Tag Archives: breast cancer

Friendships That Are Gifts

19 Oct

meandbeth

Every now and then you are lucky enough to come across someone who will be your true friend. Someone who will understand the same jokes. Someone who you can laugh with until your stomach hurts and tears roll down your cheeks. Someone who will get you. Nearly 13 years ago, I was lucky enough to come across my beautiful friend, Beth.

Not long after that, when she was only 37, she called me to her home on a warm spring night. We sat on the porch and sipped iced tea and she told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was the first step in a heartbreaking chapter of our friendship.

Beth, loved by innumerable people besides me, was strongly supported by our local community and her larger network of family and friends. I had never known a friend with cancer and I had no idea what to do for her first. I began by pouring my heart into cooking. Every Wednesday night, for as long as she was undergoing treatment (which, incidentally, was many months) I made dinner for Beth and her family. Throughout this time, I noticed her lose her hair, her eyebrows, her eyelashes. I listened to her talk of sores in her mouth as she sucked ice pops, and lament that she was forgetting things from all the chemotherapy. I saw her family rally around her. And I saw her rally around her family. And most important, I watched her fight each day, talk relentlessly about the future, and continue to live her life positively. She was simply incredible.

On her final week of treatment, and the last time I delivered dinner to her family, I brought her a bottle of wine. I worried that such an open display of revelry might superstitiously invite bad luck, but 5 years after Beth’s diagnosis, I was fortunate enough to bring her pink champagne to celebrate the important milestone she finally reached.

What once consumed Beth and her family (and a large part of my mind as well), has become merely a part of her past. She does not dwell on what happened to her. She looks forward. She is happy. She is loved. She continues to live her life positively. She is still simply incredible.

Several months ago, Beth asked me to join her on the Avon 2 day, 39 mile walk across New York City. Without even thinking about it, I said yes. First, I have a problem saying no, and second, I would do anything for Beth. And then I panicked. 39 miles is a major undertaking that required 12 weeks of training, 2 pairs of sneakers, 3 new apps, a minimum fundraising goal of $1800, a weekend away from my family, and countless blisters. What I received in return, however, cannot be itemized. Walking through the streets of the city in which I have grown up, in which my parents have grown up, in which my grandparents have grown up, was nothing short of momentous. I walked past the area where my great grandfather owned an antiques store on the Lower East Side, the theater where I saw my first James Taylor concert, the apartment building I lived in during law school, the library in which my husband and I met, the street where my mother and I picked out yarmulkes for my wedding, the hospital where I delivered my first baby, the spot we used to stroll him to for Sunday brunch, the courthouses in which I spent so much time litigating. I walked through my family history for the past four generations. I walked through my life.

And then I realized, maybe that’s the point. Maybe when you walk through your whole life, your whole life comes back to you. Washed amid a sea of pink, our team held hands and crossed the finish line. I took so many pictures throughout the two days but my favorite one, by far, was the one captured by my husband, solely because of the pure glee you can see in my friend Beth’s smile.

Beth’s whole life has returned to her. She is complete. At the end of the walk, I kissed her and said “your friendship is a gift.” Because it is. I should know. I have been treasuring it now for almost 13 years.

bethfinal

More pictures from the walk:

lincolncenter brooklyn bridge lowermanhattan dumbo water randalls man chinatown baseball china radio horse flatiron  flatiron2esbfamteam3theend

Unwritten

12 Mar

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A wise friend recently implored me to get tested for the BRCA gene. Up until then, I was fearfully disinterested. My mother and maternal grandmother and aunts were all diagnosed with breast cancer at one point or another, and some, like my mother and grandmother, received multiple diagnoses. I have grown up watching women I love fight brave battles and then go on to live their lives as extraordinary survivors, putting scars and tears behind them. Nevertheless, my friend was persuasive and, because I love and respect her, I promised her I would get tested. And so I did.

My blood was drawn in December. I did not even think about it until I was told the results were in. They tried to schedule an appointment for me immediately prior to a February family vacation. I refused. Although I assumed I would test negative for the gene, what if I didn’t? What if it was positive and I had this heavy secret to carry around the beaches of Punta Cana? I postponed my appointment for one month.

Upon my return from vacation, I had my routine mammogram. I constantly see doctors throughout the year as a means of surveillance. I have an annual pelvic ultrasound and breast MRI. I see a breast specialist and my OB/GYN twice a year. I do everything I possibly can short of prophylactic surgery. And, like my mother and grandmother, I’m just living my life without focusing on what for them, has been, or what for me, could be. My mammogram was normal, making me two years older than my young mother when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. A milestone.

I did not realize that my appointment for my BRCA results was today until I looked at my calendar on Monday. Thinking I had little chance of having this gene, I asked no one to accompany me to the appointment and intentionally did not even tell my mother I was being tested. After being kept waiting for an hour, allowing maximal anxiety to fester, the doctor finally told me that I do not carry the BRCA gene.

And then I lost my shit. I wept. I stopped breathing. I reacted enough for the doctor to suggest I have a drink. It was 11 am. It was actually a good idea. Why didn’t I bring a drinking buddy and confidante to this appointment? I am an idiot. And then, because this appointment involved genetic counseling, we discussed my options. There are other genes associated with breast cancer although their detection is not as reliable and there are wide margins showing your chances of getting several types of cancer throughout the course of your life. These genes are not as thoroughly studied as the BRCA genes. Importantly, it is likely that this testing would reveal that I do carry such genes, as my mother too tested negative for the BRCA gene.

It is one thing to know, with a definitive statistical probability, your chances of a breast cancer diagnosis and taking intelligent, aggressive, surgical safety measures. It is another thing altogether to lay awake at night after you tucked your children into bed and ponder the weight of potential cancers that decided to show up in your genome. So screw that. My life is not fully written and I am it’s sole author. I’m going to politely decline the benefits of this scientific advancement, thank you, in favor of sleep, peace of mind, and taking life as it comes: unplanned, not always pretty in the details, but wholly beautiful nonetheless.

After phoning my mother to tell her the news, and fogging up the windows of my parked car with my own suffocating relief and tears, I decided to just love the day. My son asked me to pick him up from school. I did. I took him for frozen yogurt AND a cupcake on this first sunny day in one of the longest winters I can remember.  He told me all about his day in great detail. I hope he never stops. It is a luxury to have a mind free enough of worry and knowledge to listen to him and his stories. Because his life is not fully written either.