I Created an Angel Garden for the Friends I’ve Lost to Breast Cancer

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I laminated pictures of my friends and created an angel garden complete with a stone that reads “she flies with butterflies” to ensure that the friends I have lost to breast cancer aren’t forgotten.

I love to watch a YouTube channel called “Hollywood Graveyard.” The host, Arthur Dark’s melodious, baritone voice is so comforting as he walks the viewer through the final resting places of tinsel town’s most famous, and I find I can’t get enough of his episodes.

In fact, I love going through cemeteries in general. By Wikipedia definition, a taphophile describes someone who has a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries, epitaphs, gravestone rubbing, photography, art and history of (famous) deaths.

For me, I love the idea that each of those people in the cemetery is recognized and remembered as being a person. They existed. They had a face, an idea, a soul, dreams and maybe a family, but most of all they were uniquely themselves.

Of course, Arthur speaks of people who would have been remembered anyway from their work onscreen or for famous achievements, but I like to also look at all the other graves and consider them just as important.

Years ago, when I was newly diagnosed with breast cancer at age 25, I started searching out other survivors. Long-term ones. I didn’t want to talk to someone who was a novice player. I wanted a legend, someone who had tackled the beast and was here to talk about it a decade later.

I found Madeline. She worked for Adelphi’s breast cancer support hotline and I instantly loved her. She made me feel empowered and that there was hope. She inspired me to the point I decided I would go out and act as a counselor as well for other survivors, and that’s how I met Christine, Cathy and Lisa.

They were all young women, like me, who had been confronted with a life-altering diagnosis. Christine was the same age as me, just 25, and an avid gym buff and gymnast. Her breast cancer, unlike mine, was triple negative, which meant that she had a low response to any types of treatment. Her cancer relapsed after her original diagnosis and metastasized to her bones. She died at just 33 while undergoing surgery.

Lisa had met me through an online support chat, and we became fast friends. Also in her 20s when diagnosed, we both shared that feisty Italian vigor and wanted to do all we could to stay in control of our life throughout the disease. Her breast cancer relapsed in her lymph nodes initially and spread throughout her body. She passed at 40.

Cathy had met me through our oncology office, and I shared my story to help rally her through her initial diagnosis which had come after the birth of her daughter. She was another strong Italian girl who had had a rough life with a narcissistic mom and was a fierce protector of her children while having the ability to make me laugh during every chat we had. Her cancer slowly spread to her meningeal fluid, and she died in her early 40s.

Madeline had survived the longest — she was well into her second decade of survivorship when her cancer returned. She fought hard. They all did. They wanted life. She died just last May in her mid 60s.

Every single one of those women helped bolster me through my battles. I love thinking of them, and I wished I could show others who they were and how important they were. And then I realized just like Arthur Dark, I could.

I went about setting up a pictured memorial garden next to my house. My townhome is on the end of the street and has a path that is used by all the homeowners in my development. They love coming up the path because I have wonderful rose bushes and another very tall bush that was perfect for my display of my friends.

I went to work laminating pictures of them and had a stone created that reads “She flies with butterflies.” Around the bush are the pictures of Madeline, Christine, Lisa and Cathy. Their obituaries are next to them. Knowing that others are recognizing that they were here and who they were makes me feel comforted.

At the beginning of each episode of “Hollywood Graveyard,” Arthur beckons “Join us, won’t you?” Now others can join in remembering that these women existed.

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