Last night the girls and I sat eating Bocce’s sauce and meatballs. Bocce is my kid’s best friend’s grandma. She is the italian version of my own grandma. She has 5 kids of her own and is widowed. She lives in an in-law apartment attached to her daughter and son in law’s house. We have known Bocce for 10 years. We love Bocce. And she loves us as evidenced by the sauce. She looks at my kids with the same love that she has for her own grandkids. She takes my kids raspberry picking and shopping and makes them breakfast. She is family.
And here is another member of my family that has been stricken with cancer. Last year, her daughter, my friend, came over to tell me that Bocce had been diagnosed with non Hodgkin lymphoma. Not the “good” kind either. She is only 75 years old. That seems very young to me. But, Bocce was going to fight. Chemo, radiation, surgery whatever it took. She wasn’t going down without a fight because she has family to take care of. She knows exactly how important she is. And fight she has.
Going through this with my friend has been hard. I know the treatment center she is going to, I know the crisis that come with fighting cancer. I know exactly what it means when they say “you’re cancer free….but we need to do an MRI just to be sure” and then that MRI shows the cancer has spread to the brain.
Which is where we were last night. My kid’s best friend called to tell my kid that they found cancer in Bocce’s brain. He was very upset as was my kid. They talked for awhile and cried. My kid remembers what cancer in the brain means. It was only 3 years ago that my dad, her grandpa had a clean bill of health after 6 months of treatment only to have it show up in his brain and then die a few short months later. But they are kids and they have hope. They were scared, but they don’t know.
I do know. I know that all the hope in the world does not cure cancer. And I also know that I have never given up hope and I’m not going to now. I know the reality of losing people I love to death. No one is immune to death. There is no cure for death. It is a reality of life. I also know the tricks we use to avoid that reality. Sometimes we see death and dying as an inconvenience. Sometimes we refuse to overlook the daily petty irritations to lend our support to the person who needs it. Cancer strips bare the victim of all self righteousness and false pride. In the end cancer leaves the victim in the same innocent, needful state as when they came into the world. And those of us chosen to be witness to a cancer victim’s life are truly privileged.
The best thing I ever did was set aside myself and my troubles to be there for my father as he went through the process. I have incredible memories and stories from that last year of his life. It was a powerful experience to say the least. The laughing, the crying, the support and the love. I know there are many people who are not equiped to deal with cancer. And that is ok, because I have no doubt a power greater than ourselves puts the people we need in our life at just the right moments so we never walk alone.
Bocce will not walk through this alone. Those of us who love her will not walk through this alone. And I do not see this as yet another tragedy. It is yet another blessing that I am willing and able to love and be there for my friends. It could be just as easy to shut down and ignore. I now know the way death is final and I take nothing for granted. I am not scared to react or act. I am not scared that cancer is yet again changing the landscape of my life and my children’s lives. I will allow it to change us. I will surrender to whatever comes next. I can’t control it, I can’t change it and I can’t cure it. But I can hold my friend’s hand and I can freeze Bocce’s sauce so that she can add to it next year with the tomatoes she grows in her garden. That is my hope.