Sunday, February 6, 2011

The passing of fellow survivor and friend - Bethany Richmond

I woke up Friday morning with a cold and felt like shit. I bundled up in flannel and sat down at my computer with a cup of tea to "reconnect" with the world.   This is my morning ritual no matter what time I actually get up.  

As I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter updates I saw an entry that simply said “Bethany RIP”.   I ran those words through my head and thought “no way, this cannot be, there must be a mistake”.   But I knew that it was true, it was a reliable source.  I clicked on Bethany’s Facebook page and after reading several posts I found a post by her sister that confirmed that Bethany died on Thursday.

I met Bethany in January 2009, almost two years ago to the day.   Although we only saw each other a handful of times, we kept in touch and shared our common journey with cancer. Bethany was a vibrant, compassionate, caring young woman that deserved to live a full life instead of dying a few days after her 29th birthday.

The day I was diagnosed I became a card carrying member of the cancer community whether I wanted to join or not.   I resisted in the first year, not wanting to befriend other survivors, keeping my distance at treatment and refused to attend support groups.   I did not want to be one of “them”, I wanted to be normal.  After a year or so, I realized that I needed to talk to others that were having similar experiences.  I joined a couple support groups both in person and online.  I started virtual visits with my new friends on Planet Cancer and met many other young adult survivors and finally found others who could relate. 

My non-cancer friends had done a great job supporting me, but they just did not get it.  To be truthful, I did not want them to be completely able to relate, because that meant they would too have cancer.   Over the past years I have met fellow survivors at retreats, fundraisers, social events, through other friends and survivors as well as online communities like Planet Cancer, Facebook and Twitter.   Some my cancer friends I have never met in person or even talked on the phone, but we know each other virtually.  Some I talk to daily, others every couple of months.   Some of us stay in touch by reading each others blogs, twitter or Facebook updates and provide and express care through the short posts of the social networking world.  I find it amazing that some of my closest friendships in the cancer community were formed from short introductions both in person or comments on discussion boards.   I have a broad definition of friendship for these people.   I may not see them in my regular life or would not recognize them on the street, but we have shared intimate feelings and experiences with cancer with each other and therefore built a special bond. 

After three years of being active in the ‘cancer’ world both as a fellow survivor and advocate I know more people with cancer than without. We all celebrate together the victories like of end of treatment, successful surgeries and mourn of sad moments like treatment, side effects and the ongoing toll cancer takes on our body, mind and spirit.  There is a negative of having this wonderful community of fellow travelers and the support we receive.   The downside of meeting and being friends with people in the cancer community is the likelihood that you will experience the deaths of several of your friends is exponentially greater.   I wonder about that sometimes.  Am I opening myself up for more grief and pain than I already experience?  Do I want to have more people I care about who are suffering and dying from this disease? Conversely, is it fair to become friends with people when I know that I am terminal?

I do know that each person that I have met on this journey has enriched my life and helped me on my journey and I hope that I have done the same in response.  

I am so pissed that cancer has taken one more of the people I love.  Cancer sucks.  Enough is Enough!!! We need to find a way to stop this deadly disease.   I never want to lose another friend, but I know that in my heart I will.    Yesterday was World cancer day and I wanted to write this post then, but the words would not come.  Today a friend told me that since cancer exists every day, there is no wrong time to express these feelings and support those with cancer.    The Stand Up 4 Cancer organization created a space on their website for people to “stand up” together and declare your support.  It is not too late.  Will you join me in standing up for the end of cancer?

It still feels unreal that I will never again be able to talk to Bethany again, to share a meal, exchange experiences and provide and receive support from each other.   I will always remember her and how in knowing her she has blessed my life.   Heaven has gained a wonderful angel this week.   She will be missed. 

Below is the post I made on Bethany's Facebook page when I learned of her passing. 

Dear Bethany, There are few words that could express how sad I am to hear this news. I valued our friendship; and enjoyed the times we had together and will remember them always. I am comforted to know that you are now in a place of peace and without suffering. 

Bethany at the I'm Too Young for This happy hour, August 2009