Our time together was fleeting, but all of the women on our Little Pink Houses of Hope retreat can attest to the powerful connection we formed last September on Lake Tahoe. Every time I look at the photo of the seven of us, all living with breast cancer, I see light, strength, and hope, all of which emanated from you.
On the second night of the trip, you sat down next to Ayla, not even one year yet and said “I want to play with the baby!” We ate our dinner together, feeding Ayla beans and rice, and sharing our stories. You were 31 with two young sons when diagnosed; I was 33 with two young daughters when diagnosed. I was not even through with my first active treatment; you were about to start another round of chemotherapy after living with metastatic breast cancer for thirteen years.
You were protective. Before giving me too many details you said, “I don’t want to scare you.”
I remember thinking, “If this is the path I will follow, I want to be just like her.” I felt as if I was absorbing your resilience, your positive outlook, your zest for life. I remember thinking: “She is living my worst fear and continues to cherish her life every day.”
On our way to yoga one morning we stopped to get something to eat. We poured over the menu deciding which sandwich seemed like the best idea (or the worst idea) before yoga. I remember thinking how healthy you seemed, how ravenous your appetite, not just for food, but for life. I remember laughing with you every five minutes.
I will hold these memories as I hold my daughters in the dark before they fall asleep.
From you, I’ve learned the power of just being yourself throughout illness, of forging community to garner support, of laughing just as much as crying, of believing in love and happiness while grappling with loss.
When I learned about your death, I sat at my desk alone, paralyzed, not wanting to make another move, not wanting to live in a world where you would have lose your life to cancer and leave your beautiful family. The only thing to break me out of it was to imagine you sitting there with me. We’d cry. We’d rage. We’d hug. I would tell you that although the world has lost so much, the loss pales in comparison to what the world has gained because of your life.
Then, feeling the ever-present and thinning line between life and death, I knew you would help me summon up the courage to find a way out of this moment. I heard you say:
“Okay honey. We might not be in Tahoe, but let’s go get the best sandwich we can find.”
With love, always,