In 2012, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer I had no idea of what lay ahead, and for the most part, my ignorance was a very good thing. If you knew what you had coming, you’d just curl up in a ball in a corner and rock and rock and rock …
But aside from all the bad stuff, I was also ignorant about the good things that can happen when you get a cancer diagnosis, like making friends. When you get cancer, you are drawn to other people with cancer, simply because they get it. They get it, because they have it. Of course not everyone who gets cancer is someone you’d want to be friends with (arseholes always gonna be arseholes, cancer or not), but in the 6.5 years since my diagnosis I have met some of the best people ever.
Met them, and then mourned them. Deb, Nat, Julia, Antoinette, Sheree. The random lottery of cancer means that for every one of my friends still here, there is one gone. It’s so hard to become friends, to share the dark and the wondrous, the banal and the poignant, the exquisite pain of those last weeks, and then they’re gone. I’ve learned so much about friendship through this process of loss, and I think as a person, it’s made me both harder and softer in equal measure.
Of all the lessons I’ve learned from the friends I’ve made, my greatest teacher has been Rochelle. Along with Meg and Jo, we’ve spoken in a group chat on Messenger every single day, usually multiple times each day, for about the last three years. Rochelle is a fucking fantastic friend – smart, funny, interesting and always interested. The conversations just roll on, day in and day out, a constant connection in four lives which are spread across three states and two countries. And when she goes, there is going to be a beautiful, 6 foot high Kiwi-accented space in our lives that will never be able to be filled.
Rochelle was diagnosed with metastatic, terminal breast cancer when her second son was just 10 months old, and despite all the predictions and the odds, Rochelle has lived to see that baby grow into a boy – a story I wrote about in June last year. That boy is now 6 years old, and he and his older brother will soon lose their Mum. I cannot type that without the tears coming. In the last six months, Rochelle has packed up those boys and moved countries to protect them from an awful domestic situation. Her bones and lungs full of cancer, she packed up their lives and moved them where she knew they all would be safe and cared for. And since then she has fought tooth and nail, with an energy that can only be described as primal, to ensure that the physical and emotional needs of those boys are the primary consideration at all times. She has been faced with the kind of self-absorbed, vacuous, dangerous behaviour that narcissists specialise in, and stood up to it, every time. Even when she has literally been unable to stand, she’s stood up for those boys. I have never seen anyone else mother with such passion, commitment and selflessness, and I bow down before her. I have no doubt that the way she has mothered those boys will mean they grow into warm-hearted, kind, decent men, because the very fibre of their beings has been marked with her absolute love for them.
Rochelle, my beautiful friend. I don’t know what to say. The one who never knows when to shut up is lost for words.
I love you, and I will miss you. So much.
So, so much.