The ones that got away.

It has to be said that I’ve gained much more than I’ve lost in the past couple of years—Sloane, a new house, new experiences…but there have been some losses too. The most tragic was the loss of our dayhome provider earlier this year. I wish that she had simply moved on to another job or perhaps returned home to the Philippines. But she is gone, gone. Early last summer she started experiencing some seemingly minor symptoms (fatigue, weird rash-like spots on her legs) and sought medical help at a walk-in clinic where her concerns were initially dismissed and then later taken more seriously as doctors tried to establish if she was having some kind of allergic or autoimmune reaction. After a couple of weeks in and out of the hospital, she was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

While it is the most common childhood cancer, it is much rarer (and deadlier) in adults. About 98% of children with ALL go into remission within weeks of starting treatment and 90% of those kids are able to be cured (cancer is considered “cured” after 10 years in remission). This is in sharp contrast to the 3-year survival rates for adult patients, which are down in the 25-50% range. She was shocked by the diagnosis, but extremely positive and resolved to fight it. She posted a lot on social media about gratitude for her friends, family and faith. She was also – the entire time – consumed with concern for her dayhome charges. Worried about how the babies were getting on without her, missing them, and sorry that she couldn’t see them too much (for her own immunity).

Over the next 8 months she underwent several rounds of chemo and eventually one of her younger brothers was identified as a stem cell donor and was flown over from the Philippines for a full body stem cell transplant on January 11, 2018. The transplant was successful and she initially seemed to be on the road to recovery, but in early February she came down with pneumonia and then some type of infection. She was put in an induced coma for a couple of weeks and they were having trouble bringing her out of it—which didn’t bode well. She passed away on the evening of February 22, with family by her side.

There was a point before Christmas when, because of whatever was going on with her health at that time, it occurred to me that she might not make it. But it wasn’t until she actually died that I realized how surprised I was, and how naively optimistic my view of cancer had become. I had been spoiled by the “fighter” and “survivor” and “kicking cancer’s ass” narratives that pervaded my limited personal experiences and A LOT of popular/social media coverage.

“They caught it early”, “she’s young and strong”, “she’s getting the best treatment”, “she’s THINKING POSITIVE” – all these factors are supposed to mean that things turn out okay. Not that a healthy, active, 24-year old woman will be dead in less than a year. How foolish is it to be caught off guard by the fact that cancer kills?

It’s good to remain hopeful and positive, but it’s also maybe good to remember that all the well-wishes, positive thoughts, prayers and go-fund-me campaigns in the world can’t change the course of fate.

About a year earlier, we lost our boy Twitchy. Along with his sister Molly, he was the other “OG” shit monster that was one of the namesakes of this blog and the grey/black/white guy up in the top banner image. He was a big, handsome boy (23 lbs-ish) and a great, great cat. Super loving and cuddly with people and Molly. The best lap cat and couch buddy that ever there was.

The night before we were leaving town to meet up with my parents at their condo in Mexico, he looked a little bit off. Nothing I could put my finger on. It always makes me roll my eyes when a vet asks if the animal has been lethargic. Like, he’s a cat, he’s been lethargic for over a decade. In the morning, his breathing was laboured and he seemed weak. Sloane was still sleeping, so Andrew ran T to the vet while I stayed home and finished last-minute packing since we were 5 hours from boarding a plane. It quickly became clear that T was in very rough shape and we were going to have to make some quick decisions. I intercepted my friend Kerri on her way to work, diverting her to my house to stay with Sloane so I could join Andrew at the vet.

We never figured out the whole situation…they suspected an enlarged heart but possibly other issues as well. Getting a more solid diagnosis would have meant a lot of money and there was a lot of doubt that anything we could have done would have done much good. By the time we were able to see him to say goodbye, he was lying on his side in an oxygen chamber. He was mellow and friendly but undeniably sick – too sick to come out to say goodbye in the marginally better private rooms they have for such purposes. We were given ample time to visit, but after just a few minutes of petting and talking to T, we called the vet back. When it’s time, it’s time. These things suck, but we were glad it all went down before we left so we could be there for him, and thankful to have a vet who made us feel supported in our decision.

