Two Fridays ago, one of the dearest women in the world left me a message on my phone. She was informed by her doctor that she has breast cancer. We had already made plans prior to that day for her to come to my home and spend the day together, and she wanted to let me know before her arrival. This gave me some time to process before Saturday, before there would be the big giant elephant in the room. Upon leaving work I flipped my radio to the familiar strains of NPR's afternoon classics and watched the countryside pass me by. I couldn't quite put my jumbled thoughts into a collected and ordered piece. In situations like this, I try to be pragmatic. When I handle crisis situations at school, I am the one who likes to coordinate everything, make sure the details are looked to. I am very good at that. But this, somehow, knocked the wind from my sails and I was at a total loss. I was unprepared for Saturday entirely.
Which was silly. Rose (as I'm going to call her for the purposes of this blog) blew into the house with her infectious laugh and one of her hugs that squeezes your lungs dry and makes everything in the world right. She dropped her giant sewing machine case on the floor and squeezed me the same way she has for the past 8 odd years. I felt every nerve in my body release. It was going to be okay. She was her normal self, running around the house, sniffing the chili I had bubbling away on the stove (proclaiming it smelled delicious), praising my husband's work in the basement, and setting up her workspace facing mine in the living room so we could get to work. Within no time at all both of our sewing machines were humming away and the words were flowing as fast as the stitches on our fabric.
Of course, I did have questions. I had tons. But Rose was at the stage where she had few answers. She had as many questions as I did. I joked that she needed a voice recorder with her at all times so she could record her questions as she drove/worked for her doctor. By the time lunch rolled around, we had made progress on our project, and were ready to settle down to eat with the boys.
Later that evening, when were done sewing for the day and my husband was done working in the basement, we sat and chatted some before she headed home. We talked more about the big "C" word. About second opinions, procedures, surgeries, recovery, etc. We laughed, we were serious, but were mostly honest and real. When Rose finally left for home (with leftover chili and a promise to return for more sewing in two weeks) I felt as thought I had a better idea about what she was facing. And in many ways, what we, her fans, are facing.
Except that I don't. You see, about 8 years ago, just before Rose came into my life, I lost my beloved grandmother to colon cancer. When grandma was diagnosed she told no one and sought no treatment, wanting to die on her own terms. As the end neared, she let in those she wanted to on her condition. By the time I was told, she had only one week to live. Of course, my grandma was wise and knew that if I'd been told earlier I would have canceled my Europe trip earlier in the summer and not moved across the state as planned-all to nurse her. But her loss crushed me. I felt like I was screaming underwater for help and no one was there to save me.
I wasn't there to hold my grandma's hand as she battled that awful cancer. But I am here with Rose. I have a very similar relationship with Rose that I did with my grandma. My grandma and I were the best of friends, sisters, grandma/granddaughter, mother/daughter...peanut butter and jelly. I could tell her anything. That afternoon of sewing with Rose, I understood this. I understood that in many ways, when I was drowning in my grief, she was one of the people who pulled me through it.
Now she is in the game of cancer. What is so difficult is that all of us who love and adore her-her children, her grandchildren, her friends-we are not in the game. We can't be. I would trade places with her in an instant (not that she'd let me though). All I can do is sit here on the sidelines, cheering at the top of my lungs. Willing her to win this game. To kick cancer's ass. I know she will. She's tough. So I'll be bringing you sideline reports periodically here, to keep me feeling like there is something I can do, besides praying as hard as I can. I hope everyone else out there is cheering too.