Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Six Digits Later - Part 2

Hi Again,

Just to let you know that I made a few revisions to Part 1 -please check it out again.

So Part 2 of my six digit celebration involves hearing what some special friends have to say about the past few years. It was hard to decide who to ask to spill their heart as there have been so many amazing people supporting me on this tough road. I decided to look at the three main parts of my life - the early years, the London years and my present Norsk life. I asked three girlfriends to write about how my illness has impacted our friendship, what more they learnt about cancer and any advice they had for others. What came out of this exercise was beautiful emotion, touching memories and a whole lot of love. I wish I could have included little snippets from the thousands of messages I have received via this blog over the past few years but I will save that for the book. :)

"I think if I've learned anything about friendship, it's to hang in, stay connected, fight for them, and let them fight for you. Don't walk away, don't be distracted, don't be too busy or tired, don't take them for granted. Friends are part of the glue that holds life and faith together. Powerful stuff." Jon Katz

My life is so rich because of the people that are in it and I appreciate these three ladies putting their emotions on their sleeves. Not everyone is as comfortable putting it all out there so thank you.

1) The Montreal Years by Lara

Kate and I met as 4 year olds in a local preschool program. For those blog readers out there that don’t know Kate personally, you should know that she has an amazing sense of humor, and to this day, can make me laugh until I cry. One of our favorite things to do when we were young was to stage very dramatic, fictional skits. And looking back, some of the scenarios we came up with were downright bizarre. We invented a very intricate storyline about two old women named “Milly and Tilly” (played by us) who were essentially cranky old biddies who made fun of one another and screamed off the porch at (imaginary) neighborhood kids. We coerced my two little brothers to play their unfortunate husbands, and would rope them into what we thought was our hilarious game by barking orders at them to “make us lemonade” etc. To our parents’ credit, this somehow did not alarm them.

Kate and I are very different. By 12 years old, Kate was close to 6 feet tall, and I was about 4 ft. 5. She has older siblings, and knew the “ways of the world” before I did. She had already fallen in love by the time I was getting fitted for my headgear. And I am a land mammal, while Kate on the other hand was born to be in the water. She was a nationally ranked swimmer and incredibly strong and fast in the water. I never heard her complain about the long hours at the pool, the early wake ups in the middle of winter, and having to juggle schoolwork with swimming. (She did however have a way of getting people to massage her back and shoulders  - often.) Kate was focused and dedicated, but humble. She never took herself too seriously to have fun, laugh, and celebrate her friends’ triumphs. We had so much fun together, and there are so many memories … of food fights, bike rides, listening to music in her room, and dreaming together about what life had in store for us. Neither of us could have imagined that she would get cancer at 31.

I was planning a one-year move to Sweden when I heard from Kate in early 2011 that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Let me just pause here to emphasize that cancer sucks, and I hate everything about it. But in a way, Kate’s diagnosis brought us closer together. During Kate’s first round of treatment, I was only a bus ride away from her after years of living on separate sides of the country or world. It turns out that all the memories had been waiting there like little seeds in the ground and before long, a new friendship had grown out of the old one. I am so grateful for that.

When I spend time with Kate, I am aware of every version of her, past and present. The wide-eyed child, the comedian, the poet, the romantic, the fierce competitor, the intelligent woman, the ambitious professional, the adventurous spirit, the lover of life, the mother, the wife. And always, the loyal friend. What I have learned from being Kate’s friend throughout two cancer diagnoses and rounds of treatment is that cancer does not define a person. Cancer does not sum up who Kate is (it couldn’t if it tried!) even though it has done everything in its power to take over. I have learned that thoughtful questions are often more supportive than advice. I have learned how to hold hope when sitting with a friend in the dark places. I’ve learned that there is such a thing as a badly timed joke, but that laughter is ALWAYS good. And I think our make believe game about being old women was just practice for the day when we’ll sit on a porch somewhere with white hair and lined faces, and make each other laugh.

