I only just read the news less than an hour ago, and immediately began to cry. Instantly aware, my twins ask simultaneously, “Why are you crying?” I couldn’t form the words. How do you explain to a couple of five year olds that you’re crying for someone you’ve never met, and really barely even knew. “A friend of a friend passed away this afternoon,” is all I could muster.
I admit I never would have known who she was. One of my high school summer stock friends, whom I truly love with all my heart – Mia Laudato, reached out to me less than a year ago. It starts for me there. One of her best friends, Amy Furman Ames, has just been diagnosed with, you’ve guessed it, breast cancer. She’s weeks away from turning 40, has a dear son just entering double digits, and she is beyond beautiful gorgeous with an amazing smile that never wears away. Amy and I message each other over the course of several months. She reads my blogs, I tell her stories about constipation problems. You know, the normal cancer talk. She makes my Mia smile, so I know she’s a special person. We keep in touch through the summer, but the fall and now winter season isn’t so kind to her.
I’ve said it many times before. Cancer knows no prejudice. And EVERY PERSON’s experience with cancer is different. It’s make-up, diagnosis, treatment, reaction to treatment and recovery. I know this. I say it all the time. Based on the sheer fact that all of our genetic make-up is unique, our cancer is unique. My story isn’t your mom’s story, your brothers, or even yours. And it for damn sure isn’t Amy’s. Amy’s story is truly beyond unbelievable, just as unbelievable as the woman and life she embodies.
The best thing Mia could have done for her best friend is create a private group ‘Amy’s Army’ for each person who has been touched in someway by this incredible creature to help her and her family fight through this. And boy did she ever fight. Ready? Here’s her whirlwind told along the way by her brother: diagnosed with breast cancer less than a year ago. After numerous consultations & chemo treatments, she has a mastectomy in early November with no cancer found in the lymph nodes. Less than a month later while still recovering from the surgery, Amy has a series of seizures, in which they discover she has brain cancer. Days later, a second surgery removes the brain tumor. Recovery is slow but steady, and she fights every step of the way. Weeks later, she suffers from headaches and told that the area where the brain tumor was removed is now inflamed and possibly infected. But when they go in for a 3rd surgery (in which they were prepared to permanently remove a piece of her skull), they find a 2nd larger tumor has now grown in the site of the first. Stereotactic (focused) radiation treatment, the only type of treatment, is moved up. She suffers temporary paralysis on one side, continued seizures, feeding tube inserted. Starts to recover once again, moving back and forth from the ICU to hospice to a step-down facility, back to hospice. Seems so simple putting it down into words, but this goes on all over the course of several months.
But at the same time, each and every person that visits this astounding being while in the hospital, says the same exact thing – she’s upbeat, happy, smiling, full of life, making jokes, so positive. Two weeks ago, she is having visitors try on her fabulous wigs. Never would you have thought that this was a woman fighting for her life. A woman whose story told over and over again reads the same by each person who encounters her. She is the epitome of beauty, inside and out.
Another factor I mention about cancer, is that EVERYONE knows cancer. Either a family member, loved one, friend, child, sibling, or even yourself has gone through cancer. When I’d take the subway and ‘look’ like cancer (you know, that bald, sickly look, with no eyebrows, the no eyebrows really did it), I’d get stares. And soon realizing, that because I ‘looked’ like cancer, I reminded people of their cancer. I say this for Amy’s caretakers. Her mother, brother, family, friends, neighbors, co-workers, and countless more. Amy’s story is now their story.
Amy passed away this afternoon, very peacefully and in no pain, with her family by her side. Their lives will never be the same. And yes, FUCK cancer for taking an irreplaceable person from them. If any of them could have taken her pain away, I know they would have without hesitation. Just as my Penelope climbs in my lap, wipes away my tears, and says, ‘I’m sorry your friend of a friend died. That really stinks.’ Yes, sweetie. It certainly does.