heroes

two

I am not an alarmist.

Okay, I sort of am.

One time, I thought I was getting a strange skin growth on my face. Until I wiped it away. It was called peanut butter. Another time, I knew I was diseased when all of my fingernails suddenly turned orange. I forgot that I was experimenting with self-tanning lotion. (By the way, I also thought my car was diseased when the leather driver’s seat started to stain in strange spots.)

In 2013, when my friend Nancy told me she was feeling bloated and it wouldn’t go away, we  joked about gas like eight year-olds teenage boys two mature and sophisticated women. She subsequently went to get her colon checked. It was healthy.

It turned out that she had a late-stage ovarian tumor that had started to secrete fluid into her abdomen. She fought hard to kick cancer’s ass and gave it a tremendous fight, but a year and a half later, she was gone.

She was 52 years old.

My friend S recently told me she had been feeling bloated.

Alarm bells blared in my ears. I didn’t want to hear them. I didn’t want to share them with her. But I did because I told myself that if any woman ever used the word “bloated” in a conversation, I would inquire further and gently ask them to consider seeing their gynecologist. Many symptoms of ovarian cancer are disguised as common symptoms that we all experience.

S was one up on me. She had already seen her gynecologist and everything appeared fine. Phew. Stupid alarmist. Why did you have to scare the crap out of me?

But as it turns out, all is not fine.

Ovarian cancer is nefarious. It slips quietly into a room and by the time you notice it, it has taken up most of that space. It’s greedy. It wants more. It wants to suffocate you from the inside out. And you can look for all sorts of reasons why it showed up in the first place, but one of those reasons could simply be, as scientists termed it: bad luck.

I love my female friends. They are my support system. And I have a hard time understanding why I would even have to consider giving them up. Why are they being attacked? While I’m at it: breast cancer, leave us alone, too. All cancers. Just go away.

Stuart Scott, an ESPN anchor and sportscaster, recently passed away from his battle with a rare form of appendix cancer. About six months before he passed, he said these heroic and inspiring words:

“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live.”

My friend S is transcendently forgiving, full of grace, and tough as nails. She will be navigating her way with the kind of light that you need to see through those dark places.

They don’t call it the hero’s journey for nothing.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

 

The Ultimate Bully

I hate cancer.  I just want it to leave my family, friends and me alone.  And just leave everyone else alone, too.  It’s already bullied my mom and me, and now it’s trying to attack one of my good friends.

When I left my ex and moved out of the house, my friend N let me stay with her for three months while I gathered myself back together.  Imposing on someone for that long goes against my very nature, but her kindness and open-heartedness made me feel welcome and safe.  Those three months were exactly what I needed to help me process and take the next step in my life.

N is an amazingly unselfish and giving person, and everyone she has helped is coming out of the woodwork to support her.  It really is an indication of who she is and just how much she is loved.  True to form, she told me that if anyone in her family had to get diagnosed with cancer, she was glad it was her.  She isn’t married, doesn’t have kids like her two sisters do, and doesn’t have to worry about finances because her workplace is stepping up to support her as well.  She will be able to fully concentrate on kicking cancer’s ass.

In the presence of such an incredible person, I could only do this:  tell her just how incredible she is.  Tell her with total belief in her strength as a future survivor.

If you are feeling it from the heart, say it.  Or find ways to express the gratitude and joy you feel without the expectation of getting the perfect response or in fact, getting anything in return.  What are you saving it for?