Yesterday (well, now the day before yesterday as I never seem to sleep much during lockdown) Briony woke up and she couldn’t feel her legs. She couldn’t walk. Her husband called the ambulance and she was taken to hospital as an emergency. It being COVID time, he wasn’t allowed to go with her.
Briony is one of my closest friends. And she has the worst luck. Which doesn’t make sense because I’ve always sort of hoped karma exists but it clearly doesn’t when someone so nice has so many bad things happen to them.
Briony first got breast cancer maybe 19 years ago. Before I met her. She was healthy and in remission when I met her, but had annual checkups. She met her husband, they got married and were enjoying life. I met her a while before they got married. We were at a barbecue of a mutual friend. It was when T and I were young and carefree so even though we didn’t know the friend that well, we thought we’d go.
The barbecue wasn’t very good but I met Briony and Briony being Briony we struck up a friendship that just took off from there. At first we’d also see the mutual friend but then we abandoned all pretences and just saw each other! They would look after our dog for us because they absolutely love him, so we call them the Dogparents (like godparents for dogs!). Then when they were looking to move somewhere, they moved to our development after we persuaded them it was the right thing to do!
So typically I see her a lot and I speak to her every day at least on WhatsApp. We do Zumba together when she’s able and we just hang out when she’s not. We even call each other “sis” after our big falling out and deciding we were just like sisters.
A few years ago they found that she had cancer again. She went through chemo and radiotherapy and thought it had gone, but in less than a year it had returned and spread so it was classed as stage four.
Still Briony was optimistic and so was I. Yes she got tired and I had to learn not to have expectations of her that couldn’t be changed, but I learned. It’s been so great to have a local friend who I’m really close with. I’m lose with the other local ladies but I’m closest to her.
Over the past week it’s been the longest time I’ve gone without speaking with her. Because of lockdown I wasn’t able to see her. The last few times I dropped stuff off at their house, she wasn’t able to come to the door. Usually she would, and blow me kisses and say how much she loved me (and vice versa). But over the last week the WhatsApps dropped because her hands were so sore she wasn’t able to type or even hold a phone.
I last heard from her briefly on Saturday. I sent her a message saying I was sending her a socially distanced hug and I knew she couldn’t reply but I sent her a picture of me and Dog. (She adores Dog.) She said, “Thank you sis xx” and since then hasn’t been able to message or hold her phone. It’s the longest time I’ve ever not spoken to her since we met probably. She was always so chatty. It feels weird.
She was taken to hospital yesterday, a week after I last heard from her. Her husband had been updating me daily but then he told me this had happened. We offered to drive him to hospital as they don’t have a car but his brother came to drive him there and he was able to see her. The bad news was that it wasn’t a stroke as they initially suspected. The cancer has spread to her brain. She was kept in for observation and more tests. It’s not our local hospital but a more specialist one which I guess is a good thing.
Then today we said we’d take him. (His brother lives half an hour away and we live five minutes away.) We packed a cool bag of fruit and smoothies for her as she likes those. And we dropped him off and waited.
It was a super hot day and a long time with a kid (over 4 hours) but we managed really well. It was B’s first potty trained outing (other than walks near our house) and we took the potty and he enjoyed some alfresco toileting. We stayed in the park a while then went to the supermarket as we had the car and I usually have to carry everything myself so can’t really carry a lot of heavy stuff like tins, so we did a grocery shop and sat in the car park and waited.
Briony’s husband had to talk to palliative care which must have been distressing. They told them it wasn’t necessarily end of life. But if the oncologist tomorrow decides there’s nothing more they can do, it will be end of life.
The chemo they decided to stop last week was her third try as the others didn’t work either. I’ve looked up the survival stats for stage four breast cancer and they are pretty appalling. And I’ve seen Briony decline over the past year. It doesn’t seem real to think this but I am thinking the prognosis isn’t good.
In the past few months she’s been told her job is at risk, and they’re trying to make her redundant (so loss of salary but also loss of private healthcare). Her mum died and she wasn’t allowed to go to her because she’s a high risk patient and had to shield (isolate at home). She couldn’t attend her own mum’s funeral. And she was already fighting stage four cancer. And now this. I don’t know how one person can take it.
The good news is her husband said she’s not in pain. She is in and out of lucidity which is distressing for him. She always was a bit batty! She used to tell me stories she’d already told me. But this is different, he says. He’s a gentle giant and she looks after him and I don’t know how he will cope if the worst happens. We will have to look after him.
So right now it’s a waiting game. Her husband is still a bit hopeful that she will get better. I am hoping for a miracle but expecting the worst. (I don’t tell him that, just like I always told Briony she would be fine because she told me she would.) Part of me just wants her to be out of pain, whatever that means. It is too much for one person to bear.
I haven’t cried because it doesn’t seem real. The other local ladies in our “gang” are solicitous and caring but they aren’t Briony. I’ve always been weird about calling people “best friends” because I don’t really think you should rank your friends. I have one friend who I’ve been close with since we were in single digits and I call her my best friend – she lives overseas. But Briony is far and away my local, day to day best friend. We do Zumba together, we chat all the time, we laugh about stuff, go out, drink prosecco and talk shit. She always bigs me up and makes me feel like I’m better than I am.
It makes me feel strange that maybe I will never see her or speak to her again. I don’t know what will happen because of COVID. Her sister is travelling down tonight. And her husband and sister are the ones she would want with her. Her poor sister just lost her mum and now this. There are so many people who think of her as a best friend, as evidenced by how quickly I raised £1000 for them to go on holiday a few months ago. It is just a strange feeling that maybe I saw her for the last time and I don’t even remember when that was.
A while ago I accidentally deleted all our WhatsApps so I don’t even have those. And I know that we have reams and reams since then anyway but it feels like a loss. It feels shit that we will never go for champagne and cheese or afternoon tea like she promised we would once she was feeling better. And all the little gifts I have planned – because I see things I know she would like, she probably won’t get to see. Her husband said she isn’t up to much, just very tired.
I feel like we are in limbo now. I still hope like her husband does that she will be stabilised and able to come home. I want her not to be scared in a hospital on her own. She’s the most “woo” person I know, and we always joke about putting crystals in her bra and dousing herself in essential oils (boy does she douse herself!) but I just want her to be okay and come home and lie on the sofa, watch shit tv and laugh like we used to, and have Dog jump up on her and cover her in fur and she’ll say she doesn’t mind, and tell me that B is the most beautiful child she’s ever seen, and tell me I should wear lipstick more often because it suits me.
It’s past 2am and I know she’s in hospital alone. And her husband and sister are at their flat and probably crying together. I don’t cry very often. I joke that my tear ducts were surgically removed. I don’t want to cry for Briony. She is still here and I hope she is having a peaceful sleep and that I will see her again.