2) The London Years by Charlotte

What do you write about your friend who has cancer? She is brave, she is beautiful and she is OBB. Now oBB. She is also honest, afraid, and vulnerable. That's what I've learned from having a best friend battling cancer, it's a constant tale of 2 halves that give as quickly as they take away. It breaks your heart, yet the fight gives you hope, and it leaves you angry whilst showing you depths of friendship and love you never knew possible. You'd never wish the experiences Kate's been through on anyone but it has taught me huge amounts; and in many ways it has given our already wonderful friendship strength to be forever treasured.
Kate and I met in London almost 9 years ago and we lived a very happy, sometimes scandalous, few years together! London brought Atle and Kate together and I watched her grow into a woman ready to be a wife and mother. Looking back, yes we were close, but in some respects we were in danger of our friendship becoming another transient relationship that you often find in London, great fun but once distance (such as Kate moving to Oslo) is added into the mix, the depth of friendship can waver. However, when Kate was first diagnosed, we became closer than ever. Cancer can take an enormous amount away from you, but it gave us a solidarity that now nothing will ever change.

The London days now feel like a lifetime ago, Kate, Atle, and Ida have been through so much since then and I've seen my darling friend go through pain, heartbreak, and unimaginable fear with dignity and unwavering love for those around her. Her writing has allowed us into her deepest thoughts, and her ability to create hope and humour out of some of her worst experiences has inspired others fighting this awful disease. As her friend, I've felt my own array of emotions during this time from enormous amounts of pride and respect, to deep sadness and anger on her behalf. I've also felt terribly selfish at times but I've learned that's ok. It's ok to continue your life as best you can and enjoy it. Kate would hate it if we were all miserable on her account. It's ok to tell her to pull herself together on the rare occasions she has truly dark days and it's ok to cry tears for her and for you because you are going through this too. That's the thing with cancer, it doesn't just happen to the person diagnosed, it's a team effort and everyone close to that person is affected and is allowed to feel their own pain from it.

My advice to anyone in a supporting role would simply be to appreciate there are no hard and fast rules on what to do, you won't always be perfect and you won't always get it right, you'll say the wrong thing sometimes and you'll inevitably not know what to do most of the time. Just be there, listen, stay true to your friendship (because it'll keep you both sane) and have your own support network you can fall on when you need to break down.

Kate, you have always been the most wonderful friend and in the face of real adversity you have remained one of the people I rely on most in the world. You've been mid-chemo and checking in to make sure I am ok, you've worked tirelessly to ensure you remain the wife and mother Atle and Ida need. You've helped create the woman I now am by teaching me about true courage and valor, my respect for you is endless. We are both far from perfect but I'd argue our fun, honest, unquestionable friendship is, and for that I am eternally grateful. We are no longer the carefree girls from those distant London days, we are young women with battle scars of varying degrees that make us people I admire.
Atle, thank you for being the man who loves my friend. Ida, you are a delight in every way and you bring joy to us all. Every piece of love and sense of pride I have for Kate, I have for you both also in equal measure.

3) The New Friend

We were still getting to know each other when Kate was diagnosed with cancer. Being a scientist of some sort, I knew about Herceptin, the BRCA genes and the problems with mammography screening, but I was completely na├»ve about the particular issues faced by young women with breast cancer.  I saw my (new) friend make difficult decisions like foregoing immediate breast reconstruction, as it would mean precious weeks where she would not be able to cuddle her baby.  I saw how she sat and held and loved my new baby while facing great uncertainty about her own ability to conceive again.  I saw how over and over again, time away from her child was one of the worst consequences of her treatment.  There have been many many nights when I have been up with my own sleepless, screaming children and have felt an immense gratitude for being present, for being able to care for them.  If it hadn’t been for Kate´s example, I likely would not have found this grace.

Finding ways to support Kate since her diagnosis has been easy.  Although she often uses humor to communicate what she is going through, you can hear what she really needs if you listen carefully enough. And by listen I mean listen in the broad sense – to the silences, the hesitations, the body language. I also recognize that Kate´s needs are often (always!) bigger than what one person can help with alone – so I often reach out to her other friends (and not only the closest ones) – and tell them the specific ways I think we can help.

It is natural and perhaps necessary that friendships evolve when someone is facing a major illness.  Shortly before Kate started treatment, I remember saying “I know I am not your best friend in the world but I am going to try to act like I am.”  I have definitely tried to live up to that, and in doing so gained Kate as one of my best friends in the world.

1 comment:

  1. OBB! You have some wonderful, supportive and endearing friends. How lovely and rich and awesome that they wrote these heartfelt thoughts about you and shared them with the blogosphere. Thank you for allowing us out here in cyberland to see you as your friends see you. Beautiful!! xoxo