Monday, April 19, 2010

The C Word

Who is she to you? Is she your: mother, sister, cousin, friend, niece, grandmother, sister in law? I am referring to the women who have breast cancer, or have survived it. Cancer: the one word no one wants to hear. How would you react if you were told you have cancer? Would you fall to pieces? Could you pick up the pieces and build something new? It takes courage to be a survivor, and I know a survivor who is just that: courageous.

I want to tell you about my best friend, Vicki. We have known each other since high school. We sat in the same homeroom for 3 years; both having last names that start with B. Oddly enough, we did not seem to have much in common in high school. Well, maybe a certain boy crossed both our paths, but that was about it. We both agree, that he was only a good kisser and not much else. But, I digress. My point is, I went all through high school, sitting right beside one of the most inspirational people I would ever know, and I was clueless.

After I graduated college, I moved back home and ran into Vicki at a night club. I had not seen, or thought of her since high school, but now, I could not stop talking with her. We had so much to catching up to do. I had found my soul sister. Ever since that day, not a moment has passed that she has not been a part of my world; we have lived parallel lives.

We both got married in the same year; she was my matron of honor. We each have three girls, and they are the all the same ages. As a matter of fact, she is the one who told me I was pregnant for the first time. Every year, after she moved away to Nashville, I would make a trip to go and see Vicki, and every trip had some sort of adventure planned into it. This particular trip, we went to the Smoky Mountains. Somehow, while at a Wendy's drive through, she made me cry. It had something to do with there being no ketchup, and her saying something rude about my dog. I took it very personally. She looked at me, and said, "Jesus, you are so pregnant, crying over that ugly dog!". She is the one who bought the pregnancy test to prove it. It was from her house in Nashville, that I called my husband to tell him I was pregnant, with our first child. Of course, Vicki was pregnant too.

We talked endlessly about each pregnancy, comparing all our symptoms, and all of our physical changes. Our children were all due within a few weeks of each other, so we certainly have had more than enough in common, to keep our friendship alive. Fifteen years have passed, since that day we were reacquainted in that night club. Never in my life, have I been so surprised by a friendship. Based on what I knew in high school, I would have never thought she was the one who would place such a deep imprint on my soul. I could have never guessed what a valuable friend she would be.

Vicki found a lump in her breast in August of 2009. She waited two months before she told me. It was not something that was supposed to happen. It took everyone by surprise. She has three young girls and a coffee shop she just opened. Her life was not ready to hear those words: you have cancer. I remember the day I found out. I texted her, "What's up?", and she texted back, "Just got a port placed, waking up from anesthesia, feeling groggy, will call u later". What the @#$!#@? So, I texted back, "Do you have cancer?" and she texted back, "Yes, breast." And that is how I found out my best friend was in for the fight of her life. We talked the next day, and I could not believe how strong she sounded. It was stage 3 or 4, she was not sure exactly because it is triple-negative breast cancer. What the hell is that? I was burdened with a new word to google. I called a friend who is a doctor, to ask him about this type of cancer. He said, "I have no idea what that means". Great! I googled it, and I started to cry.

Vicki has finished her long and painful treatment with chemotherapy and has just started her several weeks of radiation. Last week, I went to see her, and we went on one our adventures together; this one was our celebration of chemo being complete. It had been ten years since we went to the Smoky Mountains, so that is where we picked to celebrate. She picked me up from the Nashville airport, I walked out of the terminal, and saw a woman, with a buzz cut and no eyebrows, looking as beautiful as ever, waiting for me. Only Vicki could make cancer look so good. Her skin was glowing and she was happy. Why did it take cancer for me to make this trip?

We arrived at her girl's school to pick them up for the day. I wanted a tour of the school and a chance to meet the teachers. When we walked in the door, everyone knew who I was. The whole school was full of smiles and praises about my friend. She is their inspiration. I realized, in that moment, that her courage is contagious, and her smile can light up a room. Oddly enough, her cancer, although wanting to wear her down, has instead, strengthened her and those around her. Everyone wants to do what they can for her, and her girls. They want that contagious smile to continue. They want to be a part of her courageous battle. I wish it was not cancer that made me see how a town could fall in love with my friend, but it did. It was not only the people in her community, but everywhere we went, people would comment on her beautiful spirit.

The next day, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains; think Dollywood and rednecks. It is a breathtaking mountain, along side neon signs, and roadside motels. It is quite the spectacle. We rented a chalet on the mountain; no cheap motel for us. The chalet was called: Chalet L'Amour. This translates to: the love shack. Seriously, this is the chalet my friend finds, complete with a red leather sofa, canopy bed and hot tub. Apparently, this is a hot spot for the quick hitch wedding. The whole thing was hysterical, and we did not even care. We were two friends out to have some fun. We spent the next four days talking and laughing. At every restaurant, at the park rides, at the spa and in the stores; I would be pulled aside, so someone could tell me, or us, how inspirational just seeing her was. I started to cry once, and she said, "now, don't you start that!". Needless to say, I stopped. There is no time for tears, just live in the moment and smile. It is so simple and so easy.

