Cancer never plays fair.
One of my oldest and dearest friends was recently diagnosed with cancer of the tongue. She has never smoked, rarely drinks and could be a poster girl for fit over 50.
I’m not a doctor but even I know that on paper, she has about as many risk factors for this type of cancer as Snow White.
She retired a few months ago after 30 plus years as a pediatrician. Her father was my pediatrician. Yes, we go back a long way.
I met her in the 4th grade when my family moved to Harrisonburg, VA and we have been friends for 50 years.
She was always the smartest one in the class and went on to be our valedictorian when we graduated high school. But she wasn’t smart in an intimidating or condescending sort of way. She could be as silly as any of us and was often the butt of our practical jokes because she was so absolutely gullible.
I think she knew she wanted to be a doctor before she went to kindergarten. Her father is still living and I had the pleasure of seeing him recently at the funeral of another old friend’s mother.
He looked remarkably well for a man nearing 90 and he has retained his impish smile and charming bedside manner.
My friend (I don’t want to use her name for privacy’s sake and it feels weird to make one up) married a doctor and her son is now in medical school. I guess you could say it’s the family business. She has been a healer most of her adult life and now she is the patient.
She has one of those websites that keeps everyone updated and I have been blown away by her courage, grace, honesty and humor as she shares this journey with those who love her.
Her initial post was very clinical and written like well, a doctor. She wrote about how her cancer presented – an ulcer on her tongue – and the path to eventual diagnosis and surgery. She wrote in medical terms – cms and resections and such.
She had hoped that once her tumor was removed the pathology on the lymph nodes in her neck would reveal no more than two nodes involvement which would mean no further treatment. She had three positive nodes.
And that’s when the tenor of her posts changed. They became more vulnerable and very intimate.
It was real before that but if all it took to be disease free was an operation, I can do that. When (her doctor) started talking about radiation and chemo that hit hard. This wasn’t just a battle anymore. This is war and sometimes people die in wars. I was forced yesterday to face that possibility. I had to listen to my husband and children cry as we processed the news.
It doesn’t get any more real than that.
My friend noted in another post that she is much better with numbers and reasoning than talking about feelings. And she made me smile when she shared that her SAT scores were Math 720 and Verbal 520. Mine were the exact opposite but it turns out that she is much better at writing than I am at math.
Her posts have been a balm to those of us who love her and are still reeling from her news. She has a great faith – a faith that has been severely tested in the past few weeks – a faith that will sustain her through radiation and three rounds of chemotherapy.
I last saw her at our high school reunion last October. She, of course, served as one of the chairs of the reunion committee and had spent a crazy amount of time on the fabulous decorations. She was a cheerleader and still retains that youthful enthusiasm for life.
We had a blast and giggled like school girls again. And, yes, she may have done a cheer or two. The girl’s still got it.
Her first grandchild is due any day now and she wants to get in lots of grandmothering before she starts her treatments at the end of the month.
Today the sunrise was beautiful. (A friend) and I prayed together and I feel at peace with all the treatment decisions. Now I need to get myself physically, emotionally and spiritually ready for this war.
Onward, Christian soldier, dear friend. We’re cheering for you now.