A Prayer for the Dying

When it came to breast cancer, Lily saw denial in her own best friend of 25 years.

"She felt a lump but waited three months to say anything," Lily recounted. "Meanwhile, the lump got bigger. Finally, she asked me—not a doctor—to look at it. It didn't feel right to me, and I advised her to get it checked."

The lump was cancer. The breast had to be removed.

"But my friend is alive," said Lily.

This got me thinking back to high school, when my friend's mom had a double mastectomy. The woman had known there was a lump in her breast for more than a year but wore a bra to bed to hide the truth from her husband of 32 years—and from herself.

Twenty years later, she's still married to the same man. He apparently doesn't care whether she has boobs. He's grateful he got 20 more years of her.

When I told another friend about my plans for Emily's visit, she was outraged—not by my plan, but by Emily's denial.

"I'm watching a friend die of breast cancer right now," she said. "This woman is not ready to go. She has two kids and a husband. She is fighting for her life with every available medicine known to man. And, yes, she is on her knees praying to God, too."

Emily never came to visit. She shortened her vacation to get back to some family crisis in northern California. When we spoke, I came clean about the doctor's appointment I had made for her. She said she was touched.

But it was clear her denial had progressed. Emily insisted she felt strong, declared she didn't want to be cut on. She wasn't even saying the "C" word.

Is it easier to say the "D" word? Are breasts worth dying for?

What if Emily's problem was lung cancer or a black spot on her face? Most likely, she would have rushed to the doctor. Emily has known about her lump now for 13 months. It's painful, and she has good and bad days.

I want to be the friend to hold Emily's hand during this. I want to grab her and make her see a doctor—who in my dreams will fix her and tell us everything will be okay.

But she's not going for it, so I am praying. And I did another thing.

I took a sheet of construction paper from my kid's room and traced my hand on it. I cut out the hand and sent it to Emily. I told her to hold it when she needs to. The real one is available, too, if she needs it—she knows that.

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