The Good Fight

One year ago, my friend appeared on my doorstep in the darkness and told me she had cancer. She’d come from a routine check-up and driven alone from Calgary, afraid to say the words out loud and make them real. I have cancer. A phrase that sticks to your tongue and the inside of your mouth, thick and vile. Since that day, my friend and I speak a new language. A dialect that those affected by cancer know all too well. White cells and hemoglobin and CTC’s. Sarcomas and carcinomas. Radiation and chemotherapy and tamoxifen. These words became a part of our daily dialogue. We started researching everything, trying to decipher this new world she wanted no part of living in.

We can all fall into the trap of moving semi-consciously through our routines of family and work. Never anticipating the day - the moment - you are delivered a piece of information so indigestible it smashes into you like a moving vehicle. Everything you thought was important isn’t. Wasn’t. Might never be again. Because not being able to do the things that just yesterday completely frustrated you feels terrifying. You’d give anything to go back. Erase this new reality and rewind time. Do it differently. Be more present and appreciative. Exude love and patience. Hug your kids more.

One year ago, my friend chose to make a plan. To attack this vicious bitch called cancer. Not only to cut it from her flesh, but to find its origin and tear the roots from wherever they sprouted. She spent countless hours making appointments and itineraries and flight arrangements. Travelled to clinics and hospitals and treatment centres. She was zapped and prodded, dehydrated and flooded with magical fluids. I waited by the phone. Always leery of saying or doing the wrong thing. When her name appeared on my screen I’d run to the bathroom and close the door so my girls wouldn’t hear me. In case the news was bad. My mind raced as she spoke, desperate to anticipate what was coming next on this roller-coaster of emotions. My mouth formed the word ‘yes’ before she finished the question. Can you pick up the kids? Help with the house? Drive me to the airport? Yes. Yes. Anything to satiate my own helplessness.

The strength of the human spirit is fierce. When cornered, we come out swinging. Our voices grow louder and more confidant. It’s a beautiful thing, and I watched as my dear friend became a powerful warrior. Manicure chipped and hair pulled back, she swung. The months passed by and through surgeries and tests and multiple disappointments, she kept fighting. Voice shaking but hands steady. She continued to be a light in my life, despite the dark place she was living in.

I told her I wanted to write about her. About how an experience like this can change a person. I wanted to lend her my voice on this page. To tell you what she’s learned and pass along the immense wisdom that comes from such a soul-rattling experience. She said she wasn’t ready to tell her own story. Not yet. Because the words we speak today are still precious and fragile. We both feel it. Try not to say them too often. Not to jinx it, if such a thing can be jinxed. Words like healed. Remission. My friend is okay. Her guard remains up, but her hands are steady. I know the lessons she’s learned would fill volumes of books. I know that one day she will pass this knowledge on to her children and they will live better because of it. They will live better. Because of her fight. Because of her courage.

Although I was on the sidelines, I feel her victory deeply. Personally. Her lessons are mine and her voice is clear in my head. From her struggle in the darkness, my life is lighter. I hug my kids harder. Lay beside them and listen to their stories way past bedtime. Read what makes me happy. Celebrate the minutia, laugh often, ignore the toothpaste on the counter, lift my face to the sun and remind myself every day to appreciate what’s around me. Thank you, my friend.