Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ode to Sheryl and Pepper

I am fortunate enough to have a circle of friends who have been there to laugh with me in good times and rally around me and my family during some of our most difficult trials. There are two people in particular who, although not exactly intimate friends, have offered up parts of themselves to me that have given me such strength and encouragement over the last few months in ways they probably don't even realize. And right now, at this moment, I want so much to let them - and everyone! - know how wonderful they are.

I met Sheryl through my MOMS Club. Subsequently, her son and my twins were in the same preschool class last year. Sheryl and I are also members of the same book club. Long before Finn was born - before he was ever conceived - and long, long before Michael was diagnosed with cancer, Sheryl fought her own battle with breast cancer. It's not my place to give details of her experience, but I will say that when she was diagnosed, her two kids were very young - in fact, her son was only a baby. She underwent extensive surgery and horrendous treatment, and by the time I met her, that part of her battle was behind her, but she still had further surgeries to contend with.

When Finn was born, hospitalized and diagnosed with Down syndrome, and we (especially I) were in the throes of grieving and railing against fate, nature, etc., Sheryl was the first person to bring us dinner. I'll never forget the army-sized meal of pasta and homemade spaghetti sauce and meatballs she brought us. And I'll never forget her hugging me when she brought the food over and saying to me, "You're going to hear from all kinds of people how special kids are given to special parents, and God never gives anyone more than they can handle. You'll learn to smile at them through gritted teeth and tell them to screw off behind their backs." You see, in addition to fighting breast cancer, Sheryl's son was diagnosed with Apraxia. When she said that to me, it did more to comfort me than anything anyone else had said to me to that point. She understood, I totally got that, and it meant everything to me.

Through it all, I've never sensed an ounce of self-pity in her (although I would hope to hell she's had some because who wouldn't be entitled to a healthy dose of self-pity on occasion under those circumstances? Or maybe I'm just trying to make myself feel better about my own frequent bouts of self-pity . . .). She tells me now that she never allowed herself to consider any possibility that didn't include her beating the cancer. She would get better - there just was no option, no other way to look at it. And as soon as Michael was diagnosed and I put the word out, Sheryl was right there, and has continued to be there, with empathy and encouraging words from the trenches.

I know Pepper through mutual friends and through preschool - her daughter was in the same preschool class with Joey two years ago. Last summer, right around the time Finn was born, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She has just recently finished up her treatment. We are not close friends, more casual acquaintances . . . and yet, there is a kinship there. She's one of those people who just puts a smile on your face and makes you feel good. She's been only an email away for moral support through Michael's diagnosis and treatment, and advice about how to deal with both the pesky and the horrible side effects of chemo and radiation. She's not full of talk about God. She says that she thinks cancer is harder on the spouse than it is on the actual afflicted. Interestingly, Michael has said the same thing. I don't know if I agree with that, as I have to imagine that being the one whose body is stricken and whose very life is in jeopardy must be far worse than anything I'm experiencing. But I digress. I've run into Pepper purely by chance twice since Michael was diagnosed. The first time was a month or two ago and she happened to be driving up my street just as I was getting out of my truck in front of our house. She stopped and got out - I had not seen her since she started her cancer treatment, and by then she had just finished it up. She had a lovely scarf on her head and honestly, I thought she looked beautiful. Michael was just starting his treatment then, and I was a wreck. She wrapped her arms around me and I know I blubbered like a fool, "I can't believe this is my life!" She gets it, that it sucks. She gets what it's like to wish a year of your life away and just have all this shit behind you already. I ran into her at school this morning after dropping the twins off and voila! No scarf. Her hair is coming back in and she's got the cutest little pixie-do. We chatted for a few minutes and I left smiling and I think I smiled the whole way home. She's just one of those people.

So, thank you, Sheryl and Pepper, for being a part of my life. I think you are both amazing women and I am so glad to know you.


When someone has cancer, it's like the entire immediate family has cancer. We all feel the effects to different degrees - the stress, the fear, the anxiety, and the hope. I see it in the kids: the twins playing doctor and pretending that the "patient" has cancer. Kevin answering a question posed to him at school by one of his teachers, "Describe a moment when you were most afraid." "When I found out my dad has cancer," he replied. Joey casually tells his friends, "My dad is getting chemo." This morning he asked me if Finn had cancer, and is that why he had to have surgery. He also wanted to know if kids ever get cancer. (How do you answer that? I'd like to lie to him and tell him no, so that he can sleep at night, but I can't lie. "Yes, sometimes kids get cancer," I told him. "Have you ever known a kid who got cancer?" he asked me. "No," I told him truthfully. Fortunately, that seemed enough for him.) And then, of course, there is my own personal roller coaster that I ride. Up and down, up and down, whipping around sharp corners in my mind, climbing hills of hopefulness, and shooting down hills of despair. Yes, I want this year to be over.

1 comment:

Wendy P said...

Hey Lisa - when all is said and done and Michael is better and Finn continues to sail along beautifully - I think you have a hell of a book in you.