Moving past the fear of getting “too close”, and learning to be “at peace” with saying goodbye. When you’re diagnosed with something as scary as cancer a external transformation obviously happens as you progress through treatments and surgeries, however what those who haven’t experienced it personally may not realize is that an internal transformation also happens as well. In a sense you almost become a super human version of yourself. Every sense, every feeling, every fear, and every perception is heightened to the max and you are all of a sudden aware of everything around you to an extreme you have never experienced… the good and the bad. I have come to accept this transformation as a gift. Unlike most, I now see the beauty in even the dreariest days, I appreciate the littlest moments, and I take the time to be grateful for each and every day I have here, however there was a point about half way through my treatment where this transformation put me in a very fragile emotional state and almost made me withdraw from everything that I am and everyone that I cared about. I even withdrew from “My Personal Pink Time” for a while. I never thought I would actually explain why, however the conformation of some news that I have been dreading, has left me with a need to share.
Early on in my diagnosis I felt like was on my own in this fight. I mean from a fighting stand-point that is. I even think I may have unintentionally chose this. I had an awesome medical team behind me, as well as lots of family and friends to support me through the hard days, but I wasn’t walking the journey or even following the journey from a far with anyone who was truly in my shoes at the very same time, so it was easy for me to set my own standards and guidelines and more importantly it was easy for me to set my goals in beating this awful disease without fearing it wasn’t going to happen. The honest truth is, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to get too close to anyone else facing this journey because hearing scary cancer stories usually just made me feel worse about what lay ahead of me. I even took it as far as making a promise not too research anything about what I was going through. I trusted my doctors whole-heartedly and I had no desire to fuel any of my fears with hypotheticals from other patient’s stories. When my daily routine started at the Lemmen Holton infusion center, I immediately connected with the nursing staff however, I didn’t really connect to any patients. I almost felt like the odd-one out because I seemed to be the only one who didn’t use their infusion time for sleep or rest. I was there nearly everyday for a good 8-10 months, I was never there less then 3 hours and chemo days were 8-9 hour days so I spent a good portion of this past year in that room. Yet I only fell asleep on one occasion, and I was medicated to do so. I usually passed time chatting with nurses, writing, catching up on emails or laughing and joking around with friends and family who sat with me during my appointments. That was until I met Ann. One of the nurses introduced us and purposely sat us across from one another one afternoon. Within minutes… I knew why. Ann was older then me and much further along in her journey, but we were so much alike, we had A LOT in common. We connected instantly. We swapped breast cancer treatment and surgical stories, talked about our children, shared scars, our short comings, our passions, and our shared desires to turn our awful circumstances into something positive for others facing similar challenges. I talked about the unintentional birth of the “my personal pink time” page and how I was documenting and sharing my journey with all of you as it unfolded, and Ann talked about how she would really like to be a motivational speaker to inspire in person. I fell in love with her positive attitude, her caring nature, her bubbly personality and her obvious love of life. She was everything I needed to see in a fellow cancer warrior. Plus like me she enjoyed a friendly conversation or a good laugh as a distraction, and she was willing to look cancer is the eye and kindly say; “you picked the wrong woman!” Our very first conversation felt like years of knowing one another and before the end of our first shared treatment time, we had exchanged emails, phone numbers and of course we had connected on facebook.
I think our connection was obvious, because from that point on the nurses a LH purposely sat us next to one another. I even changed my schedule a bit to make sure I saw her when she was there. Our friendship was quite fulfilling, however there is one thing about Ann, that wasn’t as positive for me (at no fault of her own, of course). You see, Ann was at LH treating her second recurrence with Breast Cancer… So her third round with treatment. Although she was good for me in every way, she also served as a reminder that even those of us with the most positive of attitudes can have the unthinkable happen more then once. I would have never wanted Ann to feel bad about this, but this idea did get a little hard for me to handle about mid way through my treatments because I had been talking to a former boss who was also battling cancer and was given very bad news. After being told her cancer was 85% curable (just as I was told), her cancer came back and this time the chemo wasn’t working. In working through my fears I made myself a promise. I told myself daily that my cancer was never coming back, but I was also being faced with the reality that it could… everyday because it did for both Ann and Cindy. I found myself fighting the urge to withdraw from both of my friends which if you know me at all, you know put me in a very hard place. I really just wanted to curl up in a ball and erase the word “cancer” from my life. A few of the people closest to me, including my amazing chemo nurse could see the struggle that was happening inside my heart and inside my mind and they did their best to intervene and help me work through my fears. In the mean time I continued passing my infusion time with my amazing friend Ann. Even though her backstory added to my fears, her friendship added to my life. On August 10th, I was given my last round of chemotherapy and I spent the following Friday afternoon sharing the joy over this with Ann. Of course we celebrated with a steady stream of IV fluids running through our veins and a few big hugs. We were both feeling quite sick that day, but she still came dressed to-the-nine with heals and her gorgeous smile… as usual. However as we talked about how great it was that I was finally finishing my chemotherapy stage, she was hit with more bad news. The second chemotherapy regimen wasn’t working to fight her cancer either, and now her body was not regenerating fast enough to allow her to continue treating. On that Friday afternoon she was denied treatment and instead given fluids and anti-nausea medications to help with her side effects. For the first time ever, I watched her curl up in a ball in her infusion chair and sleep. The signs were right there in front of me, but I refused to see them. The following week was the last time I sat with Ann. Her son was with her, so I was finally able to put a face to all her fun stories. She looked beautiful as usual, and was her optimistic-self… however she was again hit with bad news. Her counts were again too low to continue treatment. The nurses called up to her oncologist’s office as they often do during our treatments at LH and she was told to head up to his office to meet with her doc personally. The last thing Ann said to me was, “this isn’t going to be good. I was told last week, that if my body wasn’t strong enough to continue the treatment, there is nothing else they can do for me”. I didn’t know what to say. The words didn’t even make sense in my mind. She looked great, I mean really she was out on a boat with her girl friends only a week before that. I gave her a huge hug and told her to stay positive. That I would be thinking of her. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the last time I would see my friend Ann. We texted back and forth a few times over the next few days, but we didn’t talk about what was happening. I just wanted her to know she was in my thoughts. By now my emotional state was in the darkest stage possible and to make matters worse Ann was no longer responding. I so badly wanted to call her to check in, but at the same time I was afraid too. I avoided social media all together because I really didn’t think I could handle the reality of what was happening. After a week, a family member of Ann’s posted an update on her facebook page. I knew I couldn’t read it myself, but I had to know, so I had my husband read it. Ann was not doing well, in a weeks time she went from being pretty good, to being placed on hospice care. I fell apart. My heart was aching for my dear friend and my mind was filling with fear.
