You know how life can run away from you? That no matter what, there just is never enough time? Whether it be in a day, week, or even lifetime. And no matter how many times you say, “I’ll call/visit tomorrow, or next week,” and you don’t, it seems you never learn. I mean, we all get bogged down with our own life in our own ways. For me it sometimes feels like a tsunami, and I have to do everything in my power to muster through. When I come out on the other side, I begrudgingly have to play catch up on what I missed. I’m lucky if it’s a deadline for the girls, late on a bill payment, or not able to join in a harvest at the garden. And then there are times that I find out I missed something that I’ll never have the chance of getting back.
Friday, I found out that a friend had passed away the week prior and I didn’t even know. I mean, I knew she was in the hospital again, but thought it was just like all the times before. That she had gotten a little sicker, needed a boost, and would be back out walking among us, as she’s done over and over again. The last I talked to her in person was a month ago, and she said in passing as we were picking up our kids from school, “I might need another transplant.” To Sam (name change to respect the privacy of the family) this wasn’t out of the ordinary – the transplant or the out-of-the-blue one-liner. Our talks had been like this for the past four years – so busy we barely had time to catch each other up on what was important in our own care or what our kids needed. Those check-ins where you quickly say, “My doctor appointment is tomorrow,” for the sole purpose of sharing your anxiety with someone who truly understands, and nothing more. Or “check out Gilda’s Club, it’s a god-sent.” I knew I needed to send her a text soon, but didn’t, well, because I was in the midst of my tsunami.
Our kids have gone to school together since 2nd grade. Soon after we met, she told me that she read my blog and that ironically we went through the exact same type of cancer, treatment, and recovery, but a year apart. We even joked about how our breasts could be nearly the same. She became a pillar of strength and support within her community, especially among women who can easily feel ashamed by simply having cancer. She was an advocate for cancer care, and freely told her story so that others could know that they weren’t alone in their fight. But Sam also epitomized the word, “warrior.” As a single mom, she showed her child such strength amidst a humble endurance, that in turn taught every person in her presence just what bravery was.
Last fall, after suffering pain at the nape of her neck and in her gums, she had a bone marrow biopsy which proved positive for Leukemia. After months in the hospital, which included 24/7 week-long chemo treatments and eventually a bone marrow transplant, she was told there was nothing they could do. She walked out of that hospital and into another where she joined a research study that extended her life so she could celebrate her 35th birthday this past September. That’s right, 35. My younger sister’s age.
I know it’s ridiculous to feel guilty about not connecting with her just one more time. Just like it’s ridiculous to feel guilty that it was her and not me. But just like the fear of cancer returning is real, so is the guilt – all of it. No matter how much you try to say, “There’s always tomorrow,” sometimes there isn’t, and there’s nothing you can do about it. That’s it. Sometimes, there’s simply nothing you can do. It is, what it is. And I fucking hate that phrase, more than all of the cancer fighting cliches, this cliche of life is my all-time least favorite. I don’t think anything ‘is what it is.’ I think ‘it is WHAT YOU MAKE IT.’ Of course there are things that are out of our control, and it’s when you feel completely helpless that you fall into a deep sadness that’s hard to overcome, sometimes leading to its own tsunami. So to admit that it is, in fact, what it is, well, it sucks.
But for Sam…even during her last stay in the hospital, she was grateful for all of the care despite not being able to get a good night’s sleep. She kept her faith in God despite being tested over and over. She always smiled amid the tubes and needles. I can rest easier knowing that she’s at peace, that her family and child no longer need to see her suffer behind her glowing joy for life. Sam truly made her life into what she wanted, despite the most extreme challenges.
Nothing like a little cancer to put your life into perspective again, and again, and again. The constant reminder to live with no regrets…despite your tsunami.