Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Celebrating Mary

When I found out that I had cancer last fall, the once thing that I am everlastingly grateful for is all the people in this world who simply stepped up to offer encouragement. A good many of these people were cancer survivors themselves. One of those people was my friend Mary. I don't just run on and on in this blog. I also write a column for our newspaper. Mary was following that story because she was also being treated for breast cancer. She was about 2 months ahead of me in treatment. She looked me up in the phone book and she gave me a call, and I will never forget that call. I had a hundred questions and I think I asked them all. As our friendship developed, we found some amazing coincidences. Such as, she had been the maid of honor at my youngest sister's wedding. (I could not attend the wedding. I was in the Army, and Uncle Sam had other plans for me that day, so I did not know this little factoid.) Turns out Mary knew just about my whole family. Just a couple days ago, I figured out that Tim and I cut firewood up at her father's a few years back. That's how it is when you live in a quiet corner of Pennsylvania. You talk to anybody for more than five minutes, you're going to find that you've got 'people' in common. Anyways, the longer Mary and I know each other, the more sure that I am that we would have wound up in each other's lives at some point, whether we had breast cancer or not. Unfortunately, we did it the hard way.

Monday was Mary's birthday. I wanted the gift to be special, because she is special to me. I thought a lot about it. Mary is remarkable for a lot of reasons, but this is a biggie, right here: At Easter-time, 2008, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She went through all the steps, just as I did. Mary's cancer is triple negative, which makes it worse than mine. She picked up with me right after Christmas of 2008. After being a tremendous support to me, becoming a dear friend who understood what I meant even when I couldn't come up with the words myself, in Easter 2009, Mary was again diagnosed with breast cancer. I remember telling her, "Mary, next year, just buy a ham..." Despite my joke, her news sent me reeling. I cried. I cried hard. I cried for her, initially, but before it was done, I was crying for myself, because really, there are no guarantees for any of us. It had never occurred to me that cancer could return that quickly, and it was devastating news to me.

Mary was stunned and reeling too. Then she took a deep breath and she opted for a bilateral mastectomy. She endured the weeks with a drain in place. She went back to work right away. Through it all, her calm practicality brought me back to earth as well. Again, I found myself saying "It is what it is" and moving forward in my own life. (Don't ever underestimate the importance of a role model.)

Like I said, Monday was Mary's birthday, and I wanted it to be special. I kept thinking how much her friendship has meant to me. I realized also how much of our relationship is based on that ugly thing called breast cancer. And you know what? Suddenly I did not want it to be. So for her birthday, I bought Mary a bottle of champagne, and champagne glasses. I told her to celebrate herself, to raise a toast to herself in the company of her family. I also got three plaques with the best advice for living that I know: "Live well" and "Love deeply" and "Laugh often".

We both have stepped out of the shadow of the cause that threw us together. We both are living life post-cancer. The end of the story is uncertain, but you know what? This chapter here, this part of the story, right now, by God, it looks pretty darn good.

A trouble shared is a trouble halved.
A joy shared is a joy doubled.
Thanks Mary.

PS: Let's do this year different.


Mrs. Spit said...

Mary, I'm with Debby. Next year, get a ham. I'll send you one. Hey, I'll even go hunt the pig down for you . . .

Happy Birthday!

BB said...

Oh Deb that was lovely... Happy Birthday to your Mary. May there be many, many more for the two of you to share, and help use to inspire others together!!

Karen said...

I always find it so amazing how God chooses to bring people together. Give Mary a big hug for all us survivors! Each and every birthday is a blessing.

Kelly said...

A belated happy birthday to Mary, and may she have MANY more!!!

Paula said...

Sod the ham get another bottle of champers out of that fridge and share it round!!

Happy burpday Mary!

PaintedPromise said...

aw Deb that was wonderful... it's obvious that your Mary is quite special! and much appreciated...

Mary: Happy, Happy Birthday!!!!

Mary said...

Thank you dear friend for all the kind words. I do plan on buying a ham next year for Easter. Sounds much more practical then going through this past year.

Your gifts were lovely and already are hanging in my dining room. They will always remind me of the more important things in life, and our wonderful friendship.

Thanks again =)