Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love when the weather starts to change and fallen acorns crunch under my shoes. I love my fall decorations bursting colors of orange, red and yellow. The crispness in the air helps me shake loose the mental stagnation that the humid summer brings. I love the smell of pumpkin spice and cinnamon.
I love that the whole world turns pink for Breast Cancer Awareness month – when pro football players don pink shoes to support the boobs in their life. It is the time when women discuss with candid openness the health of their breasts and how real and how HERE breast cancer is. Everywhere you look, people are wearing pink ribbons or pink shirts. You can’t NOT think about cancer this month, and the collective awareness it brings is changing how we think.
This month I’ve thought often of my dear friend Nancy. She didn’t die of breast cancer, but lung cancer. It has been almost five years since she passed and I miss her every day. A year and a half she fought the hard battle with Chemo and Radiation leading the charge. I found an email I wrote to her a year before she died:
November 22, 2006
I just finished setting the dining room table for tomorrow’s big feast. I have the turkey thawing on the counter and I’ve written my fifth list of things to do so I don’t forget anything in my holiday haste. Tomorrow is my Mom’s birthday too. I have to remember to make her a card.
Stop. Breathe. I remember something more important. You.
I am so thankful for you. You are such a shining star in my life and you have made me a better person just by being my friend. I am thankful for the kindness that you’ve taught me through the selfless acts you have shown to others. I am thankful for your positive attitude even when faced with the greatest adversity. I am thankful for your realism and your fearlessness for being YOU, no matter what anyone else thinks. I’m thankful for your simplicity and for making life seem so grand when you have a good book, Pete and some paints. I’m thankful for your sense of humor and the way you can laugh at yourself, especially when the kitchen light gets the best of you. I’m thankful for the love you have shown to me and I’m positive I must have done something pretty damn good in my life to deserve you in it. I’m thankful for your hugs and your warmth. I’m thankful that you no longer have a tumor in your brain. I’m thankful for your life. I’m thankful for your doctors that are making you better. I’m so very thankful for that wonderful man you have by your side, walking with you and holding you up through this shit storm called cancer. I am thankful for the love I have for you because it fills me up and renews my faith in the world that there still are good people. I’m thankful for your strength. You are so very strong.
I love you so much, Nancy. I pray for you every day. I wanted to tell you how very much you mean to me. You are my heart. Happy Thanksgiving.
Love your friend,
Before my friend passed away, I purchased a cross-stitch pattern for her. I worked every free minute so I could frame it and mail to Nancy. I threaded my needle with focus and worked with the determination of someone about to lose a friend. I sewed frantically.
She died before I finished.
After that phone call, I picked myself up and with a tear-stained face I walked to my bedroom. My hands tenderly folded the unfinished piece of fabric and tucked it into my nightstand drawer where it stayed for the next five years.
This month I was rooting through my closet when out of a box fell this old cross-stitch hoop. The hoop was pink and a smile crept up the corners of my mouth.
I put the box away, one cross-stitch pattern lighter and I went to work. I needed to finish this for my friend. And so I did.
This is for you, Nancy.
And this is for my ex-father-in-law, who was diagnosed with stage 4 esophageal cancer and kicked it’s ass after six months of intensive chemo. He is in remission. Thank you, God.
This is for Aunt Madeline who lost her life to ovarian cancer.
This is for my friend Matt who had melanoma removed from his back and goes to the dermatologist regularly so he can be the best father and husband for his girls.
This is for my grandmother I never met because she lost her life to lung cancer when my Mom was only thirteen.
This is for my grandfather who also lost his life to lung cancer when I was seven.
This is for my friend, Nicole who takes care of her husband who is battling cancer. Her strength is so incredibly admirable.
This is for Stephanie’s mom, Sharon, who lost her life to breast cancer. She used to French braid my hair when I was a kid and she had a beautiful smile.
This is for Ernesto’s mom, Maria, who died of lung cancer last year. She was such an important part of my life, teaching me lessons with her Spanglish and tender eyes.
This is for my brother’s dog, Jackson who died of cancer a few months ago.
This is for my friend, Adam who had surgery for cancer over a year ago. He is cured!
This is for Steve, who died from kidney cancer at age 35. He is missed dearly by his wife and three children.
This is for the mom at my son’s pre-school who last year had no hair because of chemo. This is for the little fist pump I do when I see her hair growing back and her color returning.
This is for Kelly’s dad, who is gone now but sends cardinals every now and again to say hi.
This is for my childhood friend, Scott, who died in his early twenties from metastatic melanoma. We miss you, truly.
This is for Ted, the bartender at a local restaurant, who has been fighting cancer for the last year and is kicking ass and taking names.
This is for Aunt G, who caught her breast cancer so early she was able to eradicate it with a few rounds of radiation. We’re so thankful for your diligent doctors.
This is for Dennis who just had a melanoma removed. No freckle goes unchecked!
This is for Uncle Greg who is in remission from lymphoma.
This is for Holly and Jim who battled cancer with their daughter and won! (Although it is probably inappropriate for a little girl, the sentiment is still the same. 😉 )
This is for everyone I know who has cancer or someone affected by cancer. This is for the people who take care of their sick loved ones, a job that is often overlooked yet harder than hell.
And finally, this is for Nancy’s son who was diagnosed with cancer last year. Henry, you have a part of your mom in you and that is better than any drug or treatment. May you look at this and know how loved you and your mom are. You are going to get through this.
Want to give cancer the big F-U for someone in your life? Feel free to keep it going.