My Turn to be the Warrior

“Hey, Chica!”

This is how my best friend and I have greeted each other for years, whether in person, or on the phone.

So many phone calls we have shared throughout the years of our friendship. In the early days, we thought of those calls as our daily dose of sanity. We started our families in the same year. It was 1989 and her oldest child arrived just three months after my firstborn. In the following years, I had two more babies. She had four more. We both spent those early years as home daycare providers. At the end of the day, it was nice to swap notes with someone who was in the same trenches.

I remember our phone calls being filled with her bubbly laugh. There’s always been a spark to her personality, and so much energy in her spirit. She’s known for her sharp and unapologetic sense of humor. I’ve always seen her as the friend who leads the charge. There’s never been something she couldn’t do. If she didn’t know how, she’d learn. She’s an amazing cook, a talented seamstress, a gifted photographer. There’s never been a home or yard improvement she’s envisioned that she couldn’t make happen. There are few people from whom she couldn’t elicit laughter. She’s always been the life of the party.

When her kids started playing baseball, softball and hockey, she became an expert on each game. She was the parent, sitting on the bench, keeping the book. When I had high school graduation parties to throw, she was the one with me in the kitchen in the days ahead, cooking and preparing homemade stuffed pasta and sauce for a crowd. Countless times, we worked together in her house or mine, painting kids’ bedrooms with the latest and greatest technique. She was my favorite shopping partner, the one who knew how to find the best stuff for the lowest prices. She was the one to yank me out of every one of my comfort zones and show me what an adventure life could be.

Always, there’s been an endless flow of words and laughter between us. If ever I’ve been down, she’s lifted me up, though not usually with a warm, fuzzy kind of support. Nope, not from my Chica. She’s always been more likely to offer a swift kick-in-the-pants kind of help. There’s no feeling sorry for yourself around this chick. She’s not having any of that. She lets you know in no uncertain terms that the only way to conquer a challenge is to stand up and face it, to fight it until you’re back on your feet again. No looking back, only forward.

Over the past few months, our conversations have slowed. There’s been a noticeable quiet, though her husband’s efforts these past few weeks have helped to connect us once again. These days, it’s her voice that’s quieter. It’s her spirit that’s weaker. And it’s me trying to learn how to be the uplifting drill sergeant in this relationship.

We always used to end our phone calls with a silly “I love ya, Man.” Now, it’s a more sincere “I love you” that we offer to one another.

She called me during my work day yesterday, which is unusual. I saw her name come up on my cell phone and I chose to answer. She needs me now more than ever. Work could wait. As I answered, I walked away from my desk to find a quieter place to talk. She said she wasn’t sure how she’d called me. She’d been waking up from a nap and didn’t mean to call, but must have pressed something on her phone and next thing she knew, she was ringing me up. I said that was okay. I said I don’t get to talk to her enough, so I’ll take her call, any time, anywhere.

Her  voice contained the weakness I’ve noticed lately, the intermittent coughing and struggle for a good breath of air. Instead of laughter on her end of the line, there were the tears which have become so frequent of late. I struggled to find the right words and did my best to stay positive.

I asked how the last couple of days have been.

“Not horrible,” she said. I found this encouraging, all things considered.

“And your cough?”

“I’ve still got it, but… I don’t know … it might be getting a little better,” she admitted. She made a dark joke about her lessening cough being either a tiny sign of improvement or an indication that she’s going down.

“You’re improving,” I said.

“Heh,” she muttered, the smallest glimpse of humor hiding behind that utterance.

“You are,” I insisted. “I believe it. I’m praying for you every day, every time you cross my mind.”

“Okay,” she agreed quietly.

I couldn’t blame her for her lack of enthusiasm. Her body and mind have been pummeled by this cancer over the past four years. At every sign of hope, a reason to despair has followed. Who could blame her for feeling so defeated, this warrior chick who has never let any situation get the best of her?  And with a physical distance separating us for nearly as long as this cancer’s been around, I haven’t been there for her like I wish I could be.

