photo by Amy Guth
This is a difficult post for me to write. I wanted to choose something else, anything else to write about, but this is what has been consuming my thoughts lately. Not my novel that’s coming out, my writing, my poverty, my extra fifteen pounds—none of that concerns me at the moment.
Last month, October, was Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I wanted to interview a friend of mine who had survived breast cancer. “Survived” is probably too dramatic a word; she was given the “all clear” from her doctor six months ago—the doctor who had opened her up twice to remove the cancer, and when there were still traces, proceeded to remove both her breasts.
After her last operation, she began sending out numerous resumes, because she was tired of being poor and having to rely on disability checks. She has two boys to support on her own—a four-year-old and an eighteen- month old. A job came her way very quickly; she’s a hard worker, responsible, and diligent. She began working full-time while still receiving doses of chemo and radiation.
I asked her once, “How do you do it? Aren’t you physically exhausted?”
She looked at me wearily and answered with the typical single mother response: “You do what you have to do. I don’t have the luxury of being tired.”
I planned to interview her so I could ask her those difficult questions one never sees asked of a cancer patient:
What was your very first thought when you heard the words, “You have Stage four breast cancer”?
What does it feel like physically to have no breasts?
How did you feel emotionally the first time you undressed in front of your boyfriend after your double mastectomy? (The boyfriend who she later found out had cheated on her because she wasn’t “there” for him while she was going through chemo.)
Are you royally pissed off at the Universe, or God, or whoever for giving you this diagnosis at twenty-five?
I wanted to write a post that celebrated her incredible strength and determination, courage and accomplishments. A post that described how far she had come, and what her plans were for her future.
I don’t have the chance to interview her now, because a visit to the hospital three weeks ago revealed the cancer had spread to her bones. It’s everywhere, and there’s nothing that can be done anymore. My friend is twenty-seven, she has two children, and the powers that be have given her a finite time to live.
Her father is also a close friend of mine. Whenever I see him now he has tears streaming down his face. For those who think that men don’t cry; they do, but only when the pain is too great. I don’t pretend to know what he’s going through. The unspoken agreement in this world is that no parent should have to bury their child. It goes against the laws of nature. Most things traumatic can be gotten over in time—divorce, heartbreak, job loss. But you never get over the death of your child.
What keeps running through my head over and over these past two weeks is the first line of the novel, Love Story by Erich Segal: What can you say about a twenty-five-year-old girl who died?
It’s unfair, so very sad, and my heart breaks for her children.