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.