Yesterday I picked up a iced coffee from McDonald’s. I know all the cashiers, and they know how I like my coffee. I love them. As I stood there an older man ordered and turned towards me. I knew immediately that I knew him but couldn’t place him.
Me: You look so familiar.
Mr. S: I do?
Me: Oh, I remember. You are Mr. F’s friend.
He looked at me for a second and then a light went off.
Mr. S: That was you!
Me: If you mean at Dr. L’s office, yes. You came to keep Mr. F company during his chemotherapy. You made me laugh the whole time. The nurses kept kicking you out, but you’d sneak right back in.
Mr. S: Oh boy, we had fun that day.
Me: Yes, thank you.
And then I asked him how Mr. F was and he said:
Mr. F didn’t make it.
And I was reduced to tears in McDonald’s.
Mr. S: Yes, he had a rough time. The cancer went from his throat to his lung and then he just went downhill.
We talked for a few more minutes and then I gave him a hug goodbye. I saved the huge ugly cry for the car.
This is the dark side of being a cancer survivor.
I met so many people…and many of them didn’t make it. One of them was Sharon. Our treatment coincided on a few days. I remember she brought this black and white floral handmade quilt that folded into itself. I thought she might sew for a hobby so I asked her about it. She was on steroids and she joked to her husband that she had chipmunk cheeks. I asked her about her small hometown in the middle of the desert and how she survived without a Target.
In May 2012 I got an email from her niece Kara:
I don’t know if you will remember a certain beautiful lady that shared time with you (while also receiving her own chemo treatments) in Palm Desert. Her name is Sharon E., and she spends most of her winter months in Blythe. But she sure remembers you! She was diagnosed with Stage 4 Waldenstroms Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in January of this year.
I am her niece Kara, and I just wanted to contact you to give thanks and love for keeping her spirits up while she was in Palm Desert getting her chemo. [...] Poor babe was life-flighted from her hometown hospital on May 6 to her current location in Springfield, where she still is this very day (5 days of which she was on life support). You are probably wondering just why I am contacting you. Well, her mood has been more down than up, and there’s been several times we thought we were going to lose her (and we still may) but all logistics aside, I wanted you to know that she spoke to me of your website and of YOU when she was barely able to talk after she was taken off life support. She was very down, and had made the decision to die, was feeling hopeless, tired, frustrated, etc, but we had a rare chance to be alone for awhile, and through a whispered voice she said to me: Lil Blue Boo……of course I questioned…..or actually said, What?
Together we found your website on her phone. I asked her how she found your website, and she replied She’s my friend…from chemo. [...] She’s been very concerned about you during her whole ordeal, and I just wanted to share that love with you. I will never know the relationship of your talks or friendship, but I wanted you to know that somehow you made a big impact on her during your visits. I just wish she had the fight in her that you have, she did, but it seems to be faded now, as she’s stated to the family that she just wants “to go” and that she’s “tired.” She’s losing faith that she will ever be better. We, as a family, still hold our faith strong that she will get through this, but her will is what’s holding her back now. I guess all we can do is pray. Again, thank you.
I think about this email all the time. She was concerned about me. Nothing is more humbling than that. What did I do to deserve her love? All I did was flash a smile, make conversation, crack a joke or two. That’s what Mr. S did too, and I realized from the other side what an impact that made: he made my day more bearable, and he didn’t even know me. As I’ve said before: sometimes there is so much light in the world that the darkness should be very afraid.
On October 8, 2012 I got an email from Sharon:
I’m home after 92 days in the hospital, feeling much better and learning how to walk again. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the necklace you sent me–you’re a sweetheart and each time I saw you at our treatments you managed to pick up the entire room with your positiveness. So glad to see your doing well–God bless and I CHOOSE JOY TOO!! Luv you Sharon
Sharon passed away 8 days later.
Looking back, here’s what I am thankful for: That I said yes to Sharon.
That I said yes to Mr. F.
That I said yes to the cranky man who didn’t want to sit next to me.
That I said yes to the young girl who was scared just like me.
That I said yes to the man who yelled expletives in his sleep.
That I said yes to Mr. B whose wife safety pinned notes to his shirt for the doctor.
That I said yes to the woman who refused to let the hairdresser cut off the last patch of hair she had left.
That I said yes to the elderly woman who teared up when she talked about her daughter.
That I said yes to the man who used to sell encyclopedias in his younger years.
That I said yes to the elderly woman who announced she was wearing a diaper to the entire infusion center.
That I said yes to the man with lung cancer and his friend Scott who asked for my autograph. I was famous for a day.
That I said yes to Mr. W who once won the lottery, but had already lost 2 wives to cancer.
That I said yes to the woman with pancreatic cancer who said she was worried about her husband, because she knew she was going to die.
That I said yes to the woman who said she wanted to throw up every time she had to step foot in an oncology office.
That I said yes to the man who wished he could send a ham sub through his stomach tube.
That I said yes to the young man who had testicular cancer for the second time.
That I said yes to the woman who could knit in her sleep.
That I said yes, yes and yes.
And that every single one said yes back to me.
Because I could have said no. I didn’t always feel like saying yes. I could have felt sorry for myself. I could have sulked. I had the right to. I had cancer. I felt miserable. I said no to cancer, but I said yes to the rest. The cancer patients and their families and friends that I met along the way are precious to me. They are part of my story, and I am a part of theirs. And they woke something inside of me.
Farewell Mr. F, for now.
Rest in peace.
The last 30 days of posts for the Year of Joy can be found here.
Could I ask you a favor? And maybe you’ll say yes
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