get off my chest

It’s been a rough couple of weeks. I’ve lost four friends to cancer within just the last 10 days.

Although we had three different types of breast cancer, Nora, Malaya and I were all diagnosed around the same time. I didn’t know them in my Life Before Cancer, but we found each other on FaceBook and through my blog, and they became some of the most important people in my personal battle.

Nora and I became friends in July of 2013. She reached out to me just before my mastectomy, and from that point on became a frequent visitor to my FB page. We dedicated our yoga practices to one another, sent each other care packages, and offered up support at the most critical times. Nora often reposted my cancer articles and in this way pointed a lot of other survivors in my direction. Nora and I had very similar treatment paths… and supported one another through out chemo, surgery and recovery. We both had cancers that were Her2Nu positive, and had to have infusion upon infusion of Herceptin: a drug that for most people does not present side effects, but for some reason caused us both significant discomfort. We comforted each other through social media and emails, and bonded over the similarities of our suffering and the lessons we were uncovering within.

See every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth.

May we see every challenge as an opportunity for personal growth.

In addition to similar chemotherapy regiments, Nora too had a mastectomy – and was to my knowledge considered NED (no evidence of disease) when they removed her tumor. But that is where our stories diverge. Nora had radiation. I did not. Then at some point this year, Nora’s cancer came back, and metastasized. Mine has not. I don’t know how, or why, nor can I come up with any scientific explanation as to why I remain and she is gone. It is sad. It is haunting. And it hurts.

However, knowing Nora, I’m sure she was just as graceful in dying as she was in living, and found meaning, faith and peace in the process of letting go. Nora was a kind and beautiful woman. A mother, a grandmother, and a fellow yogini,  Nora was always positive – no matter what. The graphic above was the last profile picture she chose to put up on her FaceBook page. It really says it all.

Angel, Nora Boczar

Angel, Nora Boczar

 

Malaya and I too became friends through FaceBook. When we connected, she was already Stage IV. Having only Stage II myself, I initially felt self-conscious talking with her about my prognosis and treatment plan. While I was a candidate for certain proven-to-be-effective drugs, Malaya’s illness had already entered into uncharted territory. While I had a flow chart with scheduled infusions, varying dosages of chemo proven to work on different aspects of my disease, a surgical date and and discharge date, Malaya was being juggled from hospital to hospital, clinical trial to clinical trial, and for her, there was no end in sight.

All that being said, Malaya’s compassion knew no bounds. She and I would speak for hours on the phone about all kinds of things only sisters in the trenches could understand… When I couldn’t relate to my non-diseased friends, Malaya would make time to chat about the challenges of being a young woman with a life-threatening illness. She told me to get over my comparisons, and reminded me that pain is pain. I eventually conceded that she was right and I learned to have compassion for my own scary ordeal. Even though Malaya would talk about the shitty, cruelty of cancer for as long as I wanted, she never seemed to feel bad for herself.  She continued to live her life to the fullest. A former Roller Derby Girl, Malaya bravely moved forward. She married a childhood sweetheart, and started a fiery blog called Hip Checking Cancer, and to me she was a superhuman example of how to carry ones self in difficult times. (to illustrate, she was diagnosed during Hurricane Sandy, in a hospital that was quickly going under water, even then she seemed to captain the ship). To me she navigated her illness with the perfect balance of truthfulness, tenacity and grace. In August she wrote “I’m sick of this daily battle. I’m sick of being a warrior. I want a cure. I want a future. I want to live. I want a damn glass of sangria. ” She’s raw, pissy, honest, and yet she’s still funny. How many of us can relate.

Malaya Kelly aka Salmour Doll

Bad Ass: Malaya Kelly aka Salmour Doll

Malaya’s 7th treatment plan began to fail in August. I didn’t know, because I hadn’t checked in with her in quite some time. Focused mostly on myself; moving my family, starting my new business and being a mom, I was also a shitty friend. So like Nora’s, Malaya’s passing on October 18th hit me like a direct blow to the heart. I wish I had checked in. I wish I had had the chance to speak with her on the phone one more time. I wish I could have said good-bye.

Three days ago, on October 25th, I woke up to more heartbreaking news. A woman I recently met on the  Young Women’s Survival Coalition‘s Tour de Pink charity bike ride named Kara Guzzetti had passed away the night before.

Kara and her charismatic boyfriend Chris were two of the first people I met on the 200+ mile YSCTDP. I remember being extremely impressed by the way she brave showed off her bald head, and overwhelmed by how fiercely up front she was about her Stage IV terminal diagnosis. Despite a body that had been through hell, she got up every morning and rode as many miles of the grueling trip as she could. Kara had big smiles and endless amounts of good cheer. She inspired everyone around her. It was just a little more than a month after that amazing ride that she passed. Though I barely knew her, I will forever be inspired by Kara.

