Saturday, 9 December 2017

Weekly Discussion Summary ~ Loss of Peers and Friends to Breast Cancer

In our weekly discussion, we shared our feelings about losing peers and our friends as a result of breast cancer.

Hearing about the death of another woman with breast cancer can tear apart the hearts of those of us who have been diagnosed with primary and secondary breast cancer. We find ourselves mourning women in the public eye, women we have never met, like Rebecca Ellison, Connie Johnson and Mao Kobayashi – to name but a few.

Why, we asked ourselves, do we feel such intense pain for women who we have never met?

It is because they are untimely. It is because we have seen too many young, vibrant women robbed of their lives. It is because some, but not all, are mothers, leaving behind children, sometimes very young children. It is because we know how much the loss of these unique, extraordinary women will hurt their loved ones and their families.

Grief for friends with breast cancer can feel more validated, but our response to the loss of women we have known through online groups and forums is often no less intense and the strength of our reaction can take us by surprise. Our discussion highlighted that losing someone who means something to us and shares our own vulnerabilities, can feel uniquely devastating. We are profoundly sorry for their loss but, importantly, it makes us fearful, reminding us of the vulnerability that we face, reminding us of what may be awaiting us and our own mortality, reminding us of our powerlessness and lack of control. We feel guilty that we are one of the lucky ones, that we have survived. We feel grateful and profoundly thankful. We also wonder why it is we are still here. Time seems to stop. We cannot find the words to describe our complicated feelings and so we remain silent. Our pain is invisible and unseen.

For some of us, anger is our first reaction, anger at a cruel disease which seems to senselessly rob us of a life long before our expected time. Others described intense sadness. Some are reminded of other losses they have experienced and the pain they felt and still feel, while others described sensing those losses that are yet to come. Women with secondary breast cancer shared just how hard it can be for them because of the looming, anticipatory fear that accompanies each loss, causing them intense anguish as they try to banish the dreadful thought ‘it could be me next.’

What can we do in these circumstances?

As humans, we naturally try to avoid suffering but Naz explained that research shows that acknowledging loss and spending time on mourning and grieving can, in fact, help us to adapt more quickly. In comparison, blocking out the pain, and attempting to push it out of our minds can cause us even more suffering. There is no prescription for how long we need to grieve or how intense the sadness, usually we find our own path and, deep inside us, we know.

Our attitudes to grief and loss are deeply embedded in our culture. As a society we are ill-equipped to deal with death, believing that immortality lies beyond the horizon of new medical innovation and technology, or if that can’t save us, then a positive attitude can. We heard from women from other cultures how helpful it can be to be able to express grief openly and dramatically. Western culture, however, does not give us a strong role model for death and grief, it's a hidden-away-thing, rituals are few and the emphasis is on ‘being positive’ and ‘being strong.’ Yet, when we focus our energy on being strong, we can forget to give ourselves permission to cry.

It can be comforting to know we have held the person who has died in our love and in our hearts. Memories become like gold, allowing us to celebrate the lives of our beloved and we know that we can carry this love forwards with us in our hearts. Gestures help, such as lighting candles and sharing happy memories because they allow us to share our grief as a group, reminding us that we are not alone. Most importantly, we can listen. Really listen, and by listening, we can open our hearts to one another. If we can be brave and we can allow ourselves to feel our pain, we can become like the sea, 'the Living Infinite,' nothing but "love and emotion".

If you are a woman living in the UK with a diagnosis of breast cancer and you would like to join our private group, please contact is by facebook message


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