It’s hard to know where to begin in my relationship with her, but I think this story is best.
She doesn’t live too far from me, and during my million miles of solitary walking in my neighborhood during recovery, I frequently passed her house. Usually the thick-furred golden retriever was lying outside and busy kids were coming and going. That day, I decided I’d stop. I hadn’t yet personally shared the news of my (unbelievable and past my wildest dreams) unexpected, post-AE pregnancy, but I knew she’d be a good one to start with.
I knocked and stood there with my feelings of uncertainty about what this new little life budding inside of me was going to mean for my health and situation, and the gnawing fear I had about the baby’s health.
Her husband answered, and I asked, “Is your sweet wife home?” His reply: “No, but Becky is.” Ha. I needed a little humor at that moment.
She walked outside and I told her in the only way I could, in as few words as possible, but enough to convey the situation and with not a hint of nuance: “I’m pregnant.”
And then life and uncertainty just stopped in time.
With both hands, she grabbed my face, her palms on both my cheeks, and as she burst into tears and pulled my face right up to hers, she said the unforgettable words: “All this time you had no idea what God had planned for you.” I really can’t remember the rest, because it just blended with the the feelings. In an instant, she made a situation that I thought was untenable, be perfect.
Becky and I have now turned our tables. When I see her walking in the neighborhood with the dog, I stomp on the breaks and holler out the window. I check in on her now, because she has the dreaded C-word. I had considered our friendship in high regard before, but was humbled when the day after she learned the news, she asked me to take a little walk with her.
The way she broke it to me wasn’t rushed, tortured, or minced. It just was. “I have cancer.” As we walked along, I tried to process it all between her stories, thoughts, and swear words (if you know her, you love her for it, she’s a lot like me that way), but mostly, I remember thinking, she’s taking this really well.
She still is. She’s like a champion cancer-haver. She’s living it all out loud, has assembled a remarkable team of helpers, and is unapologetic of her precious time and energy. She’s like a how-to book on the best way to take on something so that all moving parts know their time, place, and job. She’s the person I wish I would have asked to train me in on how to be sick. I’m not kidding when I say that. I struggled with it; she’s grabbing it between her teeth and pulling a car behind her.
We had a conversation the other day where I caught me reminding myself that she’s fighting for her life. She’s got a chemo port. She has to sit in the hospital for days for treatments. And she’s also a mom, wife, and important part of our community. She’s hot and she’s bald (I mean that both literally and figuratively). She is battling cancer, but she has an amazing attitude. Not unlike that of my friends who were fighting cancer when I was recovering, and my cousin who has been fighting this battle for as long as our second children have been alive. And my friend’s mom.
It's like they can go on and talk to me like life isn’t completely upended and out of control. They can make me feel like everything is OK, when my whole body and mind are screaming – DAMMIT, THIS IS NOT OK!
It was kind of an ah-ha moment for me the other day when Becky called and asked me if I’d take her to her treatment today. It finally gave me a little insight into how people talk to me, and I act like life’s OK, and they act like life’s OK, and then I wonder if they know I’m wondering if they’re wondering about me?!
I get it now. They are.
But I also see that the sick person’s positive attitude can really mask a lot of garbage. And I think cancer patients have a remarkable way of keeping up that attitude so the rest of us don’t fall apart on them all day and night.
What I’ve learned from my friend, Becky, is that there is a way to do sickness. And she’s got it. I’ve also learned that sometimes when I’m telling a friend something serious, but I try to keep it light, just because they don’t bawl on my shoulder doesn’t mean they don’t know I still have struggles. It just means that we all shape one another by our attitudes. Empathy and understanding can take on a form outside of a ten-minute hug where both people cry hysterically.
I even kind of smiled the other day. Maybe my attitude through my hell was a little contagious on Becky. Or maybe it’s the other way around going back to the first time I learned about her and a tragedy she endured years back at the loss of twin baby girls. And maybe that’s why I sought her approval and knowledge when I knew I was scared to have my AE-baby. Maybe we never know the shapes our attitudes take on others.
I felt humbled and proud to be her “caretaker” today, even if just for a few hours. But I didn’t say that word too loudly at hospital security for fear she’d beat me up. She was brave and very vulnerable. Just like she always is.
To all my friends out there fighting the #cancersucks battle, please know I think your strength is unmatched. Chelsea’s kindness, Rachel’s indominable spirit, Sonna’s strength, Phil’s resilience, Becky’s badass nature and a million more. I think you’re so strong and brave, and I love you when you’re vulnerable too.
Thanks for letting me catch whatever it is you have, friends.
When you call on me When I hear you breathe I get wings to fly I feel that I’m alive
When you look at me I can touch the sky I know that I’m alive
When you bless the day I just drift away All my worries die I’m glad that I’m alive ~ I’m Alive by Celine Dion