Victoria Noe

Award-winning Author, Speaker, Activist

Chadwick Boseman Was Right...And So Was My Friend Delle

Oct 08, 2020 by Victoria Noe
"Would you tell me if you were sick?"

It took awhile for me to realize that the question I asked my friends was based on my experiences in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Back then, with no effective treatments, a diagnosis was almost a certain death sentence. One day you'd realize that you hadn't seen someone for a while, and the next day you'd see their obituary in the weekly LGBT paper. Unless you were in constant contact, you might now have a chance to help them or say goodbye. Even then, some people shut off contact with most of their friends, keeping their final illness a secret.

I thought of the answers I got from my friends - some said yes, some said no - when the shocking news of actor  Chadwick Boseman's death was announced. Few people knew he'd been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer four years earlier, and those who did know kept it a secret. During that time, he made some of his finest films, including Black Panther. I watched the movie a couple days later, and was struck by the fresh poignancy of some of those scenes.

A popular post on Facebook since then has been a photo of Boseman with the headline "If 'No Excuses' Was a Person".

His decision to keep his health challenges a secret was rightly his to make. Some people prefer to do that. But others are more upfront. My friend, Delle Chatman, was one of them.

A single mother with a daughter in grade school, she drew incredible strength from her faith and her community of friends. Everyone at school, at church, in her Yahoo groups, knew of the ups and downs of the four years between her diagnosis of ovarian cancer and her death. She did not seek pity, but she also did not believe that 'suffering in silence' was any kind of advantage. She continued to live her life just as passionately as Boseman, but with all the support she could find. I never heard her make excuses for her limitations. They simply became a fact of her life.

I know people who have kept their health challenges secret because of shame, because they feared being blamed for their situation (ask anyone with AIDS, lung cancer or cirrhosis). I know people who have told only a few close friends and family, and others who have told everyone they know.

What would you do? I guarantee that no matter what decision you make, not everyone will agree with it. When Delle announced she was discontinuing treatment because her body simply could not take anymore, many of us argued with her. We wanted her to keep fighting because she'd gone into remission before and we needed to believe that she could do it again. We needed her. Pretty damn selfish, wasn't it?

Yeah, it was. I've had some scares this year: friends who have contracted COVID-19, others who have been hospitalized with unrelated but serious conditions. With every single one of them I prayed that they'd recover because I wasn't ready to lose them. I wasn't ready when my friend David died a year ago, either. His health was deteriorating and I certainly didn't want him to suffer anymore. But again, I was selfish.

I'll probably always be selfish when it comes to my friends. I will never, ever be ready to lose them. But I hope that like Chadwick Boseman and Delle Chatman, they will be allowed to handle it in the way that makes most sense to them. I will try my very best to accept that, and love them, no matter what.