I Love You. What Can I Do?
This is the 5th in a series of letters about how Cancer is Personal. This one is from Tina Adams, a lifelong friend of Sheila Walsh – a member of The H Foundation Advisory Board who is currently fighting stage 4 metastatic bladder cancer.
Sheila getting cancer was like me getting cancer. We've been friends since we were 10 years old. "Best friends" is what you say at that age. Now, 40 years later, we're more or less "sisters." We've grown-up together. So when Sheila was diagnosed at age 48, I realized my own mortality. Even worse, my daughter realized my mortality. I've always known that cancer is personal, but this, this is something different - entirely different. My best friend, she's fighting for her life. Her children, they're scared and sad. And me, I don't even know the words that express exactly how I feel. I do know that when I looked into my own daughter's eyes after she found out about Sheila, a woman who is a second mother to her, I saw terror. And I knew, right then, THIS COULD BE ME.
Cancer runs in my family - many of my aunts and uncles are gone because of it. Even my father died from the after effects of cancer. When that happened, I grieved as a daughter. But this is different. This is Sheila. I know Sheila. I am Sheila. We thought we were going to be gray-haired, sitting in rocking chairs, laughing and smiling together over the shared life behind us. Now that dream may never come true. Yet I can't imagine a world without her. There is not supposed to be a world without her. We're only 50.
No surprise, Sheila chose to undergo chemo. I knew, instinctively, she would choose to be here, to fight for more time with her husband, with her kids . . . with me. But that doesn't mean the choice was easy. While taking care of her during chemo, Sheila told me about a dream she'd had. Conor, her 14 year old, was hurt, or lost. She was desperately trying to reach him, to save him. But the dream kept slipping away, changing. Now she was the one lost. When Sheila told me this, she was tired, beat down from chemo, wondering out-loud if she could take any more. "I know you," I told her. "I know you. You need to be here. You need to keep fighting."
I know choosing to live doesn't seem like a hard decision. But the treatment, the so-called "cure" for cancer, as it is now, can be devastating. So devastating, in fact, that the decision really is: how much of yourself are you willing to lose? What will you be known as? Today, cancer makes "the mom who jogs 5 miles a day" quickly become "the mom who sleeps on the couch." Or worse. But I don't think Sheila spent much time mourning the loss of who she was. Instead, the day after that dream, she was up early. Just like a million other moms, she went to the grocery store. Bald-headed, she said "Here I am world . . . This is me."
If you're like me, if you have a friend like Sheila, then you've probably said these words: "I love you. What can I do?" Working to help fund the research that will cure, truly cure cancer, might be one of those things. Not the only thing. Not the most important thing. But something, something that will one day mean everything to a mother, to a friend, to a sister.
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