When Someone You Don’t Know Dies of Breast Cancer

I was filled with sadness recently when reading a post on a closed cancer support Facebook group, MetavivorsNZ for New Zealanders with secondary breast cancer.

One of their members had passed away not long after advising everyone she was going into a hospice. Her good friend wrote to let everyone know and to thank them for their friendship and support on her behalf.

I was one of the first to read this post, and I although I wanted to write something, I could not find the word to express what I was feeling.

I didn’t know this lady on a personal level, nor had I been an engaged member of the group. And not having been through breast cancer myself, I wasn’t sure if it was appropriate to post anything at all.

I was also worried about saying the wrong thing, as I’ve been known to do in the past.

“I’m sorry for your loss” just sounded like an empty platitude. Even though this phrase is recommended as one of the best things to say.

And saying nothing wasn’t an option either. This only really works when you are with someone in person and can show empathy through touch and body language. But not so online when silence can be misinterpreted.

I felt sad for the members of the Facebook group having lost one of their friends, and how they must feel receiving a stark reminder about their own situation and living with metastatic cancer.

I also felt sad for the loss of life for a woman so young to cancer, and for her family with it being so close to Christmas and wondered how they would cope.

In the end I opted for an emoticon. A cop out I know.

I guess it’s easier for me to know what to say when it’s someone I know. As was the case with my friend, whose best friend lost her husband to cancer within a very short time after diagnosis.

I was genuinely sorry to hear this sad news for all whom this loss would affect. I didn’t know the actual person, but that’s all that needed to be said.

I haven’t yet personally lost someone very close to me, but my time will come. That is life. And with that personal experience will come the wisdom to know what to do and say in these circumstances.

In the meantime, I’d love to take my cues from others and follow their lead.

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