Monday, July 21, 2008

Cold Fear

"Are you okay, Mom?"

That's the question my son asked after I got off the phone with a dear friend. Her wife, the mother of their two kids, had been diagnosed with a rare cancer about three weeks ago, and had just started chemo, and was hospitalized because she could no longer swallow. The tumors that showed up on the initial baseline ct scan were shown to have spread in the more recent ct scan taken a week ago. I'm sure I was ashen, and he was frightened. So was I.

These friends are like family to us. We met years ago doing theater together, and as fate would have it, they lived in the same building we did. We were the managers of the apartments for a time, and they still loved us anyway, even though we had no idea what we were doing. We watched each other's cats when we went on trips. We used their apartment to cook Thanksgiving dinner when they were out of town and our oven wasn't big enough for the pterodactyl we had stuffed for our dinner. We attended their wedding, on a beautiful, sunny Seattle afternoon in a park overlooking Puget Sound. Their first child, a girl is two months older than Joe-Henry. Their second child, a boy, just turned one a few months ago. We've stayed close, and the kids have helped us get even closer, if that's even possible. Joe-Henry loves their daughter Hazel, and seeing them together is like watching the future in living color. He loves baby Gabe too, asking for one of his own every time we leave their house.

We don't talk on the phone as much as I'd like to. They are both incredibly busy, talented people with lots on their plate. We email a bit, but it never matters how infrequently we see each other - we always pick up where we left off. But when she emailed about her diagnosis, and said they were leaving town that morning for the Adirondacks, but would see someone at Sloane Kettering, and would be's all just happening too fast. It's too much to take in, you know? And if I feel this way, I can't imagine what they are going through.

Our conversation was mostly very informational. I got caught up on what has been happening, because it's been so fast they've barely had time to process it themselves. Her voice was strained and exhausted, but she sounded remarkably strong, and buoyed by their family and friends. Someone got a philanthropic group to pay next months mortgage, someone else was cleaning their house, another friend dropped by and weeded the garden. I could tell that these things meant so much to them, and it wasn't lost on her how dearly they were being held in everyone's hearts. And their kids are helping them stay in the moment, something that has to be a necessity when panic threatens to send you racing through the streets in ten different directions.

I am setting them up with a blog and a great organizational website to arrange for friends to help, but I still feel completely helpless. I wish I could cure cancer instead. I wish I could kick cancer's ass to the curb. I wish I could not feel scared for my friend. I feel guilty for my fear - I want to just be fierce and organized and helpful and unemotional. And honestly, I am those things on the outside, for the most part. But inside - I am wobbly black jello. It won't stop me, though. I think I just had to say it, just once, acknowledge it, and now it's time to get to work.

Love to you all - it can't be said enough - love to you all.


Robin Amos Kahn said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. This is happening to too many people now, too young.
The other really excellent cancer center is M.D. Anderson in Texas. A friend of mine with throat cancer has been there (she's been at Sloan for years) and she said they are doing amazing research and treatments.
Also, you mentioned a you know about I read about it a few months ago and it looks like it could be a good resource.
Sending love and healing prayers to you and your friends.

Kari said...

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear it. Cancer's such a fucker (sorry, feel free to edit for content). Sending positive thoughts your way...

*Lissa* said...

Cancer is fierce and scary. I think we have all had those feelings of utter helplessness. I truly hope for the best for your dear friend!

Amber said...

I'm sorry about your friend.I will send thoughts full of hope out to them......and I have to say....they are lucky to have a great friend like you:)Keep your head up:):)

Lisa L said...

So very sorry Annie. You are such a good friend. The blog will be incredibly worthwhile as the journey continues. Caringbridge is a great idea.

Donna said...

As you may hear from Tracey, cancer is what brought me into the heart of the web. Matter of fact, I probably found you by reading her blog. I met her at Friends of Allie. And even though I didn't "know" any of those people, cancer managed to suck a lot of energy from me through them. It is a nasty, unforgiving disease, but it does not define the people who fight it. I loved that one of the parents refused to ever capitalize the word cancer, refused to give it even a smidgen of power. Some of us took to tagging it as very tiny text, just to make a point. I am guessing that every small gesture and every grand one is equally appreciated.

As Robin mentioned, CaringBridge is apparently pretty easy to access and update, and is also password protected if you want to use it that way (just like making someone subscribe to a blog). Keeps the trolls from ruining the spirit of the messages. (Jenny can tell you something about that.)

You are being a great friend. Don't forget to give yourself some "self care" (Tracey's favorite SW topic!) while you are dealing with your own emotions. It's ever so hard (for me at least) to not slip into imagining what we would do if we were in their situation.

anniemcq said...

thanks all so much, for your wisdom, insight and love. the goils were guided to a sight at, which is good for organizing our army. It's also invitation only, which will, as Donna says, keep the trolls at bay. I'm also getting them started with a blog, and I'll let you know if they decide to take it public.

Anonymous said...

Oh Annie.


I'm so sorry.

You know you can e-mail me privately if you need to talk about it. I'm a good listener for this sort of thing. If you want to talk on the phone, send me your phone number and I'll call you.

Cancer has brought the greatest amount of pain to my family and those I love, but it has also, paradoxically, brought some of the greatest joys into my life. It sounds like your friends are surrounded by loving support, and that is the greatest arsenal in the battle, in my opinion.

suttonhoo said...

** huge big hugs **

(grateful you decided to write about this, as horrible & painful as it is. shouting down the dark nicks into its power a little bit. thank you.)

see you soon, I hope.

Lisa L said...

Annie, I was hesitant to say much at first. After all. I'm a hospice nurse for the love of god. People don't want to even 'go there' ie to the 'hospice place' when they get a diagnosis. But. I know a shitload about cancer (no caps for cancer here) and I am a person you can come to for advice, questions etc. Please don't be put off by the 'hospice thing.' I'm all for fighting the beast as the next person.