I didn’t know it would be the last time I saw her. She had only been diagnosed with liver metastases a month earlier. She looked bad when I visited her in the hospital shortly after that diagnosis, but she was going to start chemo the next day. When she sent out a mass email saying she wanted a pedicure, I thought that meant the chemo was helping, they were getting her liver under control. It was so last minute, yet everyone on that email invite made it to the nail salon the next day. We all chatted — some about breast cancer because, after all, we’d all been through some combination of chemotherapy, radiation, multiple surgeries and infections. But mostly, we talked about kids and summer plans and family trips. We posed as one of the sweet ladies at the salon snapped a picture before we left. She wanted to try the taco place that’s a local favorite, and even though it was mid-afternoon and most of us weren’t hungry, we were thrilled she was, so we headed over. I got some chips and guac, because that’s the kind of friend I am. If you ever need someone to eat guacamole with you, I’m your gal. We hugged in the parking lot and everyone headed back to their respective kiddos coming home from school.
I didn’t dream that would be the last time I saw her.
A few days ago, her husband texted those of us who had been checking in with him the past month. I’m so glad the three of us happened to be together when that text popped up. She’s no longer in treatment. She’s at home in hospice care. She doesn’t want visitors, but if we send a card, he’ll read it to her. She can’t even read it herself.
Being a cancer survivor is a funny thing. It’s natural to seek out others who’ve had the same experience. The validation that comes from nothing more than an understanding nod can’t be underestimated. But it’s so risky. For a while, I tried to keep my “breast cancer friends” separate, distant. She was the first one I offered to meet for coffee outside of group. It’s a tricky balance, because while I knew we would both gain so much by spending time together, I knew we were setting ourselves up for just this kind of thing. One of us might have to watch the other die from the disease we shared. I didn’t dream it would be this soon, and honestly, I didn’t dream it would be her. I had the more aggressive disease, it should have been me. Just one more of the cruelties that is cancer.
I didn’t know that day at the nail salon would be the last time I saw her. But now I do know and these will be the last words I say to her. My mind is swimming with all the things I should say, yet it is empty at the same time. What kind of card is even appropriate? I’m betting Hallmark doesn’t make a card for that. And somehow my favorite “That Sucks” card with a drawing of a vacuum cleaner seems a tad too cheeky. I’m taking time to find some words, and I’ll probably spend far too long searching for what will end up being a completely inadequate, non-descript blank card on which I can tell my friend goodbye. Because now I know. This will be the last time.
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N/A 558 Posts
July 10, 2016
When my husband was dying of colon cancer in 2005, a doctor said to me, "If there's anything you've left unsaid, say it now." Well, much had to be left unsaid, and it haunted me until I read the following advice in Cure: "'I often say you had 40 years with this person. Your husband knows how you feel,' says Jimmie C. Holland, M.D., a psychiatrist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. 'I don't think those last breaths and last moments are as important as people sometimes think they are.'" Your friend, too, knows how you feel. I think your card could simply say, "Thank you for the laughs and the hugs. I love you."
N/A 558 Posts
July 11, 2016
Hi Jamie. I agree that this is a difficult thing to put into words. I would tell her how much you enjoyed the Mexican restaurant and nail salon. Something like, "It was such fun to go ____(restaurant) and ____(salon) with you and the girls. It was a memorable time. I feel honored that you asked me to participate. Thanks for always making me feel special. You are a wonderful friend. Big hugs coming your way, Jamie."
I am sorry you are losing a dear friend. Keep up the spirit:)
I am reading this and wrote my response whill the TV news is playing in the backround. Having tuned in to watch a story about a young boy making a basket with some professionals it is followed by the news that we may be paying a lot more for helath insurance. Living with "Chronic Cancer", does have its own stresses, like this. I am just adjusting to insurance increase, now there will be more? JAL
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