Two years ago, right around this time, we lost a good friend, Jess, to ovarian cancer. It hardly seems like it’s already been two years.
I often think of Jess, still wear a beautiful pendant (today, in fact! and you can see it in the cupcake/diagnosiversary shot below) that we her friends all got to show support for her in her fight for her life (seriously, it’s gorgeous…a circle of friends holding hands, just lovely), and hope all the time that I am doing her at least a little proud as a cancer survivor. No joke, you know how some people say “WWJD?” as shorthand for What Would Jesus Do? Well, my WWJD is What Would Jess Do?
I also wanted to take the opportunity to honor her by posting something she wrote and posted on her blog the day after I was diagnosed. It’s an amazing piece and it underscores all the more how tremendous a loss it is to us all that she’s now gone.
I’m putting it behind a cut; while brilliant, it isn’t entirely family-friendly.
For All The Sarahs
Yesterday, I found out that my friend, Sarah, was diagnosed with breast cancer. I know her from the Internet — from the many years I’ve been traveling through the blogosphere.
Like me, she is young. In her early thirties, she has twin boys less than a year old who were conceived after a lengthy struggle with infertility.
Sarah kept all of her online friends in the loop from the get-go — posting first when she felt the mass, then went for the ultrasound, then had the lumpectomy and, early yesterday, when she got the pathology report.
When she initially had the ultrasound, her doctor said that the mass was most likely benign and then did a lumpectomy because they both agreed it should be removed so it could be sent out for analysis, “just to be sure.”
But before the lumpectomy, when she posted that the ultrasound had revealed the mass to be solid with irregular borders, I knew immediately what the findings would be despite her physician’s initial and clumsy musing that it wouldn’t be anything at all. Throughout the past year I’ve learned the language of cancer, and I know what irregular borders portend.
Still, I kept quiet, wishing I was wrong. But whereas our mutual friends were shocked at yesterday’s news, I was not.
I emailed her to say that some people, upon diagnosis, want to connect. Others don’t. But no matter what category into which she falls, I’d be there to listen if and when she is ready. When we do speak — after she’s described her fears, after she’s unloaded her burdens, and after we’ve toasted our mutual membership in this hellish club through a bitter tipple of tears — then, and only then, will I speak. And this is what I’ll say:
I will tell her that she has to take charge of her treatment immediately, even though she may not be prepared to do so.
I will tell her that by next year if she is smart and aggressive about understanding her disease, no so-called doctor will be able to say, as hers did yesterday, that the “T-2″ on her pathology report doesn’t indicate anything about how far her disease has progressed without being quickly corrected and then left standing alone and stunned while she finds another caregiver.
I will tell her that if she’s like most women with cancer, she won’t mind losing her hair all that much, although when her eyebrows and eyelashes — which she will be surprised to discover are what give her face its depth — fall out a little further into treatment, she will likely look into the mirror and find herself staring at an alien.
I will tell he that although it may not feel like it now, she won’t stop laughing and in fact will learn to laugh at things she never before thought funny.
I will tell her that she should ignore all the horror stories she hears about how cancer destroys marriages, and that if she has chosen well her disease will bring her and her spouse closer together.
I will tell her that she will lose trust in her body. She will regain it in fits and starts, but perhaps never entirely.
I will tell her that sometimes she will feel a deep sense of shame even though she knows she has nothing to be ashamed of.
I will tell her that when the voices rise in unison with their monotonous, incessant platitudes about how she’ll beat this, about how one day when she is 80 she’ll look back on this as something that made her so much stronger, it will be okay if she tells them to stuff it — if she tells them that their blind optimism can be dismissive, belittling, condescending, and defeating.
I will tell her that when people fawn over how courageous she is, they won’t understand that she’s simply trying to get through the day.
I will tell her that her relationship with God, if she has one, will either be strengthened or weakened, but it will not remain the same.
I will tell her that when people say, “I just can’t imagine what you are going through,” it is okay if she thinks to herself, you use that phrase like a talisman, but it won’t protect you at all.
I will tell her that she should disregard the statistics she doesn’t like and embrace the ones she does.
I will tell her that as jarring as her new cancer-centered identity is right now, there will come a time when the cognizance of her disease isn’t surprising anymore — a time where she will find that when the knowledge floats to the surface while she is in the middle of some mundane task, she will say to herself calmly, “yes.”
I will tell her that through her disease she will meet both remarkable and unremarkable people, and that she should take note of them all.
I will tell her that cancer will fundamentally change who she is, and who she believes herself to be, but that also, and in so many ways — so many important ways — it will not change her a bit.
I will tell her that, ultimately, her experience with cancer will be different than mine and so she should dismiss anything I say to her as early and as often as she wants.
But mostly, and finally, I will tell her two things.
The first: I’m so sorry, Sarah. I’m so fucking sorry.
And the second: There is much hope for you, my friend. Much hope for you and I. For all of us.