I could feel the warmth under my skin. The prickly, stinging flush that rushes from beneath and stirs heat to the surface of the face. My chin, quivering. I closed my eyes just in time for the tears to fall. And they began to stream down my face. I sat there, in bible study, sobbing as a friend relayed these words…
“…She probably only has days left…”
Not years. Not decades. Not happily ever after. No. Days.
She started her fight three years ago. I didn’t know that until I was diagnosed. I didn’t know that when they found hers, it was already advanced.
And then I was diagnosed and people kept sharing her name. Another mother of three. Young. And then I realized that we had, in fact, met. We ran into each other on my first day of chemo and put the pieces together. Breast cancer. I was Stage 1 or 2. And hers was metastatic. This means it had spread beyond her breast. This means her treatment options were different than mine. This meant that her road looked different than mine.
We are acquaintances. We are connected by a lot of mutual friends. We caught up with one another at a Walk this year. We talked about what was next for her treatment. We talked, briefly.
And then. Today. I sat in Bible Study as one of my friends shared the current state of affairs.
I felt bad for not knowing it had progressed so far. I felt bad for not reaching out. For being so out of the loop. I felt bad. And sad.
I know this is going to happen. It’s no different than anything else in life. People are born. People live. People die. But it’s not that simple, is it? Because those people who are born and who are living, they touch us. They have friends. And family. Sometimes, they have babies. They work with colleagues. They belong to clubs. So it’s not as black and white as we arrive and then we go. We are not just simply put here to live. We are often here long enough connect. Perhaps to know love. To, many times, become. We are life-full. We are full of moments. Breaths. Life.
We do not merely appear and then die. We live. And the more we live, the harder it is to believe that we don’t always get to have eternal earthly life. The longer we live, the more we grow attached to the people we meet. The more they grow attached to us.
She is dying. Children have to say goodbye. Her husband is being robbed of his wife because of something that was completely out of their control. They exhausted all their options.
And my heart aches.
I know. This is going to happen. Having had cancer, I am going to continue to meet people with different stories than mine. But because we are all categorized under one term — Cancer — it somehow feels even more unfair to me now.
Why doesn’t she get to continue to be life-full? Why didn’t her drugs work? Why do her kids have to say goodbye? Why does she have to die?
And of course… what if mine had gone very differently… what if mine comes back… what if, like for her, science doesn’t move fast enough? For me. Or for all of the others who are awaiting a cure. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that every time I hear of someone else dying from cancer, I feel both overwhelmed and even, a bit guilty that I get to live. It’s hard not to.
I am sad today. I am. I don’t often get mad. My emotions turn to sadness when life feels heavy. Not rage. Or anger. But just sad. Hurt, almost. By the sometimes harsh realities of life.
I hugged my Littlest as long as he’d let me when the school van arrived. I smelled his hair. I memorized his wide grin. I called my mom. And I cried. I cried as she asked, “What happened?” and I could only reply, “I’m sad. Someone is dying.”
I wiped down my kitchen counter and scrubbed and scrubbed away at one part trying to reach the inside of my mind that is shaken. And I sobbed as I once again thanked God that for some reason, my treatment went in such a positive direction. That my original diagnosis was so optimistic. That I get to hug my babies and eat donuts and listen to music and dance around and kiss my husband goodbye in the morning and worry about laundry instead of chemo… logistics for kids’ activities instead of treatment… and it makes it all seem so small. All of the little squabbles the kids get into. Trying to determine whether I should pick up their rooms or make them do it. Whether they wear jeans or slicky pants. Whether I make tacos or spaghetti for dinner. It all seems like such a luxury at this point.
I’m sad for all of the women and men who are just starting their journey and are so scared. I am sad for those who are in the midst of treatment and awaiting a response. I am sad, honestly, that I have to know this disease so well. And I am sad that she is dying. Because while we don’t know each other all that well I hate that she had to fight so freaking hard. And I ache for her babies. And that they have had to watch their mother be so sick — something no mother wants to have to be in front of their children.
For the most part, I get to be happy. I get to hug my babes. I get to run and laugh and smile and NOT think about cancer. Most days, in fact. I get.
She doesn’t get to stay. These are words that I am going to deal with more and more as time goes on, I fear. The harsh reality, that the older we get, the more “things” happen. And while it is such a joy to have met so many warriors through my own battle, I hate the tie that binds us all together.
I imagine the scene from Beaches, when Barbara Hershey is researching her diagnosis. And I think of the sadness of the song playing in the background, “…and I think it’s gonna rain today.”
Broken windows and empty hallways,
A pale dead moon in a sky streaked with grey.
Human kindness is overflowing,
And I think it’s gonna rain today.
– I think it’s gonna rain today, Bette Midler
I think of how heavy that sadness feels. Of how that melody accompanies their emotions. Of how impossibly scary that all is. Of how she realizes, in that moment, that it isn’t good… that it’s going to be hard… and that she is going to have to leave her daughter.
It popped into my head as I drove home this morning. And it made me think of her.
I know that God will welcome her with open arms very soon. And that all who have loved her or have been loved by her will feel both thankful that she is out of pain and shattered that she will no longer wear her case.
And I know that just because this will become part of my “new normal”, the “having to watch others lose their fight”, doesn’t mean I will just become numb to it.
And today. The sky is washed with grey. The cold winds are blowing. And it feels so sad. Most other days, my heart feels joy. My emotional state is one of contentment and gratitude. And while I am thankful to have the life I do: today. Today, for this news, I am sad.
And so, I think it’s gonna rain, today.
Note: shortly after I hit publish on this , I received a note that Jennifer passed away this morning. Praying for comfort for her family and friends at this incomprehensible time and through every day they have to know a life without her.