"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 back.....it'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.