Last night I attended a small gathering. It was a celebration for a dear friend. 10 years ago she was given a diagnosis of stage 3B cancer…which carries a really crappy prognosis. She is still alive, kicking the daylights outa most of us, and will be a cancer patient for the rest of her life. She once told me, “I know this cancer will kill me…but if it happens in 30 years, does it still count?” The event was spearheaded by her husband. He did not come up with the idea, but he did gather friends together, and gave a nice toast. There were 2 other cancer survivors in the room. They, too, had something to say. I could have pitched in, but I stayed quiet. I was worried that it would seem a bit morbid if I said anything at all….and I shy away from any kind of public speaking…especially within a group of friends or people who know me.
I knew this friend a bit before Jim was diagnosed with brain cancer. Jim played music with her husband, and we, the non-musicians in the group, would curl up on the couch with a glass of wine, and pretend our bliss was really all about the tunes. We talked a bit. I knew she had cancer. I knew that she had engaged in clinical trials to beat the thing. I just liked her for her spunk….didn’t really see cancer when she would show up at music nights. I saw a person who would sit next to me, talk to me, think I was worthwhile even though I did not play a musical instrument that was socially appropriate. Sorry, oboe is NOT an instrument that comes out in living rooms, or around a campfire.
After Jim’s brain surgery, when it finally dawned on me that a cancer diagnosis included things like chemo, and radiation, the option of clinical trials…and not just life saving surgery, I called this friend. I had oodles of people offering everything from yard work, to help with meals, to just wanting to come by and cry. I turned most of them away….I needed someone who could tell me all about cancer. All about chemo, all about radiation, surgery, and clinical trials. I needed someone who could do this with a sense of urgency, and a sense of humor. She came over. She showed me her scars. She taught me where to look for clinical trials, and how to decide whether Jim was eligible. I learned about chemo, and anti-nausea medication. I learned to read statistics about prognosis. She gave us realistic hope, and hopeful realism. I went to our first oncology appointment armed with knowledge and a handwritten page regarding our options. I could not have done the 2 weeks of sleepless research without her guidance. I will be forever grateful, and I got to know her a WHOLE lot better.
I had to leave the gathering early last night to pick up my truck before closing time of the shop. I embraced my cancer survivor friend in farewell. I told her that I wanted to say that 3/4 ain’t bad in regards to cancer statistics. I knew SHE would get the bittersweet humor of that statement. She stated that she was just glad that I showed up. That I could be happy for her. As if I could be anything else but thrilled to have this wonderful person still alive and eating chocolate in my life. Happiness….is a choice. It is a choice I make everyday that I wake up. I have little control over things like cancer, survival statistics, even the future of this planet. She has some survivor guilt, I have that too….which is a topic for another blog post.