It was a perfect trip; too many drinks, too many crazy rednecks, and a sling shot bungee ride. It felt like a remake of Thelma and Louis, minus the murder scene. Before I knew it, we were on our way to the airport. I wished I had more time. Sometimes, I need to remind myself to take more time out for my friends. They are irreplaceable, and deserving of an adventure every now and again. It takes courage to put up a good fight with a smile on your face. I am certain there will be moments of tears, but it fills me with joy to see how my friend has handled her challenge.

Take time to be with the people who inspire you: that is what I have learned. Life is too unpredictable, and will always be busy, and full of chores. So this year, on Mother's day, my family and I are going to do the 5k Race for the Cure. I want to dedicate this walk to my friend, Vicki. You are my inspiration.


  1. What a beautiful, beautiful tribute to your friend, Joely. I'd like to say that I have no idea where you're at but two summers ago my best friend of 21 years got colon cancer and I'm happy to say she's fine now. But a best friend - it felt like I had it, especially because I had a very horrible medical trauma myself in the past.

    Thanks for this and thanks for coming back. I was wondering where you were!

  2. Gosh, Joely.... this really hits home for me. I have had a lot of experience over the last four years with cancer in my family - among my friends, etc. - different kinds - pancreatic, breast, ovarian - all horrible. When you have been close to cancer, it completely changes you - the year, the week, the day - all become more important - You evaluate people and experiences differently - you relish even small victories - you appreciate the little things like your simple TV routine at night - holidays - sleepless nights with babies - whatever. Above all, you develop DEEP respect for the cancer patient and what he or she endures. I admire your brave friend - and I totally dig that you guys had a wild Thelma and Louise weekend ;-). Her attitude sounds just about right to get through this (and she did have to endure that awful chemo that people with her specific type of cancer have to - glad it's over for now) - and yours is fantastic - "live in the moment" - absolutely! Appreciate what you have - every day, right? We've done the Race for the Cure in the past and may do it again this year. My best to your pal. I hope she's feeling better.

  3. Thank you for sharing this painful and personal story, Joely. It never ceases to amaze me just how pervasive this awful disease is. I am also in constant awe of the men and women - like Vicki - who model such strength, dignity, and courage in their fights to defeat it and the others - like you - who are there to support them every step of the way. I will keep you and Vicki in my thoughts.

  4. Linda,
    It was a great trip with my friend, I could have told more stories but she would have killed me. I think she just read it today. Thanks for the welcome back, nice to know I was missed. This blogging is great but very hard to keep up with at times.

  5. Sherri,
    This will be my first time doing this race, I cant wait, although I will doing a marathon the week before so we are just gonna casually walk it. You are right about not really getting cancer until it hits home. The same day I found about my friend, my mother in law came over to tell me she had breast cancer. Two people I love in one day. But the live in the moment hit home on my trip, I really got what it meant then.

  6. Kristen,
    Thank you for the nice words. I am grateful that you will be sending thoughts her way. She is the most fabulous person, I love her dearly and want everyone to send good vibes her way. Maybe even some prayers. I believe in that.

  7. This made me smile and a feel good story. I've had the pleasure of seeing you two hang out together, and it is the cutest thing ever, and you can't help but smile. Living in the moment, is the best advice to take, I too have realized what it means, and actually acting upon it just makes everything feel at ease. You two are very strong women and are in my thoughts.

  8. Amira,
    I love that you are reading my blog. I cannot wait for you to come home from college. We miss you.

  9. Thanks for visiting my blog. This is such a sad yet beautiful story. You and your friend are so lucky to have each other.

  10. Really great tribute to your friend, Joely.

    You have nice blog :)

    marinela x

  11. Joely,
    You and I have something in common: I too sat next to a best friend and never entertwined. After high school graduation, however, we couldn't be kept apart. We got married the same year and, when I had a surprise pregancy, she decided she needed to get pregnant too. Always one to out do me, she had triplets!

    Best friends are the best and I will hold yours dearly as she faces this fight.

    I know a woman who has faced a similar struggle with breast cancer and, because I see that you are a yoga person, I thought you might be interested in her story: She used that yoga breath to help her stay sane.

    Enjoy your marathon and the race for the cure!

  12. Wow, what an inspiration. Thanks for sharing this story, and thanks to Vicki for letting us all be uplifted by her example. Cancer (or any major disease) really does put things into perspective.

    The love shack! Hilarious!

  13. Rebecca,
    I love that you had the same situation with a friend. Thank you for your kind words. I will read the story you told me to read, oddly enough, Vicki and I researched out a bunch of yoga studios in here area and she has just started. We are on the same wavelength.

  14. Eva,

    When I told my husband the name of the chalet, he was starting to wonder what we were up to. ( in a male fantasy sort of way) , the pics of the place had wine glasses and roses. It was hysterical. I liked your blog on today is the day. It is never too late to try to make a bad day good.

  15. Wanted to check back on this post, and... am cracking up at the "male fantasy" comment :-). Anyway - walking the 5K is really fun... you'll enjoy it.