The Well-Meaning Friend

06/30/2015 02:36 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2016

Is the term "well-meaning friend" an expression to signify one who does unintentional harm while providing acts of kindness and sincere concern? Or... is it an idiom that points to intentional harm, under the guise helping a friend in need? I pose this question for reasons of my own, as well as for all my mets sisters and brothers. Most of us have experienced being given the business or the heave-ho by friends after they learned we have a terminal illness.

As a metastatic breast cancer patient, I had enough to deal with at the time of diagnosis without the added trauma of friends who walked away without a word. But I'm not truly sure I do want an answer. There can be no really good reason for this behavior, either way you look at it. Friends who dump you because you may be dying have no excuse for their insensitivity. And friends who say things like but you don't look like you're dying! aren't winning praise from me, or metsters-at-large either. Are they trying to be kind, not realizing this is a thought better not spoken; or is incredulity lurking somewhere in the recesses of their mind?

This was my scenario... in separate phone calls with two of my former nurse friends, I somewhat emotionally, OK... very tearfully, blurted out my new diagnosis of Stage IV breast cancer with bone metastasis. I only learned about it few days prior, so I had not yet gotten used to the idea of being terminal. They called me for casual conversation and probably for an opinion on a matter troubling to one of them, or maybe a plan to go shopping or take in a movie. After I dropped the C-bomb, the call ended quickly and neither one contacted me again. Not so much as a note card, an email, a text, a tweet, or even a Facebook message. Hello?! I don't have the plague or some other horribly contagious disease! It's been nearly five years and I still think about it.

Rejection and abandonment are two very tough personal crises to walk away from unscathed. First, you've had no closure. No goodbyes. No "It was nice being friends but I can't stick around while you slowly succumb to cancer." I needed closure. I also wanted the last word. So I emailed both of these well-meaning friends and told them I felt that what they did was cruel and cold. I added that I was doing great (e.g., not yet dying) and wished them well. Of course, this was a year after those fatal calls, so they probably thought I had lost my marbles due to my diseased status. It was still worth it as I got what I wanted... I no longer feel wounded!
Similar situations like this happen all the time. I've read about them online, in candid chats in social networks that are private and exist to support metastatic patients. Nearly everyone I've encountered can attest to at least one former well-meaning friend or co-worker who left them high and dry at a time when they were most needed. We want real honest-to-goodness friends who stick with us even if the going gets tough! It doesn't take much to show you care... a phone call here, a note card there. A visit or two to chat like old times. Perhaps you can issue an invitation to a movie or lunch now and then. Getting out and doing something that doesn't cause fatigue and has nothing to do with our illness is often the best diversion for someone living with metastatic cancer.

We most likely will not expect you to make us a casserole or freeze some dinners for later on. Neither will we want you to do our laundry, clean our house, or run errands. We have close family and intimate friends who help with that. You are the casual friend we worked with, went on breaks and had lunch with. We saw each other socially on occasion, went to employee picnics and parties together, and had many long chats on the phone. We are the casual acquaintance that you called upon whenever you wanted a laugh or a good time or help with a personal problem.

To demonstrate how gut wrenching it feels when a friend ditches you in a time of need, I have written an over-the-top, hypothetical, tongue-in-cheek scenario for metsters and their well-meaning friends. Hopefully, it will give you a chuckle, and that's good. After all, if we don't laugh at ourselves now and then, we may be given to crying. Tears are something most people don't really want to witness. Trust me. They make people feel guilty, helpless, powerless, down-in-the-dumps sad. Other than a catharsis and temporary stress reliever for you, no good will come of it.

The Well-Meaning Friend

My well-meaning friend says there is a nasty rumor,
Everyone I know is talking about my spreading tumor!
She pointedly asks me, "Are you actually dying?
Tell me honestly, are these people lying?

So when did you come out of remission?
Who will be in the funeral procession?
It seemed like you were doing so well!
Now then, who else do I need to tell?

You look so pale, are you feeling all right?
Why do you ask if I've come here for a fight?
It seems you've forgotten what friends are for,
Don't worry, I won't come back here anymore!"

Most likely, you won't see yourself in this little melodrama. It's simply a means of shining a light on a rarely talked about problem many of us with a terminal illness face. I ask that if you have someone in your life with a terminal illness, that you to think about this. Find it in your heart to keep that number in your contacts. Call it now and then. It will do you and the person you lift up a world of good!