I had a chance to catch up with a friend in the Bay Area that I see about once a year…when she passes through Atlanta or I make it out there.
Let me tell you that she’s one of those friends that time just stops for. One of those people that when you meet up with, even if you haven’t spoken for three months, that you just pick up from the last time you were breaking bread or having a cup of coffee. She’s got one of the best laughs in the world, and she’s a great practical joker.
For sake of this posting she’s ‘Big Red’ (she has flaming red hair and is six feet tall).
She’s really a superstar, she’s held some great PR jobs over the course of the ten plus years we’ve been friends and now she is executive director of a growing non-profit, recently married, and living happily in one of the prettiest places in this country out towards Santa Cruz. Things seem to playing out for her.
Except last Christmas she was diagnosed with Stage 3 melanoma.
Let me take that back, that’s the GOOD NEWS. Initially she was diagnosed with Stage 4.
Long and short of it is that in about a month she’ll start a treatment plan that won’t be easy, and she has to live with the knowledge that the disease spread to her lymph nodes, they cut tumors out of her back, and she may just be a sitting duck for it show up in other places in her body, or hopefully, it will go into remission. Oncologists don’t paint pretty, modernistic pictures – they paint sterile, cold, black and white ones.
Skin cancer – its not treatable by chemotherapy. Everything that is promising is in clinical trial, so you have to weigh the risks and rewards heavily. She made mention to me that one aggressive treatment had to be administered in an intensive care unit of a hospital because the side effects were so immediately toxic. As she said, she doesn’t feel that bad yet to engage in this trial.
But like all of us with the special needs kids, she’s battling the health insurance companies who have issues with paying her treatments. Sometimes I’m just not sure that this isn’t the biggest battle we all fight, and of course, in theory, we should be fighting the disease or disability, versus the insurance we pay for to help us. But anyway, that’s just a soapbox statement.
So as we caught up, like we do every time, we talk about life back in Seattle…when we were all DINKs and singles having a good time worrying about silly things like our careers and office intrigues. Since Kim and I were really the only married couple of the group, we worried about a few more things, but we were all on par with each other.
But this time it was just a bit hollow, that communal memory of our ‘easy’ twenties. We are both in different places in our lives now, and looking back isn’t nearly as important as life today or projecting forward.
See, we both have our ‘things’ hanging over us, which most of our friends from these other times in our lives don’t. Sure, everyone has their own baggage, and it is somewhat relative, but stage 3 or 4 cancer…that’s heavy. Heavy like raising disabled children. So it seemed easy to talk about where we are and just dived into it.
“How are you handling this, Big Red?” “How do you feel?” She was honest and so was I: case-and-point, we talked about how it seems like at times your empathy actually decreases after being through these things in life, versus increasing. Like when people complain that they didn’t get a big enough bonus to buy a new BMW this past year. Get over it! We discussed how we are so much more frank in our assessments about things, people and life… for better or worse, since this has happened to us.
Further, playing the games at work, the drama that takes place there, that’s where we have to sometimes pretend now and how it can just suck the life out of you.
I related an epiphany I had earlier in the year when I was in a planning meeting with lots work soap opera crap playing out…the day after we got Demetrius’ results back from his IQ test. All I could think was, “I’m listening to this shit about who is out maneuvering who for some blankety-blank service when I have a son that’s scored in the bottom 20% of intelligence for kids his age! Does this really matter?” I realized I had to try to find emotional energy for the office going forward, that I had become vacant in what was going on in my career. And how you’ve got to focus to make some element of it matter – and how taxing that is.
I don’t know if she lays in bed thinking about things like I do, or if she does it during a long walk in the mountains or shopping (she loves to shop). But I was thinking unemotionally that Demetirus’ disability is in a weird way ‘at the right time’: we are still young, we have energy to give to this and as a family we are just entering into our prime earning years, we can give him it our all, God willing, over the course of years. He’ll get the best we’ve got at the most opportune time.
But cancer in her thirties… She’s just 35. There is no right time for this, where do you go mentally with this?
Then I remembered something from earlier. She was laughing a lot. That big laugh that makes everyone around her smile. She’s still laughing and smiling. It reminded me that I need to do that more often, as I’m prone to make the joke and not laugh at it.
It’s simply a hard road to hoe from this point forward for our families and our lives – I wouldn’t be writing a cathartic blog if it wasn’t. It brings me back to this point for all of you that have read this posting thus far: are you getting everything you can out of each day? When you can look back ten years with a friend – what do you see? Do you see living life to its fullest? I can honestly say that for me, I could have done better in that category in 1996.
But I see Big Red laughing now the same as she did then.
Big Red, you are in our thoughts and prayers – don’t stop laughing your way through this.