Kara Guzzetti, riding at the 2014 Tour de Pink, and an inspiration to all

Kara Guzzetti, riding at the 2014 Tour de Pink, and an inspiration to all.

I couldn’t help but think of all three of these inspiring ladies, when yesterday I attended my 2nd funeral in 2 weeks. As I sat listening to other members of our close and loving Nantucket community eulogize our friend Scotty, I felt like all these spirits were there together. I felt like perhaps they were all at peace, all pain-free, each of them the better off in a way for having faced cancer and having lived so fully in their dying to have inspired so many.

Scotty passed away after a 2+ year long battle with kapok’s sarcoma of the pancreas. She was my personal trainer for a time, but someone who shared the space where I have worked for the last 6 years of my life. There were many other ways in which Scotty touched my life, but most profoundly she helped guide me into a place of deep gratitude for my illness (which is a tall fucking order), and for everything yet still flourishing in my life. I didn’t know I had breast cancer at the time of Scotty’s diagnosis, but I had it. When three months after the Yogathon we put together for Scotty at the Yoga Room, I got my own potentially terminal diagnosis, it was Scotty whom I immediately wanted to see.

Scotty and I started going to the cancer support group offered by Palliative & Support Care of Nantucket, and I looked forward to seeing her there. She was always so eloquent, not only about the things she felt grateful for but about that things that were causing her pain. I think it was her truthfulness that drew me in the most. That and the resolve she had about facing death straight on. It was as clear as day -you could see it in her eyes. Being around her made me feel braver.

A few times I ran into Scotty at the Green, just randomly. And all we’d do was hug. We didn’t even need to talk. Some times she’d start crying first, some times I would. It’s like that with cancer patients – words need not be spoken.

Me; 2 1/2 months into chemotherapy. Scotty bravely forging ahead without treatment.

Me; 2 1/2 months into chemotherapy. Scotty bravely forging ahead without treatment early 2013.

It’s a very strange thing: to have outlived a large part of my cancer community. But it stands to reason, that when you surround yourself with people who have long-term and terminal illnesses, death on a larger than normal scale is to be expected. Yet as sad as cancer can make and has made me feel (especially this week), the prevailing feeling I take away from all these experiences is one of great, great privilege. In my almost 38 years on this planet, it has been cancer that has brought the most inspiring people into my life. To have known so many, many inspiring people in such a short amount of time is an honor.

Nora was right, “every experience, no matter how how bad it seems hold within it a blessing of some kind.” All we have to do is find it.

#nevergiveup

Comments

  1. Cheryl MacDonald-Sweet says:

    Perfectly stated!! God bless!! I take comfort in knowing that Nora continues watching over us, as she always did!!

  2. Lisa Loftus says:

    Beautifully written and brings tears to my eyes. You have been blessed to know such tough women. I knew Nora for a number of years, and believe me she was one tough cookie. May you continue to have remission and good health. I will pray for you.

  3. Caitlin, I am so sorry for your recent losses all so close together. Thank you for being brave to share your story and friends. Kara was a dear friend of mine. Tonight it does not feel real. I just do not believe I won’t see her again. I love her so much.

    Sending you love.
    Keli

  4. <3

  5. You remind me of all I have. Thank you Caitlin.

  6. Beautiful! All of you are amazing inspirations! God Bless!

  7. What a touching and beautiful tribute ~ thank you for sharing these amazing women with us. I am so deeply sorry for your loss. You continue to inspire me and put into words the emotions and thoughts that I have myself ~ I can not begin to thank you. Love and peace to you and your community <3

  8. vikki macomber says:

    Thanks for always sharing and being open and honest about the real and the scary and the pain and the anger and the hurt….It makes us feel….You are truly inspirational and I am happy to have met you, Girl!! Keep on keeping on….

  9. Angela Glazer says:

    I am so sorry that you are suffering from the loss of your friends. I, too, was a close friend of Nora’s and can attest to her positivity, grace, faith and acceptance. She had a way about her that, even when I was suffering with my RA, after talking with her I felt so much better. She was cathartic! No one can replace her…no one will ever come close to her with her exuberance, vitality and love for life! She was an angel here on earth and now reigns above with the Cherubim and Seraphim…..Fly high, Nora. ILYTTMAB!!

  10. Beautifully written.

  11. KAREN DE CAMBRA says:

    I AM INSPIRED BY ALL OF YOU BEAUTIFUL WOMEN!!! GOD GIVES US A SPECIAL STRENGTH WHEN WE ARE SO WEAK TO LIVE THE LIFE HE HAS PLANNED FOR US TO THE END. I SALUTE YOU FOR YOUR UNWAVERING FAITH AND DEVOTION TO ONE ANOTHER. MAY GOD,OUR FATHER, SUSTAIN YOU ALL WITH HIS LOVE FOR YOU! KAREN D.

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