My friend L. and I this year celebrated our anniversary of 50 years of friendship. We first met in kindergarten at 5 years old. We had the unfortunate fate to attend a not so local catholic school where we weathered the wrath of the frighteningly abusive Sister Christine every day. L hated it so much that for a few days she hid behind a big tree when the bus came and ran back home when she knew her Mom had left for work. That ingenious plan did not work for long, an soon she was back on the bus, properly chastened. We had free time in the stone courtyard before the opening bell rang and for some reason ( I have no idea what induced me to do this) I would smush her into the corner of the church wall and and repeatedly ask "what didja have for breakfast?!" and every day she said oatmeal! oatmeal! We still laugh about that absurdity.
And so a friendship was born. We both changed to public school, and were separated off and on throughout, but our connection was strong. I was the one who made her turn her chair at the bar so she'd be seated beside the man she ended up marrying, with whom she has been ever since. We made yearly camping trips to Cape Cod. We took walks, long hikes along a beautiful boulder strewn river. We had monthly girl's dinners with two other friends, filled with laughter and good food. She stood at my side when I got married. I was with her husband beside her bed when she gave birth to their son. Ours was a friendship unbreakable, even as we drifted apart after her son was born, and marriage and life took over. We would get together, talk on the phone, arrange dinners w/ our husbands, take walks but over time they became more infrequent. When she became a busy realtor, and I a shopkeep, our lives took us down separate paths completely. But when we'd talk on the phone or get together, it was as if we had never been apart. We chat and laugh as if it was yesterday that we last saw each other.
She left a voice mail, the other day, saying she needed my help. Since it is Thanksgiving weekend I assumed it was her yearly call for my pumpkin pie recipe. I called her back and left a message of how she could reach me as I was starting a 2 week house sitting gig. She called back twice on my cell while I was at the market with no time to answer. When finally, I called her, I was driving home. She said " I have bad news that ends up being good news" Then she started to cry, something I rarely ever saw her do. I pulled into a driveway as she said those dreadful words "I have breast cancer". I felt as if I had been sucker punched and couldn't speak for a few seconds. Then I started asking questions, becoming the researcher that I had been when I was diagnosed. She calmed down immediately, and we proceeded to talk for almost an hour as I sat parked in a stranger's drive. She, like me, is in the earliest stages, and her prognosis excellent. But that awful 'c' word, and the even uglier word 'malignant' were hovering over our conversation the whole time like a circling vulture. I was able to give her a lot of information which eased her mind, was able, as always, to make her laugh, and we ended the conversation with the arrangement that I will accompany her to all of her doctor visits and ask the questions and write down the answers and information, just as Margaret did for me years ago and I did for her as well this past year. We hung up on a hopeful note.
I backed out of the driveway, dazed and shocked and saddened. I drove on, remembering that Greg is away and I was headed home to feed the dogs and play with them before going back. Back to my dear friend Margaret's house where I am sitting while they enjoy a 2 week vacation. I realized as the tears finally started that I had no one to talk to, no one to hug , on who's shoulder I could cry. It was a lonely feeling, but L. did not want me to share with any of our friends in common but Marg and Greg. Margaret would be the first one I would turn to in this situation and she is far away. And so, drying my face, I fed my dogs and played with them in the slanting winter sun. I drove back to Marg's to put the chickens away and feed the sheep. I came in the house and fed the cats, gave diabetic Diego his shot and fed the dogs. I then put my pajamas on even though it was only 6:30pm and climbed into bed. I did not sleep. I talked to Mom, asking her to watch over my beloved friend. I remembered all of the details of my experience being diagnosed with cancer and how I felt. And I cried for L., an always so healthy, fit and cheerful person having those same feelings and it made me sick for her. The middle of the night terrors were the worst, when you wake up, all of your defenses down and that damned "c" word causes a cold wash of fear to envelop your entire being.
In our conversation, I gave L. some advice as to what to do when she is awakened by fear in the dark hours. I gave her a mantra to repeat for as long as necessary to push the fear away and allow sleep to take over. It worked for me, and I pray that it will work for her.
"I am a survivor"