This is Mama-Face from Blog-Ignoramus. I remember when she first discovered our site here and she emailed me a comment saying she felt like she had found home. And that's the stuff that makes this community we've created so worthwhile to me. That through the white space we find each other and reach each other with our words. I am honored that Mama-Face agreed to guest post for us on an "Affiliate Friday" but I feel even more privileged that it was this story that she wanted to tell.
If you are like me you, won’t want to read this post.
If you are like me, pink is not your favorite color just now.
If you are like me, you have been approaching your blog reading a little differently the past couple of weeks.
Because, if you are like me, when you see the words “Breast Cancer Awareness” in the title or in the body of a post, you tell yourself you will have to pass and maybe read it later, when you feel stronger. You’re not quite ready to deal with emotions you have yet to come to terms with.
If you are like me you could be waiting in line in a crowded little gift shop; your gaze traveling around the store, when you see an entire display of Breast Cancer Awareness merchandise. Then you feel a tiny little stab in your heart and find that you must avert your eyes and look anywhere but there.
If you are like me, you want to be ever so careful when writing about this topic because there are so many people suffering in their own different ways from Breast Cancer; either as one with the diagnosis or as someone who loves this person.
Writing this post was much harder than I thought it would be. I struggled with it all day Tuesday; and I even have notes and a letters and plenty of memories to work with. I was fretting and I wondered if I could do it. But, I really felt that this was what I should write about; therefore I was baffled as to why it was turning out to be so difficult.
Then Tuesday night, as I was praying, it came to me what I should do. Instead of writing about Susan, I should write about me. I cannot tell Susan’s story and of her battle with breast cancer because that’s exactly what it was; HER story and HER battle with breast cancer.
I can only write about my battle with losing Susan.
I met Susan when she and her family moved into the house across the street from ours about 13 years ago. I don’t remember when we became friends. I don’t remember when we were not friends. I took it for granted because it came so easily. A friendship comes from shared likenesses; a kindred spirit from shared hearts. Susan became a kindred spirit to me.
And I treasure a kindred spirit.
I liked Susan from the get go. I saw in her our similar interests and our differences.
We belonged to the same church;
thus our core beliefs and values were the same.
We were mothers.
Each of us had a passion for books.
Susan was patient and calm.
I was not.
Susan’s hands could create works of art.
Mine could not.
Susan rarely complained.
I complained on a regular basis.
Susan was unique in a sea of ordinary.
I swam in the sea of ordinary.
Perhaps that’s what made my relationship with Susan morph from friend to kindred spirit. Strange as that may seem, our differences endeared her all the more to me.
Because the differences made no difference. We would talk for hours. She was kind to me. She listened. We laughed together. We cried together. Over the years she cried for me and I cried for her. In the past few years I’m pretty sure I trumped Susan in the ‘crying for her’ department. No, come to think of it...I was crying for me.
Most of the time our conversations involved books. Susan and I even had differences in our taste in books; she was well read but leaned towards fantasy and science fiction, she even taught me the difference between the two. I am somewhat well read and lean towards the classics and slice of life fiction. But we both loved reading for reading’s sake and during our ENTIRE friendship we spent hours catching up on what we’d read and what we were reading and what we had on our ‘to be read’ list.
Like a slide show, my memories of Susan flit by; snapshots of a normal friendship:
Her bubbly face...sitting with her on her driveway, talking, while her twins took their naps in the running car...making handmade Christmas cards together...lunch dates...our kids playing in her jungle gym basement...watching her hands deftly maneuver the tools used for making jewelry, creating beautiful bracelets, earrings and necklaces-never to sell-only to give away...her patience while attempting to teach me how to make jewelry...giggling and/or laughing until our sides hurt over the silliest things...watching her enjoy being a mom; something she excelled at...running back and forth from my house to hers...borrowing and loaning groceries...critiquing movies...the happy surprise of learning she was pregnant with twins...the terrible shock of learning she had been diagnosed with breast cancer...and so much more.
During the last 18 months or so of Susan’s life here on earth, I was able to spend some time with her, which I will forever cherish. She never asked for a thing other than that we not talk about cancer. She just wanted our time to be like old times. She told me that she had plenty of people to talk about cancer with; that’s all some people wanted to talk about. I was perfectly fine with pretending.
So, up until the last time I saw her, we tried our upmost to keep things as ‘normal’ as possible. I watched her go from a fair amount of mobility to being completely bed ridden.
The cancer spread from her breast to her bones and ultimately to her brain. I rarely heard her complain. Her husband went to such extreme lengths to make her comfortable, hospice nurses came and went, housekeepers were there at times, neighbors brought in food. What I did was nothing. Just talk and try to giggle and laugh like the old days.
During this time is when she tried her very best to teach me how to make jewelry; I failed miserably. And I could care less. For me it was never about making jewelry. It was about keeping things on as normal a level as we could. Most of the time I just sat or laid down on the floor by her chair; then bed. I haven’t moved the big tote bag of jewelry supplies since the last time I brought it home from her house. I took a catalog out of the bag a week or so ago, and it surprised me that I cried. So, that bag will remain where it is for a while yet.
The last time I saw Susan, two weeks before she passed away, she was pretty out of it. She so very much wanted to not be given morphine, because it knocked her out and she hated missing out on anything; especially time with the children and husband. That day though, morphine wasn’t anywhere near strong enough. She would drift in and out; she was very agitated and fearful. I held her hand while she slept fitfully. I laid my head on her bed. I stroked her hair, it was only a couple of inches long as it had just begun to grow back since the very last round of radiation. I put my face close to hers and gave her a kiss or two. It was very hard to understand what she was saying; but for reasons I can’t say, (simply because they are too private to me), I know that for at least a moment or two she was aware of my being there.
The hospice nurse came during the time I was there that day, and I was in the room when the decision was made to start the drugs that would make Susan comfortable and most importantly, ease her mind. The brain cancer was causing paranoia. One of the drugs that was added was an anti-psychotic. If I had been there even one day later she would not had recognized me. This I treasure for my sake; not hers. I consider every moment I spent with Susan a gift.
A few weeks after Susan’s funeral I was still grieving more than I even expected to. I was so preoccupied with memories that I wasn’t sleeping well, and I was thinking of her more than I did while she was alive. I relived memories like those I’ve shared and so many more, over and over. It’s not like I didn’t know it was inevitable; it wasn’t if, it was when. I think that all of us in these kinds of situations, (and this is probably a good thing), keep hoping that the inevitable won’t happen this time. So, I put my feelings on the back burner, you know, believing that I could wait and think about it later. I thought I was prepared. I wasn’t.
It was then that I made the decision to stop dwelling on Susan and my memories. That sounds so heartless; but I had to do it. I felt a weight lift and I felt lighter than I had in weeks; maybe months.
That is why seeing reminders of Breast Cancer Awareness Month everywhere I look has been so unsettling. Pink ribbons, pink t-shirts, pink jewelry, pink magnets, pink everything; all of it breaks my heart right now. Once again I am surprised by my reaction. Please, I want you to know that I believe that Breast Cancer Awareness is extremely important and that I KNOW there are far too many people dealing with Breast Cancer, as well as other forms of cancer, whether it be themselves or a loved one. Maybe you have a friend and you are trying your very best to support her. My story isn’t unique.
But Susan is.
Susan passed away on August 5, 2009. If you would like to read more about her story and the incredible legacy she left behind, you can find it on her husband’s blog, Fatcyclist. Just search ‘Susan’.