Saturday, November 22, 2014

A Request for Rainbows

My friend in hospice died last week.

My heart hurts.

I'd met Renee at a support group meeting just over two years ago. At the time, she was in her first round of treatment for early-stage triple negative breast cancer. She had a new baby, so we bonded over being diagnosed so soon after our pregnancies. I was sporting a cute pixie cut then, being six or seven months out from my first round of chemo. She was excited to see how quickly her hair might start to grow back.

{"Prayer Bear" made by Renee}
Last summer, she sent me a note telling me her cancer had recurred, in her lungs. With triple negative breast cancer, treatment options are limited. Hormone suppression doesn't work because the tumors aren't fueled by hormones. Targeted treatments like the ones I've been on aren't effective because the Her-2 receptors aren't over-expressed like mine are. There is chemo, there is surgery, and there is radiation. And while there are lots of different types of chemo, when one stops working, the next is less likely to work, until none do.

Renee died the day after I met with my oncologist and he told me that if my clean scans continue for another year, we might be able to think about taking a break from my medication. It's a huge maybe. A lot can happen in a year. But the possibility exists.

And yet. My heart hurts.

I made lasagna and took it up to Renee's husband and little girls on Tuesday, because food is what you take to those who are grieving, right? But even as I spoke with him in hushed tones about how he was holding up, about how his girls were (as the oldest one played in the other room and the younger one napped), I mentioned that the gesture seemed empty. A pan full of food wasn't enough, but what could be? He told me his oldest daughter cries for her mom every night. Lasagna can't fix that.

My mom was here visiting, so I left Quinn with her while I went up to visit Renee's family. Her mom was also visiting, helping with food and laundry and caring for those girls in the wake of losing her own daughter. I couldn't help but think of what my mom -- my family -- would go through if I died.

People talk about survivors' guilt, and it's not that, exactly. I don't feel guilty, so much as hollowed out, utterly gutted by each loss. And scared. I am scared of dying of cancer.

I wailed as I drove away from Renee's house. I miss our late night chats -- about how we'd be the anomalies, the ones to watch our kids grow up, the ones to survive twenty years with this diagnosis. The end came quickly for her, so there's mercy in that. Things were going relatively well, and then they suddenly weren't. A month later, she was gone.

Wailing seemed appropriate.

Renee called me a few weeks before she died, from the hospital. She told me she was at peace with whatever was coming, and I remember feeling disappointed. Please don't give up, I wanted to beg her. But what do I know about where she was coming from? I have not been steps away from hospice. I have not been on four different chemotherapies in a year, only to have progression into my brain. I have not been where she was, faced quite the anguish she must have been facing.

And I know she didn't give up so much as let go. There is a difference. There is only so much a body can handle. I wanted to hug her, wrap her in love and let her know everything might be okay. Which I guess is what she was telling me when she called me that day. She was going to be okay.

Still, my heart. It hurts.

Another friend sent me a note last week to let me know her dad's cancer treatment was changing, and also that a mutual friend's cancer was back. It was a rough week, even with my good news. Is it just me? Is cancer everywhere in your world right now, too? I hope it's not as ubiquitous as it seems from my perspective.

My scan was clean. I am absolutely grateful for that. One friend told me, "Well, you're the rainbow!" Perhaps there's some of that. But I could use some more rainbows, if you've got them? Some more good news to balance some of this grief?

My heart could use it.


  1. dear Jen,

    I am so very sorry that your dear friend, Renee, died. so young, and way too soon, leaving her husband, those darling little girls, and her Mother. and that you had sad and ominous news about two other friends this week just seems too cruel. my heart hurts,too - for you, for the ones left behind, and for those still struggling to stay alive.

    in the wake of your clean scans and good news from your doctor, I understand how you must at times wish they would have a chance to be "rainbows" for those whom they love.

    I don't have any good news, but at least no bad news to share. I only hope that you can savor the gift you have received - no one who has to leave us would ever wished for less.

    please know I am thinking of you, holding you up in the light of hope for comfort for your hurting heart, and that I hope you can feel the many warm and gentle hugs I am sending you...

    ...with much love,

    Karen OOXOO

    1. Thank you, Karen. I think that's the only way through these tough periods, to savor the gifts we have received. Especially this week, I'm trying to do just that -- holding my family a little closer, giving a little more thanks for the day in front of me, and wishing for peace for the families of those who've left us too early.

      Much love & happy Thanksgiving to you and yours,

  2. Oh Jen, my heart aches with you. I never knew your friend, but I have had my own Renees, and each loss hurts so deeply. All of the wonderful support we get from fellow travelers on the cancer journey is marred (or perhaps heightened?) by the terrible losses we face. Carry her memory with you as you keep marching along. xo

    1. We all have our Renees, don't we? I think our journeys are more intense because of cancer. We know things we don't expect to know at this age, in our thirties and forties, and maybe that gives us a little more appreciation for the ones we meet and the lessons they impart on us. I'm trying to focus on that side of it -- the gratefulness -- especially this week. XO

  3. I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for making the distinction between giving up and letting go. That is important to think about. In my belief system, your friend is at peace now. But my heart aches too for her family and friends left to grieve. Kate, of Kate Has Cancer

    1. I think it is such an important distinction. No one wanted to live, to raise her family, more than Renee did. She wouldn't have given that up, but it was (unfortunately) not her choice to make. I don't know what I believe about what happens to us after we die, but you're right -- she's no longer in pain, and I'm grateful for that, even as I'm sad for her family. For what it's worth, they are supported and loved and finding smiles this holiday season. XO

  4. I commented to this on the Cure Diva post, but I wanted to say here too, I am sorry for the loss of your friend, and I wish there was an answer I could give you to ease the hurt.

    1. Thank you, Susanne. Time is helping, as are extra hugs from my son. There is just no easy way through grief, is there?

  5. Jen,

    I am so very sorry for your loss. Everything you wrote hit home with me. I have a friend with a different type of cancer who just entered hospice. I am NED right now, and sometimes I wonder why I am one of the lucky ones, if my "luck" will hold. You are helping so many with this blog. The grace you show in the fight, the information you share, and the compassion you have for others in the fight with you. Keep choosing to focus on the rainbows.

    1. I am so sorry for your friend. Yes, I wonder about my luck all the time, too. Thank you for following along and chasing these rainbows with me.