It has taken a week to sort through my thoughts. Cancer is mean. Each and every one of us know about cancer, how could we not know? More than likely, you know of some one who has or had cancer, probably more than some one, maybe ten some ones. We see all the commercials on the television for cancer hospitals and research and attorneys who will help you sue your employer for exposing you to asbestos or the like. And pink, pink, pink is every where. But more than any of that, cancer is taking the lives of my friends.
And I asked God why am I in the midst of this unrelenting, slowly consuming monster?
I am cancer free. I am a “survivor”. So what. Cancer continues to plague the lives of my friends; my battle is over, theirs is not. I have grown to love this kooky and eclectic group of women, I hurt inside, and when I learn another woman said “enough is enough” and chucks the chemo for peace and quality of life, I feel a loss. Oh, not for her, she is free from the hideous march of hope for the cure, the loss is mine.
I have run this race of survivorship with someone I appreciate and admire and love. We met at my first support group meeting. I was an absolute wreck, I was a human blog of confusion and my emotions were raw. During my treatments I was victoriously strong but at my first support group meeting I felt incredibly weak and defeated and a woman who felt my pain and confusion introduced herself and gave me her phone number. She extended her hand to help me up, she helped me begin my walk back to life. She didn’t care if I started out with a limp, she gave me the support I needed.
My friend and I are one month apart in diagnose and the start of treatment. Her cancer was different than mine but how cancer affected us was no different. Her treatment was much different than mine but how cancer affected us was no different. Her cancer had a great possibility of returning and mine did, too. Her cancer can take her life, mine can be maintained for the rest of my life. Her cancer returned, mine has not. Oh, how sad I am for my friend.
She walked with me, she willingly walked with me in my road back to recovery. I felt lost. I didn’t know who I was. I was depressed. She didn’t care. We met probably monthly if not more often to share a meal and talk. Crappy cancer was our common bond but we shared something else that made us happy, the love of running, and that was a common goal we had, to get back to running again.
Oh my friend, she let me talk and talk and talk. What did she think of me as she sat across the table and saw a woman who looked like she was a spooked deer? Sometimes I would think to myself, here I am blabbing again (probably about the same things) and she just listens but her eyes say it all. She listens to me, am I giving her a chance to share her thoughts and feelings? Am I giving her a chance to share her fears? Am I being selfish?
She let me talk about what no one else wanted to hear. We talked about not “if” but “when”. We talked about what would we do if that dreaded word “relapse” should enter our life. We talked about how far would we go in treating a relapse. We talked about the responses and care of our loved ones to our cancer. I told her I never ever wanted to do an allogeneic stem cell transplant and deal with graft verses host disease. She wondered if she could go through peritoneal chemotherapy again.
Our talking was healing (well, at least my talking was healing). The longer we knew each other the less we talked about our cancer. Our common bond, cancer, turned into a friendship and we began doing things together. We found we had similar interests. I found I really liked her a lot and I had fun with her! We even went out to dinner as couples and she invited my husband and I to celebrate her 50th birthday with them, we went on a progressive restaurant celebration hitting four restaurants! Crazy.
We were walking in survivorship together! My confusion and fear was behind me. Rather than think of my life in six months increments I went to a year and then to five years and now I see all kinds of years ahead of me. But I sensed a tentativeness, a reserve or hesitancy in my friend. She did make plans for future events but there was an unspoken reality to the poor odds with her cancer.
We share the same oncologist. Our “big” appointments are a few months apart. Before each appointment we hold our breath and then after the appointment there is a big sigh of relief. But then my friend said her numbers were slowly – slowly, that is – going up. It doesn’t matter if it is slowly as slowly does cause one to wonder. And then she said she was experiencing this pain in her left side; no, not pain, an ache but noticeable none the less. She brought it to the onc’s attention, but it was of no concern to him. She brought it up again the next appointment; still, no alarm. (However, her numbers went up a little again.)
And then it is our annual CT scan – the dreaded CT scan. The CT scan can see inside of us what we can not see and we are always hoping there is nothing inside of us. Mine was in April and it came back clear, her’s was in June and it did not come back clear. There was a mass outside her colon. And as she and her husband met with a surgical oncologist they learned the news was far worse than initially told. This was devastating, devastating . . .
My friend called me 9:15 a.m., Friday morning, early June. Her usually smiley voice was shallow. She asked what I was doing that morning. I told her, she hesitated and then I knew something was wrong, terribly wrong. We met at 11:00 a.m. and through tears, our tears, she told me the news. The cancer was back and invasive. Now I listen.
I feel sad. I feel sorrowful. I feel angry. I feel loss. I feel loss that our walk in shared survivorship has drastically changed and the what “if” has turned into “when”. I find myself at a loss in what to say. Our common walk on the road of survivorship forked; now what she is experiencing is something I am not familiar with. What can I say? What can I do? Can I do anything for my friend? (I can pray, I can pray, I can pray . . .)
She is back in Michigan awaiting surgery. She returned to her primary oncologist, the one who initially treated her. Her family is there. She and her husband are there now – and I am here. The most I can do is take care of her flower pots while she is away. I can’t go to her, I can’t wait in the waiting room with her husband for the news. (I can pray, I can pray, I can pray . . .) I have to hope that her husband remembers to call me. My friend held my hand. Damn, I wish I could hold her hand!
I never did get back to running. I tried but my broken leg changed everything. My friend? She set a goal. She trained to that goal. She will not be able to reach that goal – her first marathon . . . But she is running! She trained, she is strong, she was ready, she is ready. She is running the marathon of her life. And I am in Montana, at this finish line, cheering her on. She will cross the finish line and receive the medal she trained for, first place in her division – a real athlete and true winner!
Run, my dear friend! Run!