For many people dealing with terminal cancer, there is hardly a day that goes by without thinking about the disease, the next oncology appointment, the success or failure of treatments (past, present and future) and anything else connected with the reality of living with a potential death sentence. Holidays and family events can be even tougher, as it is so easy to fall into the pit of imagining a time when these special times go on without us.
Those who know me, know I am always looking for the moments where my attention can turn from the reality of having stage 4 breast cancer to the reality of the life I’ve led and lead and the blessings from that life that continue to support me and keep me lifted up. For me, one of those blessings is the gift of friendship.
Like many others, the creation of Facebook allowed me to reconnect with friends from my past – especially those from high school. I grew up in suburban northern New Jersey (nowhere near a turnpike exit!) and had a wonderful childhood filled with memorable experiences and connections that were meant to last forever, but somehow drifted away, as most usually do.
A few years ago, through Facebook, I reconnected with Linda – who I first met when I sat behind her in 7th grade math class. We were friends throughout junior and senior high school and through college. She visited me and my husband (I had since moved to Massachusetts) in the mid-1970’s. After that, we exchanged Christmas cards every year, but it wasn’t until July, 2011 that we met again at a mini-class reunion, held at another classmate’s house. There was no need to play “catch-up” because it really didn’t seem like it had been at least 35 years since we last spent time together. On that day, however, I realized that true friendship is solid, forgiving and lasts a lifetime.
Since Linda lives in NJ and I’m in MA, we don’t see each other often, but she came to my daughter’s wedding in 2012 and we spent several days together – much of is spent laughing about the “good old days.” When we turned 60 in 2014, I suggested we do something to celebrate and Linda (who had been to Arizona many times) suggested we go to AZ, so the planning began for our trip at the end of 2014. Sadly, Linda’s dad passed away in December, within days of her breaking her ankle and I lost my job in November. Since we really weren’t in the mood to celebrate what had been a tough year, we decided to postpone the trip. We finally headed to the great southwest on October 27th.
I had been to AZ in 2008, but had never been to the Grand Canyon. Unless you’ve been there, you can’t even begin to imagine the breathtakingly stark beauty of the Canyon. I’m not a ”bucket-list” kind of person, but if I was, seeing the Grand Canyon would have been on the top of my list. We spent a day in Sedona with two high school classmates – one who lives in Mesa and took us to Sedona and the other, who drove down from Las Vegas to spend the day with us. We shopped – and shopped some more. We ate – and ate some more and of course, we enjoyed more than a few beverages (our Facebook pages include pictorials of our journey, including the various libations we enjoyed.) We laughed a lot and reminisced about more than a few things we did as teenagers coming of age in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Our six-day vacation went by way too fast, but before ending our trip, we had lunch and one more cocktail at the airport, hugged and said goodbye to go to our gates to wait for our flights home.
On the long flight, I relived the best moments of the prior six days, laughed to myself about our conversations and observations about everything from the NY Mets (they lost the World Series) to the CNBC debate and some of the comments made by the candidates – especially the ones that only someone from New Jersey could make (thank you, Chris Christie.) What I realized, however, was that as wonderful as our vacation was, it was even better because I got a chance to get away from cancer. I didn’t think about it, worry about it or feel sorry for myself for having it. I hadn’t made a conscious decision to forget I have stage IV breast cancer, but it happened. I have to think that being somewhere different and having fun with someone I love like a sister had a part in my being able to be a woman without cancer – if even for a few days. I am more inclined, however to believe that my unexpected freedom had more to do with spending those days with one of the few friends who has known me for almost 50 years – before the ups and downs of life became reality and things didn’t always go the way I had dreamed when I was so anxious to get out and sink my teeth into the real world. I realized that the gift of friendship is the gift that keeps on giving. It can’t be returned or re-gifted. It is given for a reason, is earned and can never be taken for granted.
Thank you, Linda, for the gift of your friendship. Our paths have been very different, but those paths led us to the place we’ve been many times, many years ago – two friends sharing a drink (or two), catching up on the latest gossip (or political news) and laughing about the old guy who hit on you at the Waldorf Astoria’s Empire Room on our prom night!
Don’t Stop Believing!
May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.