One of my friends has cancer.
Finally, I said it “out loud.”
She’s a very good friend, one of my best. I have been overwhelmed by her illness and her amazing strength in the midst of her own fear. She keeps telling me she is doing it “one day at a time” and that she is very afraid. But I don’t see it.
When she was first diagnosed, I wondered how I could help. Naturally, I prayed. But my faith seems so paltry and brittle; the phone rings or a text message arrives and I’m interrupted like a squirrel searching for a nut.
I just keep pushing bad news and unpleasantness to the back of my brain.
She has an amazing family and many friends. She had family meals and her children’s after school transportation covered. So I wrote her a letter every week; four handwritten pages. I told her about books I was reading, food articles I was contemplating, and the sad state of bed linens in the United States. I harpooned Moby Dick-sized local food writers from time to time and outlined the dreams I had for new draperies. I indulged in gossip.
I wrote almost anything and everything except “how sick does the treatment make you feel?”
Now, the doctors have recommended a more aggressive treatment regimen. A more sickening approach. She has to have three consecutive days of chemotherapy infusions. She sits in a cancer treatment center for 8 hours during those days. Then she is sick.
My schedule was crazy during her first cycle and I wasn’t able to “sit” with her for any of it. Instead, I offered up sacrificial fasting in solidarity with her three-day chemotherapy regimen. In retrospect, it was “stoopid.” I was struck by my own weakness in the middle of my third day of fasting while stuffing cheese and crackers in my mouth.
This Tuesday, I had the good fortune of four free hours and I spent it with my beautiful friend at the cancer treatment center. I warned her I’d be wearing yoga pants and an ancient turtleneck and she cautioned me as well.
“I will be wearing a cap as I lost about 1/3 of my hair yesterday. If I touch it at all, it drops out like the needles on an old Christmas tree.”
I know this might sound odd, but the four hours we sat together were four of the best hours I’ve had in a long time. There are no Tee Vees at the center; it’s peaceful and cozy in an odd, institutional way. We just sat and talked and then didn’t talk. We ate snacks and Tootsie Rolls. I colored from her “adult coloring calendar.”
We gossiped and then we Googled a man we knew in college who is a “rock star” now.
“Do you think he has hair plugs,” she asked?
“I don’t know. But he definitely has veneers” I replied.
“He looks so small standing next to Steve Lillywhite. Was he that short in college?”
We laughed. We cried. We contemplated the cosmos. I didn’t want to leave.
Today is her third day of chemotherapy.
Two down, one to go, my friend.