TINA COMEAU: My positive thought of the day: friendship in the face of cancer

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Tina Comeau
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It's My Life: Tina Comeau

My friend and I were sitting at a campfire one evening last summer when she mentioned she had an upcoming medical appointment. She had found a lump in her breast.

I told her not to worry. If it’s something, worry about it then. But chances are it’ll be nothing. At the time my mother had recently gone through a lump scare, which turned out to be nothing. And my friend was young, healthy, fit and nutrition conscious. Not the type of person who gets cancer.

Not that there is a type.

But then nothing turned out to be something. And so as we sat in her kitchen one evening in early September – the day she told me she had cancer – we hugged. We cried.

I kept apologizing for my tears.

“I’m not crying because I think you’re going to die,” I told her. “I’m crying because this is all very scary.”

Although a part of me was crying because people die from cancer. But she wasn’t going to – not just because she is a mother of three and for all of the reasons I listed above, but because she just wasn’t going to.

I’ve had cancer in my family. But it was a grandfather and it was a long time ago and I was still relatively young.

But this was my friend Tanya. One of my best friends. One of my closest friends. And although I know of people who have cancer or have gone through cancer (and yes, have died from cancer) this was going to be the first time in my adult life – in my life as a mother, which changes your perspective on everything – that someone extremely close to me was going to go through cancer.

This sucks, I told her.

Stupid cancer, we’d often say.

She immediately decided there was no place for negativity – that a positive attitude is as important a part of the fight as the medical treatments. And so when I got home that night – and even though I did cry in my car on the way home – I took a page from a friend’s playbook. Every day her son texted her a random fun fact of the day. Most of the fun facts were quite obscure – like information on the lifespan of a mosquito. But she looked forward to his texts each day, not just for the message, I gathered, but because of the fact he was thinking of her.

And so each day – beginning hours after she told me she had cancer – I texted my friend a Team Tanya Positive Thought of the Day. Some days they came quickly to me. Other days I’d spend an hour or more searching for just the right quote to deal with something that was upcoming or happening, such as a chemotherapy treatment, the end of the first week of radiation or when she was in the hospital for days suffering from the lingering effects of chemo. Other times I searched for just the right quote if for no other reason than it was a random Tuesday in February.

The texts were to let her know – not that she ever needed reminding – of the amount of support she had standing behind her.

Actually, standing besides her.

Team Tanya was big and strong.

On Friday, June 20, the annual Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life happens in Yarmouth. I always get choked up when the survivors in their bright yellow t-shirts walk the survivors’ lap. I see people that I didn’t know who had cancer and I think about what they’ve been through. I also think about those who were there the year before that are gone now.

And as if the survivors’ lap isn’t emotional enough, it’s followed up by the caregivers’ lap. Family and friends who may not have cancer, but experience it nonetheless.

The one thing I always felt bad about where my friend was concerned was that while I knew what she was going through, I could never truly understand it. I wasn’t the one throwing up. Being laid up for days with fatigue. Losing my hair. And yet she tells me my daily positive thoughts, and other support, helped her in more ways than I could ever know.

We never let go of the positivity. Sometimes we laughed about the things beyond our control. If we cried it was partly because as close as we were, this experience had made us even closer, hence the nicknames I picked out for us from a positive thought I had texted her early on. “We’ll be friends forever, right?” asked Piglet. “Even longer,” said Pooh.

 “You’re Piglet, I’m Pooh,” I told her.

Last week my friend finished all of her cancer treatments. No more chemo. No more radiation. Her hair is even growing back.

With both a heavy heart and a heart filled with joy I sent her my last Team Tanya Positive Thought of the Day last Wednesday – the 281st one I had sent since the day she told me she had cancer. She’s written them all down in a journal, which is nice because while we’d like to forget all that she has gone through, we also never want to forget.

And so to everyone who is dealing with cancer, who are just finding out they have cancer or who have just kicked cancer to the curb; to those who will walk the survivors’ lap at this week’s Relay for Life, to the caregivers by their side, I offer everyone my very first Team Tanya Positive Thought of the Day I texted on Sept. 4, 2013:

Life has two rules. Rule #1, never quit.

Rule #2, always remember Rule #1.

 

 

Organizations: Canadian Cancer Society Relay for Life

Geographic location: Yarmouth

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Recent comments

  • Lina Gilis Zatzman
    June 18, 2014 - 18:30

    I have learned the hard way that when a friend is waiting for tests and a diagnosis it is not helpful to say "Don't worry, it is probably nothing". I said that twice and it WAS something and was rightfully chastised for being insensitive. I too had a "scare" that proved to be nothing and now know the fear of waiting for result. Good for you foe being there for you friend, but remember, in the future, that saying don't worry is helpful only to you.

  • Ellen Nickerson
    June 17, 2014 - 10:02

    Thanks for this wonderful story. I had my second Mastectomy last march. People tell me it's all in the positive attitude and the power of prayer. I had my first mastectomy 10 years ago and have never looked back.

  • Kimberly Cameron
    June 17, 2014 - 05:36

    Thanks so much. This positive thoughts is just what I told my daughter when she battle her cancer in 2010. She is still cancer clean. Thanks for the cry also. Tell your friend stay positive also

    • Lina Gilis Zatzman
      June 18, 2014 - 18:38

      It is me again and I wish to comment on positive thoughts and prayer. As a palliative care volunteer I have this has helped patients. However, I have also met those who blame themselves because feel they have not been positive enough or that they did not pray harder.

  • Jason MacKenzie
    June 17, 2014 - 00:22

    This was a touching story Tina. It reminds me of why I grow crystals ... To detect cancer earlier using molecular breast imaging that is far more reliable than traditionally mammography. It is a long story but our crystals are also used in surgical scanners and as prostrate scanners. The best detectors are produced right here in Canada! Anyway, very nice and forthcoming story. Cancer survival is so much linked to timing and I am pleased your friend found a problem in time. Regards Jason MacKenzie

  • Terri Deveau
    June 16, 2014 - 20:35

    Awesome Tina, this was very uplifting to read as I had just attended our last Relay for life meeting of the year before Friday nights big event, great job keeping your friend positive notes all through her treatment , every little kind word helps a lot , hope to see you again this year at Relay.... This is why we Relay !!!