Words from my long time friend Stacy…
“My friend Kim. Yes, the one with Cancer. Terminal lung cancer. From a genetic rearrangement, it’s called ALK positive NSCLC, or non-small cell lung cancer. No, she is not a smoker. Does that matter anyway? No, she is not in remission. No, she is not immobile or in hospice or in the hospital. In fact, we went to happy hour last week and then did a bit of shopping and then hung out with her neighbors until I was tired and had to go home. She lives her life just as much as you and I. You would not pick her out as a sick person. Quite the opposite…she would be the coolest person in the room. She always has been.
I met Kim in the eighth grade. She was the girl you wanted to meet as the new kid in school. She had a multitude of friends from every clique, group, team, club, and neighborhood. There was no singling out with her, an athlete and academic…I liked this girl immediately. Her mom always told her to “Be the coolest person that you know” and Kim not only lived up to this saying every day, it is simply just who Kim is a person, then and now.
Our 23-year history comes with its fair share of friends, boyfriends, successes, and losses. Not to mention mixed tapes, prom dresses, nail polish and hair dye. It has shared ugly apartments, college parties, marriages, children, divorce, travel, and adventure. My friend Kim the rock-climber, the runner, the social organizer, the coolest person I know. The cancer patient??? What???
As life would have it, a gap in time separated our lives for some time. That time when I went off to college, and Kim began her career and chased adventure after adventure. The years passed quickly. I knew she was happy and was not exactly the person I would ever worry about in life. I knew wherever she was—she was kicking ass. I thought about her often as I moved through adulthood. From Portland to Massachusetts and back to Portland. I looked for her every now and then. I heard she got married. I assumed to SW, and I knew that life was great for them. Until it wasn’t.
There are few moments in my life that are written on my heart like the one when I learned Kim had cancer. It had been about 8 years since we had seen each other or communicated. The past few years I had been thinking of her more than usual. Not that I find this unusual…I often think as we get older we hope to reconnect with our past, and Kim was the one person whose presence was definitely missed. As time would have it, I was working at an establishment in downtown when a friend from high-school came in for lunch with his wife. We chatted about our lives and shared a laugh. A light-bulb went on and I asked if he had seen Kim. His family was close with hers and if anyone knew her whereabouts it would be him. I described my attempts to find Kim on the internet, on the FB, on MySpace (remember that??), in phone books, missed connections. (Yes Kim, I google-stalked you) I couldn’t believe this person would come in to my work and this was my chance to find my friend! And then…Stacy, you need to find Kim. She is really sick.
There was a rushing in my ears and the room closed in on itself. Kim did not just get sick. If he says she is really sick…this is NOT GOOD. I couldn’t swallow. I wanted to run out the door and find her right then.
Thank goodness Kim is not only one of the most talented people I know, but also one of the most organized. That night I found her blog, and we were meeting for coffee the next week. Wait. Hold on. Meet me for coffee? You have terminal cancer. How do we meet for coffee? Well people…you put on your big-kid pants and you go see your friend. And after 8 years I FINALLY found my friend. And in that moment I don’t know if I wanted to cry more because the friend I found has cancer, or simply just because I have missed her so much.
We all grow up. We all change. But something in us stays the same, no matter what. Kim is proof of this. It is true, she was dealt a completely shit card. And I say that lovingly. But coming from someone who has known her as long as I have, she is ultimately the very same person. It’s uncanny, really. There are times I wonder if I could maintain my strength and grace and humor in the face of physical adversity. Not that I ever think it’s “effortless”but Kim does this with style, as she always has. I guess in this way, our history is as much a part of her illness as our present. She is candid and frank about her experiences and cancer, about the future, and about outlook and options. She in all honestly rolls with the punches, and if nobody is swinging at the moment she is going to enjoy life.
There is a distinction to be made between the medical definition and diagnosis of disease, and the lived experience of illness. There are days I have to tell myself my friend has cancer. She will not be in remission. She will die of her disease. And it will be unfair that a flip-flopped gene will take my dear friend from me. This is the medical reality, or un-reality really, since in the moment it doesn’t make sense in my brain. This coming from a girl with a master’s in molecular biology, mind you.
It can be studied and researched. It can be tested and biopsied and diagnosed. And yet that Kim Has Cancer will not make sense in my heart. There is a disconnect between what I know and I what I feel, and I often wonder if my friend struggles with a similar paradox. Kim has a lot of living to do. And she makes no excuses not to put off a scan for an opportunity to travel for sheer pleasure or for a noble cause. We have had the catch-up and reminisce time. We have had the, ok-this is what is going on with me time, and now we have the let’s have a good time and hang out time. I like this time best of all. I try not to over-rationalize Kim’s cancer too much. I know she invests more than enough thought into that. I appreciate her candidness in what she is going through, how she feels, what she thinks about it, and when she is just plain pissed about it. True, I get sad sometimes but mostly my negative feelings border on rage at her cancer. And then I breathe and I think of the time we snuck into a friend’s house late at night as teenagers and knocked over an entire garbage can of aluminum cans, waking the entire neighborhood. And I can’t help but laugh. And then I call her and make plans to see her and then I feel better over a glass of wine. I exhale. My friend is still here. A good reminder that the best thing I can do for both of us, and indeed the best thing I think any of us can do is to Be Here Now.
What would I change? Well, the answer is obvious, but I can’t change that. We lived our lives and eventually they brought us back together. I wouldn’t change that for the world. I am so glad everyday to have my dearest girlfriend in my life, cancer and all. And what can I say…I am totally ok with being the second coolest person I know.