So now it’s my job to help lift her up, just as she’s done for me and others so many times. It’s my turn to be the warrior.

I feel slightly guilty for the amount of communication between her husband and me. Though it’s all for her benefit, he says she feels like everyone’s talking about her all the time. She doesn’t want to be the subject of so much pity and discussion. She just wants to feel normal. And yet here we are, talking about her “behind her back.” But he’s trying to protect her feelings and I get that, so I go with it. So far she hasn’t questioned how I manage to find her awake every time I call lately. I’m glad for it.

Anyway, she’s going to have an idea soon that her hubby and I have been in touch, and then I’ll feel better. Last night, I texted him to confirm some dates and times. One last check to make sure everything is right and it all works for them. My flight is booked and next month, I’ll be spending some in-person time with her. He’s going to text me this weekend to let me know when she seems to be doing well. And then I’m going to call and tell her to get ready. I’m coming out there to kick her butt!

St. Peregrine and Mother Teresa have become my newest friends. I’m asking God and them daily to relieve my friend of this horrible disease. If anyone reading this is the praying kind, please offer up some prayers on behalf of my friend. She needs a miracle.

Kinda Wish I Lived in Colorado

For months now, I’ve had trouble connecting with my best friend due to the effects of her cancer. Sometimes when she’s actually able to answer the phone, it’s mainly to tell me she’s not really able to talk.

Her husband told me she’s been really down lately. He thought it would really do her good to talk with me. So he proposed a system. When he thinks she’s doing well and likely to manage a phone call, he’ll text me. We tried this, four days in a row. Three times, she picked up the phone and began coughing so much that she had to cut our call short. We both ended up in tears. But on the fourth day, yesterday, something clicked. We had one of our good old-fashioned gab fests! It was amazing.

She put me on speaker phone and all three of us talked for a while. She talked about how defeating it has been, to have experienced great evidence of recovery, only to have the cancer metastasize to her brain. Still, their attitudes are great, and they maintain a good sense of humor. She talked about having had pneumonia for about ten weeks straight, and she joked that I must not be praying hard enough.

“Yeah,” he said. “You gotta get on your knees more.”

We all laughed. But seriously. I assured them, prayer is the one thing I can do, and am doing. Daily.

I’ve never been a good pray-er. My Catholic upbringing means there are a few prayers that for most of my life have rolled off my tongue effortlessly … and without much thought. But aside from that, I think I was always the sort that, when I actually bothered, just kind of offered up my grocery list of worries and requests.

Things are a bit different these days. Prayer is not always a conscious effort, but sometimes simply the backdrop of all that’s going on around me. I think it’s a good thing that it doesn’t always require so much thought before it happens. Other times, it is very specific and focused. And it’s not just about asking for the things I want or think I need. I try to remember to first express gratefulness.

My mom and I actually had a conversation tonight concerning what the Catholics believe about praying to the saints. Apparently it’s acceptable. Mom mentioned there’s a patron saint of cancer. I looked it up. St. Peregrine. He’s going to be hearing from me from now on.

I wondered if half the battle of receiving what we ask … might sometimes just be a matter of asking. I’m going to keep asking.

Also … I’m researching Cannabis Oil and dosage recommendations. So there’s that. I really wish I lived somewhere this was easily accessible and where I could talk to an expert. This is my best friend we’re talking about. I’m going to do whatever it takes to help her fight this.

Pulling Oneself Up by One’s Bootstraps (and Getting By with a Little Help from One’s Friends)

There’s been a distinct shift in my perspective this past week. Looking back over the past few months, I recognize that  I’ve sometimes been so deep inside my own head that I can’t get out.

I know I’ve been wallowing in self-pity lately. It doesn’t make me proud, but I’ve somehow felt helpless to really rise above it. When I think about this time in my life, I try to remember that this is just a season. When I contemplate the time I spend with my mom, and how it contributes to her ability to continue living somewhat independently, I realize that years from now I will not be sorry. But I’m also guilty of worrying too much about her hours alone. Is she okay? Is she staying safe? Is she feeling lonely? I know it’s not bad to consider these things. But there has to be some balance … a healthy amount of worry coupled with productively contributing to her well-being.

