I just received the news that I have been both expecting and dreading. One of my dearest friends, Marilyn, passed away today. I needed to write this to help process, to honor her, and to remind us all about what really matters.
Marilyn and I (our families, really) became friends about 25 years ago while we were attending the same church. We spent many hours laughing and talking and doing things together. Then jobs took us to different parts of the world, but we stayed in touch. Every time we talked on the phone or were able to get together, it was as if we'd never been apart; it was dangerous to call one another as it usually meant a 3 hour marathon conversation, but we loved it. We always asked if there was a party going on when we called one another, because that's what it felt like.
Somewhere around 1989, Marilyn discovered a lump in her breast. I remember one phone call in particular around midnight; she was crying and so afraid, and all I could do was talk, laugh, cry, and pray with her through it. She went through chemo; lost all her hair; and she beat the cancer.
Several years later, while she and her family were living in Canada, breast cancer returned. More chemo; more treatments; and finally the cancer was gone. She was on Tamoxifen and the cancer stayed away.
Later, her doctor at the time decided she had been on Tamoxifen too long; he was concerned about the long-term use of the drug. After much consideration, she reluctantly went off. The cancer returned--with a vengeance. More treatment; some success, but the cancer eventually spread. The doctors were not hopeful at all when her neck was affected, but she survived surgery and some tumors shrank. We rejoiced at every small sign that she was beating the cancer again.
She grew weaker and had to use a scooter to get around; it was obvious the cancer was slowly winning. Still, she kept a positive attitude and encouraged others who were getting treatment for cancer. Where there is life, there is hope.
Last week, we got a message from her middle daughter that she was not eating much and was fading. She had another scan, and this time the doctor said that she had perhaps 2-3 weeks left. Her middle daughter is a nurse; she confided that she thought it would be maybe 1-2 weeks. We frantically started checking airfare to Houston and asked if we should come; we didn't want to intrude on the family's time with her, but we wanted to see her. To compound our dilemma about going, my husband had a critical job interview yesterday so we knew we couldn't leave before that. The consensus was that no, we should not come; I had a sense that leaving Wednesday (today) would be too late, and indeed, that was a God sense. Now we wait to see if there is a way for us to make a trip for the funeral to celebrate her life; we grieve our loss but know she is already dancing with the Lord she loves and enjoying the party to beat all parties.
Cancer is a thief; it robs people of not only life, but it robs them of dignity and joy. It robs families of their fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters. I signed up to raise money and walk in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day Walk this year because I'm tired of letting cancer seem to win. I've lost too many family members, friends, and co-workers to cancer. I was afraid to sign up because it's a hefty fund-raising commitment, but if I have to sell things to raise the money myself, I'm going to do it this year. We have to fight back; find causes and treatments for one form of cancer and we will find them for other forms.
Remember what really matters: people. Go hug the ones you love and tell them today how important they are to you. Take care of yourself and make sure those you love are doing the same. Celebrate life.
Enjoy the party, Marilyn. You got to start before we were quite ready for you to go, but we'll be joining you one day.