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My Friend Doesn't Have Long To Live

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My friend is dying, and I feel like a part of me is dying as well.

It may seem odd, because I've only known him online and over the phone (he lives 2500 miles away), and only since June of last year. However, he's probably the best friend I've ever had. I've always had trouble connecting with people and forming close friendships, but I "clicked" with him right from the start.

In late September, he was diagnosed with angioimmunoblastic T-cell lymphoma, which is a rare form of lymphoma and very hard to cure. It didn't help that he let it go way too long before getting checked out due to lack of health insurance. He went through 6 chemo treatments, felt better, and all signs pointed toward a remission. However, shortly thereafter, some of the symptoms returned and he had the feeling that something was still wrong. He and his doctor tossed around the idea of a bone marrow transplant, but he had to go through more tests first. All results came back inconclusive. They decided on one more biopsy (a foot punch, since that was how they made the diagnosis in the first place). He had that done about a month ago, and while he was waiting for the results, he developed pancreatitis and ended up in the hospital. They took his gallbladder out, and he was in severe pain after the surgery. They told him it was normal post-op pain, and to come back in a week for a follow-up. The day after his follow-up, he was readmitted to the hospital because the bloodwork showed something was wrong. They ran more tests last week.

He's been answering emails, texts, and phone calls only sporadically since he developed the pancreatitis. On the one hand, it's understandable since he's been in pain and in the hospital for most of the time, but on the other hand, he's continued to work (from home or the hospital).

A mutual friend called him a few days ago (I was afraid to call him because I'd called him shortly after the surgery and it ended up being a very bad time). He told her that the tests on his digestive system came back negative, but that it had been determined that his cancer was terminal and he's only got a couple months to live (if that), unless he gets palliative chemo. Even with the chemo, he probably won't make it through the summer. He asked her not to tell anyone, that he'd let me and everyone else know when he was ready (she told me anyway because she was going crazy and had to talk to someone). He also told her it was up to him whether or not he would answer emails, phone calls, etc. True, but it doesn't make it any less stressful to not hear from him. Whenever I don't get a response, I think the worst, and I don't have any other way of finding out if he's still alive.

The mutual friend and I are both terrified that he's closing himself off from everyone. We used to chat online practically every day, but now he answers maybe one out of every three or four emails. I try not to send more than one or two a day so it doesn't seem like I'm nagging, and I've told him to let me know if it gets annoying, but he's never complained (which is at least a little bit heartening). I've been with him throughout this entire mess, and I'd like to be there until it ends, whenever that may be. I'd found a cancer support group forum and posted my concerns about losing him while he's still alive, and people there basically told me I was being selfish and should just let him go if that's what he wants. Not what I needed to hear. I know I can't force myself on him and I don't plan to, but I love him dearly and don't want to lose him before he's actually gone. I guess it's selfish, but is it really so awful of me to think that way? On Saturday night, I wrote him a rambling email about nothing in particular (because when he was going through chemo, he once told me he enjoyed those emails from me because they were a distraction). He sent me a brief and amusing answer yesterday morning, which did help, but I haven't heard anything from him since. I'm trying not to push, partially because he's the type to run away if he's pushed too hard.

In any case, my heart is breaking and I've been a wreck. Sometimes I feel extreme anxiety. I want to go and visit him while I can, but I don't know if he'll agree to it (knowing him, he wouldn't want me to get "caught in the crossfire" when he's in a bad mood). I can't bring up the idea until he tells me his bad news himself, because I can't let him know I already know. When I think about the possibility of never getting the chance to see him in person, my heart races, I shake, and I feel like I can't breathe. Sometimes I sit and cry while I yell at the universe for finally giving me the friend I've been looking for my entire life, only to take him away again. I also cry because of the unfairness of it all for him -- he's only 48 and his life hasn't been the easiest. Not to get political, but I get angry at the health care system, because if he'd had insurance, he might have gotten to a doctor in time. I get angry that I didn't get to know him sooner so I'd have more time with him. We're both published authors (it's how I met him), and I had dreams of co-writing a book with him. Now, that's never going to happen. And sometimes... I actually feel okay, but only for brief periods. I fall asleep okay, but I wake up after only five hours or so and can't get back to sleep. I feel sick after eating just small amounts of food. My doctor gave me Xanax a while ago for occasional use (I have a heart arrhythmia, and too much stress exacerbates it), and I took it the first couple days after getting the news, but I stopped because all it did was make me feel drugged on top of everything else.

I can't tell him any of this, because he doesn't like it when he causes me pain (which is probably part of the reason why he hasn't told me the bad news himself yet), and he's told me more than once that even though he appreciates my friendship, love, and support, he wishes I wasn't so emotionally involved because he doesn't want me to end up hurting over him. I tell myself that he doesn't want me to hurt, so I shouldn't... but I can't just turn it off.

People keep telling me to "enjoy the time he still has", but how am I supposed to do that if he's uncommunicative? I keep hoping he'll come around a little once he makes the decision on the chemo. I just hope it's not too late.

He's become such a part of my life and my heart in a short time, and while I'm grateful for the time we've had, I can't help but think of how little time it's been.

I guess I'm lucky in that I have that mutual friend, and I always feel at least a little better after chatting with her, and she says she feels better after chatting with me.

Okay, I think I'm done. Thanks for listening.

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I read your post and thought that I would reply. You are experiencing what is called anticipatory grief. It is very common. I am very sorry to hear about your friend. Regardless if you only know them online, you can become attached to them and they can become your best friends. I play a game online and I have a few very close friends I have met there and if they got hurt or found out news such as your friend – it would hurt just as bad as it being a family member.

I really don't have any advice for you on this. But my dad is terminally ill and I have been going through the same battles mentally. All I can tell you is if I were experiencing the same circumstances as you are and it was one of my friends I would just try to be there for them. Regardless on what they think and/or do they are the ones dying and we should respect it even though it sucks. I just try to imagine myself in my dad's shoes and it helps me respect his wishes and his thought process. My dad has been tossing around the idea of quitting chemo and I want to die every time it comes up. It infuriates me that he would make that choice… but I take a step back and think about it and force myself to be okay with it because it is his choice to make.

Sorry if I am not much help to you. Please know you are not alone and you and your friend are in my thoughts. I hope he does eventually open up to you and tell you so you may (when the time comes) have the chance to say goodbye.


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Dear Magic,

I'm so sorry that this is happening to you and your friend. What you are feeling in this situation is completely understandable ~ and I think it's admirable that you're trying so hard to put your friend's feelings and needs ahead of your own, no matter how frustrating and maddening that can be. That is probably the most selfless act of love that any human being can offer to another, and I can't imagine how difficult this must be for you. It sounds as if your friend is clinging to whatever measure of control he feels he has right now. We can only hope and pray that, as time goes on and as his condition changes, he will change his mind about what he wants and needs from you. In the meantime, the greatest gift you can give is what you're doing now: your continued willingness to be there if and when he asks you to be there for him, and to accept and love him exactly as you find him ~ without judgment or reproach.

You may find this thread of interest ~ written from the perspective of one who is dying: I Can't Tell Them

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Sharla, I'm so sorry to hear about your dad and that you're going through similar issues. I know what you mean about how the thought of him quitting chemo is painful. I want my friend to take the chemo to get some more time, too, but as you said, it's up to them. I'm hoping my friend will come around and open up again once he makes that choice.

And Marty, both your post and the thread you linked to brought me some comfort. The reminder that my actions and his are out of love is what I needed. Thank you.

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