In June of 1997, my good friend, Chris was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer. That was the day that not only changed her life but mine as well. Chris was only 34 at the time and she had a husband and two young children. She had been misdiagnosed for over a year, so when she did hear the news, she was already stage 3B. But she didn’t wallow in self-pity or grief for very long – she had a fight on her hands, the fight for her life. And fight she did. From chemotherapy to a stem cell transplant to more chemo and then on to radiation and back to chemo – a pattern that repeated itself for the next six years. She had a few weeks where she was cancer free but that soon came to a screeching halt when we discovered the cancer had spread.
As her friend, I knew that I had to help. After all, that’s what friends do, right? I purchased angel pins for her group of friends and family. We vowed to wear those precious angels until Chris was better. It was truly amazing to run into someone at the grocery store or a sporting event and see that little gold angel sitting on their coat or sweater. We bonded together as the group that would get Chris through this awful battle! There wasn’t anything that this group couldn’t do, from bringing meals for the family (we had a regular schedule of three times a week), to helping with the kids, and taking Chris to treatment.
Ah, treatment! Now that was something new to me. Yes, I could cook and I could handle the kids and the driving, but the chemo room…that was something I had never experienced. That’s when I learned what strength, courage and determination truly were. Watching Chris chat and laugh with the other chemo patients defied all logic in my mind. Why wasn’t she asking, “Why me?” Why wasn’t she crying, screaming, or yelling at God? I couldn’t understand how she could handle this challenge with such grace and dignity – but I do now. She was teaching. Teaching me and teaching others how to live and how to die. Her faith was simply beyond anything I believed, but again, she taught. I quickly grasped that this amazing friend was brought into my life at a time I most needed her. Imagine that! She was the one battling for her life, but I was the one who was changing. She taught me how to be a better person, to be more forgiving, more realistic in my expectations, how to live life to the fullest, and, most importantly, she brought me back to my faith, to God.
Chris passed away in April of 2003, having lived to see her 40th birthday. At her funeral, I looked out at a sea of nearly 1000 faces. That’s the Chris I knew and loved – the person who everyone wanted to know, to be close to, to chat with – the person who touched every life she came into contact with.
Every now and then, I get the angel pin out of my jewelry box (yes, I still have it!) and remember how blessed I was to have met my once-in-a-lifetime friend. Even though our time together was short, the lessons I learned were not. I have moved on, but my work and my life since then have been in the cancer community – she taught me well!
As Chris always said, “Choose hope…after all, what else would you choose?”
Co-founder of Choose Hope, Inc.