A dozen years ago, I was introduced to a new friend through Imerman Angels. Vicki had just been diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer while I had been living with my stage 4 colon cancer diagnosis for several years. She wanted to talk to someone who had faced what she was going through. She needed a friend.
Vicki’s daughter, Julie, was about to graduate from high school and my daughter, Katie, would soon follow. Our lives were on similar paths. I was to be her mentor, but I could have never known in those first few phone calls the impact that Vicki and her family would have on my life. No one would have guessed that we would defy the odds, share many dreams, and create a friendship that spanned more than a decade — all in spite of cancer.
Vicki and I stardusted the challenges that cancer brought into our lives with glimmers of hope. We took difficult scans and turned them into treatment plans. Bad news was often followed with the “good stuff” that continued, and we would marvel about how parts of our lives were on pause, yet other pieces continued on as if nothing was wrong. Her husband Lee, graduations, weddings for both of her children, Jason and Julie, and grandchildren brightened her days. Ronnie, graduations, a new business for Katie and engineering for Karlie was what grounded me. Then later adding Chloe to our family swept us off our feet.
Through the years, we would sometimes move jubilant steps forward and at other times take a few difficult steps backwards. We both benefited from research and the new treatments that ensued. Vicki had no evidence of disease for a long period and cheered for me from the sidelines through new chemo treatments, SIR-Spheres, CyberKnife and radiofrequency ablation.
Vicki's recurrence threw us both for a loop, but for me it was a total shock. In Vicki style, she rallied and showed daily courage. It was my turn to cheer for her. She endured more chemotherapy, went through radiation for bone mets, a clinical trial and then whole brain radiation for brain mets.
Other friends fell in love with Vicki, too. My friend Jo took Vicki under her wing and they, too, became very close. Jo shared Vicki’s story. A young family began to pray for “Miss Vicki” daily. Vicki, with her quiet, graceful and caring personality, touched lives she didn’t even know she had affected.
Our phone calls continued and we shared our lives through them. We talked about side effects and ways to manage them. We celebrated good news and cried together over bad news. Occasionally, we had difficult conversations that included our own possible deaths and how our families would manage without us. We complained about the unfairness and then never failed, even as she knew her last days were at hand, to be thankful for the time we had borrowed.
Every phone call ended with, “I love you.”
My heart is swollen with gratitude for the work of Imerman Angels and for the many gifts of friendship that they have given me and so many others. If you or someone you love needs to talk to someone who has been affected by cancer, they can make a match. Because of these amazing friends, I have learned to never take friendship for granted. I have felt the fathomless mystery of cancer and even the heartache that is found in the darkest of moments illuminated by those living with cancer, too. They have shown me how to hold tight the memories bursting forth in wondrous ways that create joy, triumph and celebration.
So I share with you now, never underestimate or take for granted the miraculous impressions that are created in the hearts of our friends. It is these "heartprints" of friendship that carry us through, infuse our lives with profound meaning and transform even the brutal into something beautiful.
My friend Vicki died on April 17, 2016. I have picked up the phone a million times since. I cherish our memories together. Yesterday, I received a gift from Vicki’s daughter, Julie. It is a heart pendant with Vicki’s fingerprint embossed and I am reminded, "Heartprints are forever."
After reading this entry about "heartprints are forever", I am reminded about a book I read recently - The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Phillip Sendker. In reading this book so many comments from the characters inspired me and helped me have some peaceful understanding of life itself. I was diagnosed with Her-2 Breast Cancer in September of 2014. Needless to say my world changed dramatically with this diagnosis. As with other cancer-diagnosed people, I went through hard chemo, light-weight chemo with only herceptin for a year, loss of hair/eye brows/ eye lashes, weight loss but survived it. In my journey I was determined to be positive and thankful and try to be a role model for others I met in the Cancer Treatment Center. During this year new friends were made and lost to the battle with cancer. One person, in particular, was my "heart". I really didn't know her well in the beginning but knew she was having difficulties with cancer which happened to be lung cancer. I met her one day, by simply asking if she needed a friend. She said "yes" and our short relationship began and continued until this young, vivacious 40 year old lost her battle with cancer in October 2015. However, before this I had read the book mentioned above and referred to it often in our text conversations. I constantly reassured her that I could "hear her heartbeat" no matter what, no matter her location. I sent her a copy of the book as well so she would understand the basis for the the phrase just mentioned. Our text messages from that time on always included "hearts". She fought hard and was engaged in several clinical trials that took place in a variety of places in the United States. I still remember our texts and in-person conversations. I am so happy we made this connection. She handled her illness with grace and continues to be my role model. Her strength continues to shore me up as I face my own check-ups and fight scary moments when I have unexplained ailments. I can still "hear her heartbeat" and I bet she can still hear mine.
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