In 2013, when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I got a Facebook message from some of these women. (It had been 15 years since I'd seen any of them, so it feels weird to call them 'girls.') One of our mutual friends was also fighting breast cancer, and she also lived in Texas! I reached out to this fellow survivor and was able to get some advice/answers to questions. She was on a similar journey as mine, only further down the path than I was. She even offered to send me the wig she never wore, it being too hot in the Texas summer for her.
We exchanged Christmas cards and kept in touch, but casually.
In 2015, when cancer returned to my bones, she reached out to me for my new address. By the time a box came in the mail from her, I'd forgotten that she'd even asked for it. Inside, was a book: Sadaku and the Thousand Paper Cranes, along with a box of 1,000 small paper cranes she had folded in my honor, for a miracle for me. My entire soul was warmed by this simple, yet powerful gift. I cried, touched by the time taken from a fellow survivor, one whose heart was kind and loving, one who knew the journey and knew that even though she couldn't do much, hopefully the little she could do was more than enough. It was!
We kept in touch and followed each other’s progress, scans, and status. She moved away from Texas, her health intact, and I celebrated with her on her scans with NED (no evidence of disease). When cancer came back to my brain this year, she commiserated with me on the suckage of cancer. When I was back in remission—again—she rejoiced, and I knew her prayers had added to the thousands of others to bring about a miracle for my family.
In September, my heart ached when I heard that cancer had come back in her bones. I hated that she had to start another fight, but knew that cancer was up against a super woman, and told her as much. I didn’t ask a lot of questions—What’s your treatment plan? Will you have radiation and chemo?, etc. because she wasn't one to like attention on herself, preferring more to give to others. I knew I couldn't do much, but did what I could: had high hopes that she’d conquer and prayed for her and her family.
Then, mid-November, I read a post about her having a port placed, needing to dye her hair and take family pictures before she started chemo and it fell out. I remembered the exact feeling, all too well. I saw her post about loving Christmas cards and knew I needed to get going on our own family pictures so I could send her one.
Last night, as I was finally catching up on social media, I saw that my friend had passed away.
And I missed it. I missed my chance to tell her how much her love and time had meant to me—how much hope it had given me for my future. I missed sending her another Christmas card. Between Thanksgiving prep, the boys being out of school, movies, Christmas decorating, and other activities for the week, I had missed knowing that my friend was truly sick. I had no idea Hospice was called, no idea her time was short, no idea she was gone until after she was gone.
I was sad that I hadn’t truly reached out when her cancer returned, as she had when mine did. I hated that I underestimated cancer, never imagining it would take her, especially so quickly. It shocked me that she hadn’t even made it to the two weeks when her hair would fall out. I had simply assumed that she would soon be in remission, again, just like I had. I also realized just how amazing and miraculous my story is, how blessed I have been, how lucky I am to still be here.
I wasn't able to tell her before, but I believe life continues beyond the grave, so I'll say it to her now:
You have given me hope and strength. Your humor and honesty on life has inspired me. Your faith, talents, and endurance have helped drive me forward. Thank you for pushing me on the path of this journey. I hate that you’re no longer here to fight, but so grateful that you no longer need to suffer or feel pain. I have faith that God has a plan. Our plans are different, but that’s okay. I pray for your family to have peace and be able to feel of your love and your mothering from the other side.
Your cancer sister, Mel
RIP, Natalie. You are loved and missed.