Sara’s Story

After 10 years of trying to get a diagnosis, Sara was told she had Stage 4 bowel cancer on 22 December 2022 after a self funded elective surgery. This cancelled Christmas that year.

“I am a fan of routine, holidays general disconcert me but that year I processed feelings I never wanted to have but didn’t bother with too many practical thoughts. Having said that I realised quickly that pragmatic realism was the path for me”

Sara believes that cancer is a team sport. She is the captain and she build a team like any sport team in that positions need to be filled and there is a reserve bench. She looked at what she thought and hoped she would need and thought about how her friends, close and far, could help her in a way they could help that matched Sara’s need and their ability to give.

As the news was shared and people came forward to express their sympathy, Sara was able to ask for specific help from some friends that gave them a role and a way that they felt helpful. Some help was a little overwhelming and some didn’t hit the spot for either Sara or her friend and some for people the news of Sara’s situation was too much and they disappeared. Not every one wanted to be on the team and some Sara knew would turn up again so they were relegated to the reserve bend – kept in the loose info loop but not core.
Sara realised she had to put her limited energy into those who did respond and from that she has been able to build a really solid small handful of friends to rely on. Over January 2023, friends arrived with food and kindnesses, some came to chat and a few to get the drama. Most were scared for Sara as it is confronting when someone of a similar age is diagnosed with incurable, terminal cancer. Sara chose to greet that feeling for her friends by being frank about her situation and be empathetic to their feelings – this was dependent on knowing her friends well. What Sara did learn is those who responded with a “get well soon’ and disappeared type response is that is a them thing and for what ever reason they choose to behave this way it has to be respected as nobody knows what others are really going through. Plus others will fill those gaps. Sara has found support and friends at her Cancer Society Support group which includes partners and carers, those close to us are getting the support they need too.

‘At the end of the day, now 15 months into the rest of my life, I have realised friends come and go, some friendships are one sided and will disappoint you, friendship are often lopsided and we don’t realise that until we are in need but there are more people out there who do want to support us and want to be needed too. We just need to open to a reciprocal relationship that meets the needs of both parties so we can sub out some of our team when they need a rest and bring on the reserves who have a particular talent or skill like finding car parts or making the perfect profiterole or the ones who remember that on the fourth day of your chemo cycle you need ice blocks and they just bring them or the ones who live far way but are happy for a 5 hour conversation when your steroids kick in. Most importantly, no one is mind reader so you need to tell people, pretty directly your need of them. This is within your control in a time where it doesn’t feel like anything much is.”

“Looking back now, I couldn’t have predicted who would be in my core team, of my tight five two are friendships that have developed since my diagnosis but even those who are long term friends don’t need to turn up for me but they have. Not one of them and my reserve bench players can be and do everything for me but I can make it easier for them to help me by accepting them for who they are and what they have offer and celebrate their bravery in being there for me because it is brave to support people with scary situations. It’s up to me to manage those relationships if I want them to continue. That’s part of returning to life, taking control of what I can and letting go of what I can’t.”
People are human, some are lucky their disease won’t show up for many, many years but for us ours has and it is a lonely place even when surrounded by people. All we can do is help others help us. As Sara’s favourite quote from Maya Angelou “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but will never forget how you make them feel.”

Photo of Sara in Rarotonga with her husband Kama – “I was really sick but very happy”