It took a few weeks before I could conger up enough courage to check Ann’s page for anther update, but by the time I did, her page was down. I searched and searched and couldn’t find anything. Over the past few months, there has not been a day that she hasn’t entered my mind. I think our conversations. I think about all she has been through and I visualize what it’s like to go from being ok, to being told you only have a short time to live. I think about the little details like planning to pack up your belongings at work or if you even think to do that, the big details like planning a future for your children without you in it, and the scary things like having to leave the ones you love, when you’re just not ready. Most of all, I think about all the regret I feel for not hugging her tighter, for not giving more support, or for not reaching out sooner. I asked a few people if they knew how she was doing, but no one knew. Deep down I kept hoping she again defied odds and that she was doing better.
During this time my former boss and friend faced her last days, and lost her fight with cancer. We messaged back and forth in her final days, and in a way said our goodbyes. She told me that she wasn’t afraid; but that she really wanted to live to see her kids graduate from high school and marry. These were really hard things for me to read. She also said that she was very proud of the woman I have become and that she was very honored to have had the chance to be a part of my life. In her last message to me, she told me ‘to embrace every moment and live every day to its fullest, because you never know when your time is going to be up”. I have heard this saying a thousand times, but when you have cancer and a dying cancer patient says this to you, it feels quite different. She was a single mom of two adopted boys. She passed away on Christmas Eve and her two young boys are now left without parents. This hit me pretty hard, especially since I wasn’t able to make the trip a cross the state to say my goodbyes in person because I was still recovering from surgery. While grieving the loss of my friend Cindy, I found myself thinking of my dear friend Ann more and more, and I started to realize that I was finally ready to confirm what I already knew in my heart to be true.
As I lay in bed last night watching the time pass on the clock and thinking of the bond Ann and I shared in fighting cancer together; I knew it was time. I grabbed my phone and searched for obituaries in her name. Although I was hoping that nothing would appear, her name showed up at the top of my search. Ann lost her fight with breast cancer just 10 days after I last saw her; just a few weeks after being told that the treatment she thought was saving her life… wasn’t working at all and there was nothing left to do, but pray. It happened that fast.
As I read through her final tribute, I realized that I was not the only person who’s heart was touched by this amazingly inspirational woman. It seems that she lit every room she entered, brought joy with every smile she gave, and touched the hearts of everyone she met. I found myself in tears as I tried to imagine a world without her beautiful soul in it, but I also found comfort in the positive thoughts of how this amazing woman lived her life. She is my true example of living life to it’s fullest. She battled cancer for nearly 10 years, but she didn’t let it define her and most importantly she didn’t let cancer keep her from embracing and loving the life she had left to live. She enjoyed even the hardest moments by filling her days with positive energy and true love of life. That’s when something occurred to me in the same way that so many other things have occurred to me over the past year.
I don’t think our meeting that day last spring, in the 5th floor infusion center, was just a chance meeting. I now see that Ann was meant to come into my life, and most importantly Ann was meant to be a part of my journey. Getting to know her inspired me to keep fighting with a positive attitude, watching her face the unthinkable taught me to work through my own sad and scary times and live in the moment rather then dwelling in fears of the future, and losing Ann is now reminding me just how precious life really is, and inspiring me to follow her lead in living a life full of positive thoughts and real appreciation for the gift of every single day.
In the beginning stages of my journey I wanted to share an intimate look into this disease in a raw and “real” way that honored my late Aunt who lost her battle with Breast Cancer, my late friend who lost his battle with mesothelioma, and my friend Vicki who is proudly winning her battle with breast cancer. I would now like to add two special ladies to that list. I proudly, honestly, and openly share in honor of my Aunt Pam, John, Cindy, Vicki, and my dear friend Ann.
To both Cindy and Ann. May your light always shine on the ones you love, and may your eternal life be filled with the very same joy you brought to those who had the privilege of knowing you. Thank you for helping me see beyond my fear of getting too close, and most importantly thank you for helping me to see and feel the blessing you both were in my life. You will forever live in my heart, and I am now walking forward knowing that I am blessed to have both of you watching over me and guiding me from the other side.
Here is a video that I just found of Ann from a few years ago. I cannot tell you how many times I have watched this it just to feel close to my one and only chemo buddy in the past 24 hours. Even now it seems she is telling me exactly what I need to hear. You are a true gift my friend.