Breast Cancer from a best friend’s perspective

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Kimberly Jewett is my best friend; we have been friends since we graduated from high school. Naturally, when she told me she was having pain near her breast, I told her, “It’s nothing” and, “It’s going be fine.” As I watched her cancer diagnosis unfold, I was in shock that this could happen to her at the young age of 31. This was something we thought we might deal with when we got old and gray and our families were grown and we had lived our lives. This time of my life was supposed to be exciting because I was pregnant with my first child after trying to have kids for five years. Everything changed abruptly when her diagnosis came. I tried my hardest to be strong for her and listen to her. She cried a lot while telling me about the statistics she found online and the tests she was having. Listening to her tell me about treatment options using vocabulary words that were foreign to me made me feel hopeless, but I knew I had to continue to stay strong.

The great thing about being a best friend is that you get a pass sometimes—it’s okay to say the wrong thing or to admit that you don’t have all of the answers. Kim had other family members and friends who could take her to appointments, bring her meals and take her kids on playdates. My role was to be her rock, her shoulder to cry on, her safe person. I was the one who helped lift her back up in order to make her feel strong and ready to fight again.

She talks now about me sleeping on her couch after her mastectomy while I was visibly pregnant and my response is, “Where else would I have been?” I always tried to put myself in her shoes. When people feel helpless, they don’t want to be alone and I didn’t want Kim to be. People want someone to help them without feeling burdensome. Kim and I have had some long nights together talking and laying wide awake and sometimes just sitting in silence.

I was with her when she took her first look at her fresh surgery scars. I washed her hair in the sink the morning after surgery and I helped her take her first full post-surgery shower. There are certain things that feel more comfortable to do with a best friend instead of a spouse or a family member. She needed to feel vulnerable, safe and loved. I remember when she asked me how her body looked after the mastectomy; I told her, “It looks like elbow skin, but it looks much better than I was expecting.” We cried together. Neither of us will forget how her cancer strengthened our friendship.

The picture above is from the day my daughter was born. Kim was public speaking for the first time since being cancer free and I expected her to miss the birth. Because she was in the middle of chemotherapy, she was also advised to avoid hospitals and sick people. When Kim arrived in my hospital room, it was like God had slowed down time to make it possible for her to be there with me. When she arrived, it was time to push and she got to witness my daughter’s birth. She always talks about the sacrifices that I make for her, but despite her sickness and treatment, she was with me by my side. I like to think that in the above picture my daughter is smiling because she knows that her godmother, Auntie Kim, will always spoil her and make her feel like a girly little princess, which is something that I do not do.

When Kim beat the disease, we took the time to celebrate. I created a picture timeline for her so that she could remember all of the highs and lows of her brave journey. She was forever changed and came out of her battle with a new appreciation for life—she was eager to spread love to those who had helped her, so she started sharing her story and giving back to others with cancer. She is one of the strongest women I know and I am still so proud of her.

Unfortunately, she was re-diagnosed and then everything felt different again. We had been through this horrendous battle once and we knew what to expect. She didn’t allow herself to dwell on the shock of her situation because she had to recognize that life moves on. Some people have continued to be supportive the second time around, but some people have kept their distance. Possibly because it’s too painful to watch her suffer again.

Kim knew that I would be there for her just as I was before, through the tears, surgeries and chemotherapy. This time she had radiation, too and it was heartbreaking to see the side effects of burning skin over and over again. My experience isn’t one that most people witness—I had a front-row seat to cancer and saw all of its devastating effects on my best friend.

Kim’s desire to give back, share her story and make every day count has only gotten stronger. She continues to amaze me each and every day. I have always known that she’s electric; she can light up a room. I didn’t know that God’s plan for her was to change lives and light up the world. I love you Kimberly Jewett.

Written by Brandy Kneip

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