There’s one final aspect of loss that’s been on my mind a lot lately as relationships have shifted in the post-Sloane era. Some significant ones have pretty much disappeared. This is tough for me, because I’ve always valued a friendship circle that is ‘small but deep’ as opposed to ‘wide but shallow’. As a result, I don’t have dozens of back-ups waiting in the wings when things go south with close friends. I mean, I feel like I’m diversified enough in that I have work friends, some casual mom-friends, neighbours I’m friendly with, old friends I connect with once in blue, etc. But these aren’t the people I spend the majority of my time/energy on, nor the ones I had envisioned playing an important role throughout my daughter’s life. This is one of the things that concerns me a lot – it’s SO, SO, important to me for Sloane to have solid, lifelong connections with people she can trust (beyond her family) to be there for her no matter what.

I launched into a bit of a deep dive on friendship and it was pretty eye-opening.

That friends come and go seems to be a universal truth. Research shows that MOST friendships have a life span of around seven years and that the majority of friendships you make are ‘fleeting and based on convenience’. There’s a heartwarming sentiment. Here’s another one: we form an average of 396 personal relationships in our lifetime, but only 33 – that’s one in 12 – will last. Also – this is the best/worst one yet – only about 50% of the people you consider friends consider you a friend back. Awesome, right?

2,000-odd years ago, Aristotle defined three types of friendship. Friendships of utility (you are useful to one another – you help each other out), friendships of pleasure (you enjoy doing things together or get enjoyment out of each other’s humour, charm or intellect) and friendships of virtue (you love each other simply for who each of you are). The first two types are necessary, fun and perfectly fine, but the third type is the holy grail kind that is harder to come by, but the most enduring and rewarding.

Most lapsed friendships are easy to understand. These are the ‘easy come, easy go’ friends of utility or pleasure. People are brought together by circumstance or proximity (school, workplace, neighbourhood, clubs, hobbies) and when that common bond goes away, so does the friendship. No harm, no foul.

These ones and the ones that implode or fall apart in a more decisive or dramatic fashion (somebody lies/cheats/steals/joins a cult) seem to be easier to come to terms with than the ones that you thought were built on something solid, but then either abruptly end for reasons unknown or just sort of trail off, leaving you wondering what happened. You can ask. But you really can’t expect a satisfying answer. I mean, if the truthful answer is, “you know what? I just don’t really like you anymore.” Who is going to have the balls to say that to somebody? Most people will go the denial or ghosting route.

I’m the kind of person who likes to hash things out and wants explanations. It took me far too long to realize that the reason someone has disconnected isn’t important. The fact that they did says everything you need to know. If you piss somebody off and they want to be your friend, they tell you they are pissed off. If you hurt somebody and they want to be your friend, they tell you they are hurt. If somebody is uncomfortable with anything you’re doing or not doing and they want to be your friend, they bring it to you. If instead they retreat from you, then they don’t want to be your friend. Perhaps someone you believed was a friend of virtue was actually a friend of utility or pleasure all along. Maybe they were part of the 50% who didn’t think as much of you as you did of them. Maybe your 7 years was simply up. For whatever reason, they are JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU. And like it was for Miranda when the infuriating Jack Berger dropped this truth bomb on SATC approximately a million years ago, this realization is freeing as fuck.

What then? As my friend (maybe?! Ha!) Kate recently said, you remind yourself to “choose people who choose you”. This means investing in the people who make the effort to connect with you. None of us has the time or energy to have the kind of all-consuming, hang-out all day every day, friendships we had in our teens or 20s, that’s a given. But we all make choices every day about who we are keeping in our life and who we are willing to push (or let slip) away. The trick is to hold on to the people who are holding on right back.