excerpt, p.2

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A full 10 years went by before I thought about breast cancer again. One of my coworkers was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 30, and she had a recurrence 5 years later. I met her just after she started treatment again, and we quickly became coffee buddies. We never met for other social occasions or invited anyone to join us. We simply met, and had very long conversations while drinking coffee. We covered a wide range of subjects from great recipes, to difficulties at work, to philosophies about marriage and family, to the places we’d love to visit, to what inspired us, to our purpose in life. Sometimes I would ask her about her chemotherapy treatments. And sometimes, she wouldn’t just change the subject away from what I knew was a constant and arduous experience for her. Cathy generally kept her diagnosis and treatment quiet, and she was not involved in support groups or advocacy organizations. When I found out about a community-based organization nearby, I thought it might be a good way for me to learn more about breast cancer, so that I could be a better support for my friend. Cathy was always interested to hear what I had learned.

When Cathy’s treatments became more intensive, she stopped working and spent most of her time at home. Instead of meeting at the café, we would have our coffee conversations at her house, often without the coffee. We’d sit at the kitchen table and talk for hours. Her dog, Scooter, would usually sit at her feet and then do a little dance for the promise of a snack. He adored Cathy, and his antics always put a smile on both of our faces. At one point Cathy started giving me things…a cookbook, a vase, things from her kitchen. It hadn’t occurred to me at the time that she was giving her things away because she knew her time was limited. She talked more frequently about her treatments, the mistakes she had made in her life, and how most people had no idea what it was like to have cancer. She would get very animated when I talked about my plans, my commitments, my beloved, and my hopes for the future. It was as if we were both transported from her little kitchen to some grand and important adventure.

A few weeks after her 40th birthday, just around Thanksgiving, Cathy’s doctors told her that there was nothing more they could do. The cancer was growing out of control despite the toxic chemical therapies she had been given, so they finally stopped her treatment. Within 6 weeks she died. The last day I saw Cathy was just a few days before her death. She hadn’t been out of bed in weeks, but as soon as she saw me she tried to get up. She wanted to make me some tea. As she tried to get out of bed, I insisted that I had been sufficiently caffeinated and tried not to cry. I apologized as my eyes welled up. She said, “It’s okay.” My dying friend was trying to comfort me. This only made me cry more. Unlike our usual meetings, this one did not include much conversation. I just sat at her bedside as Cathy dozed in and out, and we shared the quiet weight of her reality. I told her I would visit her again in a few days, and she smiled. She died before I had the chance. After the funeral I went to her house. Scooter had stolen the hat Cathy had been wearing for past 6 weeks to keep warm. He kept it under his chin and wouldn’t let anyone near it. I think he knew she wasn’t coming back and was just as sad we were.

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