I’ve been overly focused on the fact that my free time feels nearly non-existent. I can barely manage a text or email to a friend these days, much less actually spend time with anyone. And I’ve been bitter because those whom I always thought would be here to help either truly can’t or  simply … won’t.

When I’ve stepped outside of myself lately, I’m disappointed in what I see. I am stronger than this! And I know better. Lucky for me, I’ve been shaken out of my stupor. It’s funny how just the right person can come along at just the right time. Or in my case, the right people. I guess I needed reinforcements.

A call with my best friend’s husband last week, meant to bring me up to speed on the state of her cancer battle, has turned into almost daily communication. He opened my eyes to how truly difficult my friend’s days have been. I’d been a bit clueless due my inability to connect with her recently. But he’s also sharing hopes about bringing his family back to Minnesota in the coming weeks, to celebrate their son’s (and my godson’s) graduation with family and friends. We’re talking about how I can help with the party and anything else they might need. We’re discussing the potential for me to make a trip there to spend a few days of one on one time with my friend. Becoming so aware of the depth of her fight and how much ground she’s been losing has been cause for many tears this past week. It was easy to believe things were okay when I didn’t really know. But knowing allows me to really focus my prayers for her and for them. And being in touch with him, discussing how I can support them, makes me feel better somehow. At least I have a sense of direction. And he seems grateful to be able to talk about it with someone.

Kim  also contacted me this past week, to ask if she’d ever sent me a hard copy of her latest book. Kim is someone I would never have met if it weren’t for the internet and blogging. I’ve met her in person just a couple of times, and in spite of long stretches of time without communication, our friendship is a close one. She is a living example of the faith I’m always trying so hard to build within myself.

Kim is an author, and I’ve had the honor of previewing all of her books over the past several years. I’d read and reviewed some months ago an electronic version of her fifth and latest book. During our online conversation that day, I admitted that she’d never sent the promised hard copy (and I’m thinking she shouldn’t, that I should support her by actually purchasing it instead.) And then we moved on to the “How’s life?” kind of stuff.

Kim shared some of her struggles of the past few months, including the fact that her best friend is fighting a rare and aggressive form of cancer. This news itself lifted the fog of loneliness I’d been feeling. In spite of her trials, she exudes positivity and continues to rely on her faith to keep forging ahead. The simple fact that she could closely relate to the helplessness I’ve felt in regards to my friend’s situation, and could offer tips on small gestures I could offer … well, it simply gave me a renewed sense of strength and resolve.

And then there was an email from Rose, my longtime friend. We’ve known each other since we were six or seven years old. She’s one of the few offline friends with whom I’ve shared this blog. She’d read my latest post, and emailed to offer her time and support. Rose took care of her own mom during a time of declining health. She did it on her own, until her mom left this world. She’s been where I am. It truly helped to converse with someone who gets it.

I’m out of the grip of my funk now. It’s funny how nothing’s changed, and yet everything’s changed. The sadness of watching the decline of loved ones is still there. There’s still the sense that sometimes there just aren’t enough hours in the day. But I’m managing to write here at least once a week, which is always such a release for me. And somehow there is just enough time to connect with a friend now and then, even if it is a simple text or email. I’ve remembered to stop feeling so sorry for myself. My life is good. It’s not me who’s truly suffering. The struggles that weigh on me are not truly mine.

Abby posted about how she writes a “Question of the Day” on a white board at home, meant to keep her son’s mind sharp over the summer months. I commented that I write things around the house too. My writings are meant to keep my  mind in a good place too, to center my focus in positivity.

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Periodically, an idea comes to mind that at various times in our lives, we’re called to something specific. I realize that my calling right now is that of caregiver. I’ve been mistaking this as a sort of burden. I’ve been wrong.

It is a privilege.