At this age the sudden intrusion of a bad cancer diagnosis in the world of people I know is not rare. But dealing with it, especially in someone you care about, never gets easier. The person in this case is an acquaintance of mine, but a dear friend of my dear friend, and my friend called to ask for support as she processes the difficult news. There is the sad anticipation of further diminishment of the circle of people we hold dear. There is the reverberation with an earlier death from the same kind of cancer, my friend’s mother. Loss, after all, is cumulative. There is the dread of knowing that the friend will undergo difficult treatment, which may not make a great deal of difference in extending her life. There is the regrettable fact that my friend has relocated from the city where we both know the person who is ill, and so she will not be there to help with doctor visits, chemo appointments, or to sit with our friend on a day that she can’t be alone. There is the sense of dodging a bullet: three women, all healthy, vital, and active, all around the same age, and one got bad news.
A bad diagnosis can happen at any age, but such news seems to carry an extra sting now — perhaps because bad news comes more often, or because the cumulative weight of loss becomes harder to hold, or because we know that bullet dodging surely won’t happen forever for anyone.
Most of all, the sting comes because I hate to think of suffering — anyone’s suffering — and diminishment, and death.
Life, as Scott Peck wrote all those years ago in The Road Less Traveled, is difficult.