responder to this therapy which means she could go on for 3, 6, even 10 years without progression! But hope and prayer alone is not a strategy. This is why we’re working so hard for the METSquerade benefiting Metavivor; her greatest ally to transform a terminal illness’s into a chronic condition with a good quality of life.

Many of our family gatherings center around event planning and fundraising which frankly is a pleasant distraction, but there are frequent reminders of cancer’s vice grip on her life. When cooper picks up a monster truck I see the thoughts broadcast on Lisa’s face. ” Will I be alive to watch him take his drivers test?” As Karis demands to be picked up and spun around by daddy, she wonders if she’ll be alive to dance at her wedding. Those thoughts may be dark, but for an MBC patient who has just a 10% chance of living 10 years, they are an acrid reality.

I tell Lisa that it’s ok to have those thoughts but not to dwell on them. Today she’s stable. Today she’s active. Today she’s alive. So we live for today and we plan optimistically for tomorrow. She does the same for me. I too am living with terminal breast cancer.So what do you do, say, and how are you to BE when your best friend (and you) have incurable cancer? You laugh heartier. You sing louder. You love more authentically. You LIVE more sincerely. No one is guaranteed tomorrow but ours our promised lesser so. For those who have lost friends, daughters, mothers, lovers, mourn them and honor them by investing in the cause.

To Lisa,

May our families grow old together. May we rock our grand babies on the front porch while we wear Depends because, let’s face it, when we laugh hard, we pee a little. May we defy every statistic. May cancer be but a footnote in this crazy life we are blessed to share. I love you.