One of my biggest fears as a child (and even now, as an adult) was the fear of being left behind. I used to get into a sweat thinking about my parents accidentally driving off without me, or walking ahead and me not being able to keep up, or being at the shops and watching them walk out of a store without me. I can think of a number of childhood incidents that probably contributed to this fear (none of them major, I hasten to add) and it has stayed with me. I still don’t like being the last in a group to leave anywhere or the one asked to stay behind for any reason. It’s irrational but it’s still a part of my psyche.
I am finding more and more that this horrid disease is making me confront anxieties and behaviours I have had since childhood, and the fear of being left behind is no exception. Over the past couple of weeks the fear has been particularly challenged and I am having to find fresh ways to deal with it. I am being left behind by those breast cancer friends diagnosed around the same time as I received my primary diagnosis, who haven’t had their legs taken out from under them by the shock of a secondary diagnosis. They are all moving through the course of treatment, emerging from the other side, starting to think about life post-cancer. I watch them emerging into the post-treatment sunlight, blinking in the light of their new normality, testing their strength, able to contemplate life almost as it once was. I feel like I am watching from the shadows, being pinned back in the dark and screaming silently after them. I am so so thrilled that my compadres are moving on and I am so so sad that I will never be able to. I see new girls joining the community and realise that, in time, they too will move on and again and again I will be left behind.
In facing this fear one possibility is to seek solace and companionship from others with secondary breast cancer. They too can’t move on. But that is a rocky road. The demons haunting that community are fierce. The girls talk of treatments ceasing to have any effect, of pain, of organ failure, of limited time left, of end of life choices. They too are leaving people behind – not by moving on but by passing away.
So who understands? Who shares this narrow space between the once-ill and the dying? Who is there who won’t leave me behind but will walk at my pace, hold my hand, lean into me? There are so few. So few. When I stop and think about this the loneliness is palpable. I am being left behind and it makes me sad.