When I get overwhelmed with posttraumatic cancer reminders (e.g., beloved family and friends newly diagnosed, an unfamiliar bony ache, the entire month of October), I text Stevie. He gets it. I hope all of us touched with the terror of unbridled mitosis have at least one killer cancer buddy. My Shitty Sorority friends and I have a legion lingering only a few keystrokes away, armed with sympathetic emojis to ease our Pinktober ennui. I was warned that the initial October after diagnosis and treatment would be… a lot. And for me, the first time I was aware of all of the awareness, it was in the aftermath, when I had already acquired implants and more than an inch of hair. Still, I probably became a bit of an asshole.
After a few years, I mellowed and even championed my own boys’ desire to Walk for the Cure. Ever supportive April expensively sponsored swanky evenings at the BCRF Hot Pink Party, where she grabbed my hand with love during the patient stories, and then again later to drag me to the dance floor. A good friend knows you need hand holding for both. Especially in the beginning. Those fancy nights were the only times I felt anything close to accomplishment? pride? relief? Or some mix of those that bolder women must feel when they say they “beat” this disease. I’ll never have that much bravado, no matter how many champagne flutes I’ve drained. The only way we’re ever going to “beat” breast cancer is with research for metastatic disease, and the BCRF is probably the best place for your donations to support scientists actually working (not walking) for answers.
Nearly eight years later, cancer could/should be very much in the rear view mirror. And it would be if there weren’t devastating daily reminders from scars, Tamoxifen… and the entire month of October. Even so, more often text exchanges with Stevie are about marriage, must-see Netflix shows, and why there should be a law mandating teenage boys sit to pee. With two of them in the house alongside a rotating cadre of handymen, electricians, and roofers, I’m occasionally one Chlorox wipe away from losing my trademark sunny disposition. So when the canister reminds me I’m also cleaning for the cure, it’s hard not to get grumpy. It all becomes… a lot. Especially in October.
Next week I’m flying to the Midwest to support one of my favorite people as she starts this journey from diagnosis to healing. My phone is full of hundreds of texts from friends, friends of friends, cousins of friends, dry cleaner’s sister-in-law, babysitter’s bridesmaid, and women of ever-further degrees of separation that become obliterated when I’m asked to be their point person as a breast cancer veteran. Dear friend Emily called it my Cancer Concierge Service, and mostly I am happy to pay forward the support I received years ago from Lisa and Kelli and Hester. There is a call/text at any hour level of intimacy between those of us in the Shitty Sorority. However, this will be the first time I’ll be offering a week-long fluff-your-pillows-and-strip-your-drains on call service.
Maybe because I just came home from Bible study, or because I love to tie these essays up with a bow, I find a bit of grace in having the time to give and a familiarity with this exact disease to help someone I’ve known and admired my entire life. To hold her hand through this. To be her killer cancer buddy. Though I have the personal and surgical experience to be helpful, I’ll be referencing the lessons I learned from those of you who amused, supported, and loved me eight years ago. In this long, dark month when so many essays will instruct us on what not to do or say or expect from our cancer-ed friends, I’m thinking about all of the hilarious, generous, and awesome things done for me. And I’m asking for your best prayers/juju/vibes once again.
This time, for Diane.