So yesterday this happened: I went back to my cancer support group. First time since August and over the intervening months I’d come to figure I’d return, just a matter of when. Or more to the point, how much I needed to talk. Now that I’m over two years NED there are people there with more on their minds than me and who need a segment of that two hours per week proportionately. And always more of them joining, because cancer is if anything a growth industry.
I went back on behalf of a member who’d also left the group some time earlier: Andrea, who died the day after Christmas following a four-year bout with cancer. She was, I believe, 39 years old. We’d struck up a tentative friendship outside the group, chatting online about our respective progress and news of others there and whether we’d each be at so-and-so’s memorial service. (Thankfully in 2017 there wasn’t much of the last.) I was drawn to her for her strength of spirit, her sometimes bitter sense of humor, and her deep, essential kindness so evident when she counseled or comforted others in the group. Over our correspondence I’d come to admire, then love her for these qualities and more. Then we stopped seeing each other every other week at the group and the chatting tailed off: me getting on with my life and her, I know now, getting ready to die.
Her death was a surprise, I think, not just to me but to most outside her family and immediate circle. Yesterday when I went back it was in good part because I knew that with the holiday the news wouldn’t yet have reached the group and I felt those there – including the facilitator, who had a visibly strong bond with Andrea – deserved to hear it right away from one of their own. Not exactly the circumstances I’d prefer for re-introduction, but we often don’t get to choose these things.
I wish that I had gotten – or better yet made – the chance to tell Andrea how much she meant to me. How graceful an example she provided to this person struggling, like herself, often alone with the repercussions of the disease. How her wit and her compassion so frequently made me simply glad to be sitting next to her as we and a dozen others discussed matters of life and death. How her beauty continued to shine through the effects of cancer that proved increasingly debilitating over the time I knew her. And how I knew, just somehow knew, that if there was one person who was going to beat the odds it would be her.
(OK, mostly I’m glad I never got to tell her that; I’m pretty sure she would have known better. Though I’m also pretty sure she would at least have gotten a good laugh.)
However, what I did or didn’t do is immaterial today. Yesterday was for grieving her loss with others; this one is for facing my own future. Calling the oncologist to set up my next 3-month checkup, talking to his nurse to start paperwork for the 6-month PET scan that precedes it, scheduling myself at the lab for the necessary bloodwork. And so on. Today death seems less close the way it often does when one keeps busy with relatively minor arrangements.
I’m also thinking, as I have for days, about what to do differently in 2018. So far the only thing for sure is I want to get more practice than I have at telling those I love that I do while they’re still alive.
(Republished from my personal Facebook account)