October 3rd, my life forever changed – yes, yet again. I received a phone call from my best friend telling me she had just been diagnosed with cancer at the age of 39. The overwhelming feelings of that phone call nearly knocked me to my knees. My heart broke into pieces that day. My stomach hurt as if it were internally on fire and being pummeled by a heavyweight boxer. My bowels seized. My brain ran into overdrive and subsequently turned to mush at the very same moment.
We were in a parking lot getting food for the youngest while waiting to go to my eldest daughter’s varsity soccer game that night. Suddenly, our car would not start. However, my world had just ceased – totally stopped in time - with the utterance of a few short words from the girl I consider a sister.
As my frustrated husband started panicking about the car, I simply grabbed my youngest daughter’s hand, took off and started walking to the field about one-half mile away. I was in the twilight zone. Beyond the teary words my buddy had just voiced to me about leukemia, my ability to comprehend anything was non-existent and a total blur.
Karen and I became best friends our freshman year in high school. We met the year prior, after I moved to Massachusetts from Oklahoma, but we solidified our bond during Mr. Morano’s freshman English class and during band practice.
(She will likely kill me for sharing this picture, circa 1988.)
Prior to the internet and cell phones, Karen and I spent at least two hours on the old-fashioned telephones with the stretched out cords talking to one other every single day. I cannot recall all that we talked about, but I do know the time was filled with non-stop laughter over boys, farts, music, sports and other then-relevant thirteen year old topics.
Karen was an athlete even back then, excelling in swimming by gliding through the water like the most aero-dynamic fish I had ever laid eyes on. At the now defunct YMCA, I often tried to swim with her, even though my sport was running, and I literally sank to the bottom of the pool much like a runner would.
Karen was also a champion at Tae Kwon Do. I know this first-hand because she always practiced her non-contact sport on ME. Countless times, I ended up on the ground nursing a striking blow from Karen as she practiced her karate chops using me as her “dummy” . Her direct hits to me were always softened by her ensuing giggling at my subsequent ass-dropping.
The friendship between Karen and I has always been enhanced by the fact that we both do not like boring. We both go all out when we tackle the facets of life; especially Karen. The two of us friends have always pushed our personal limitations in our respective lives, a unique trait that always permits us to circle back to one another. We both admit a sick sort of fascination in not only partaking in these adventurous experiences but in sharing the sordid details with one another. We both recognize that the other one truly understands our respective insanities, without justification and explanation, and we continue to cheer one another on in our escapades.
Karen was there for me during my own cancer battle. A friend indeed, reminding me that I was a kick-ass warrior and there was nothing I could not do. Karen was present during the actual birth of my third child, a miracle delivery placed smack dab in the middle of my treatments.
In typical Karen-style, she fist pumped and yelled something like “rock on” after I pushed my baby out in two pushes. She was disappointed that the birth happened so quickly that she had to stand by my stubble growing head instead of holding my leg and being upfront and center in the action.
Moments after the exhausting and marvelous birth, Karen wasted no time to remind me – in between her now infamous aforementioned giggles – that I screamed “F^^^^^^^^CCCCCCCCKKKKKKKKKK!” right into the doctor’s face in that last push. Only Karen. <Hey, I give birth with zero pain meds people……….something’s got to give!>
How is it some five years later, I am there for Karen in HER cancer battle?
STOP. Right here. Two best friends. Both having to battle cancer? This has got to be a nightmare. There is no possible way this story, this version of events, can be true.
My emotions ran very rampant and very high this past month as my best buddy battles for her life. I range from “WTF!” (rather frequently) to tears of utter sadness, to supreme confidence and back around again. Part of the healing from my own cancer experience has witnessed me struggling with my emotions when those I know are battling a different variety of the disease. Man, WTF.
After I completed my battle, I believed with an utmost confidence that no one close to me would have to battle cancer. I felt like the token child, the sacrificial lamb….I went through this horrible suck-fest so that no one else I love would have to. On October 3rd, life pulled that giant rug out from underneath me and I landed squarely face down on some pretty hard concrete terms of reality.
How could this be happening? Karen is the strongest girl I know! How is she now battling for her life? Leukemia? Bleeding internally? Whoa. I feel dizzy. I am nauseous. My heart aches.
Just a few months earlier this year, my personal superhero competed in the Patriot Half Ironman; she not only finished, but finished second overall for the women! There’s NO way this girl has cancer.
Nope. Refusal to believe. Denial. Fine.
What I do know, what I firmly believe, without a figment of doubt is that Karen will not only beat cancer but she will kick the tarnation out of it and come through unlike anyone before her. My heart continues to break into smithereens as I watch her suffer, yes, SUFFER through many of the similar side effects of cancer treatment that I dragged myself through. I wish that I could take that pain away for her, even knowing how awful it was for me. With her immune system depleted by chemotherapy, it takes every ounce of strength and will power for me to refrain from holding her, loving her and helping caress her through these dark days.
My memory returns to the days of my bald head, the ugliness I felt when Karen’s husband Jeremy shaved my head in anticipation of the fall-out from my own chemotherapy. I recall Karen crying and complimenting me on what a beautifully shaped head I had.
Now, five years later, I sit here crying myself and complimenting Karen on what an absolutely beautiful woman she is and what a perfectly shaped dome she has. Poor Jeremy, probably never comprehending his skills of shaving heads would apply not only to his wife’s best friend, but his own gorgeous wife.
In typical rock-star style, Karen reassures me through her spirit that the warrior IS deeply embedded within her very core and she will prevail in this latest challenge. Karen will come out ahead and stand on the grandest podium there is – the grand podium of life and knowing she crossed that finish line in the race against cancer. I will have long since moved aside from my spot on said podium, but I will remain very closely behind her every inch of the way. I will cheer her through the fight of her lifetime. As I fret, as I worry, and as I know that Karen’s latest competition is fierce, somehow with her indomitable spirit and in these dark days of cancer, Karen is still taking care of me.
She is the strongest girl I know.