****I wrote this in February of 2017, the day Natalie received her official cancer free diagnosis. But, this time two years ago was when Natalie was first diagnosed with cancer, and I’ve asked her mom’s permission to share this story, from my own perspective. I hope you read it…and celebrate Natalie’s beautifully victorious life with me.****
I remember it now.
The phone calls came, one after the other.
“Hey, I told Rhonda about the lump on Nat’s tummy, and she said we need to go to the doctor right away.”
“They think it’s a tumor. She will have a biopsy done today.”
“Natalie has cancer….they are hurrying to get us admitted to St Jude’s.”
I didn’t want to believe it; I didn’t want to move. I wanted to stand, frozen in time, pretending that this wasn’t happening to our closest friends.
But it was happening, and so I went to support our friends.
I stayed in the hospital for hours to play guitar for Natalie.
And then, we heard the treatment plan estimate.
So, we did what we could. We brought food; we helped pack; we made a care basket for the road. We made a list of how we would help look after their house…
And then, we hugged.
We said goodbye
(Here we are, minutes before they walked out the door.)
All in just TWO days.
As I left their house, I began to weep ugly, big, fat, rolling tears. I was devastated, scared, and most of all, angry!
I wish I could say I was angry over the injustice and brutality of cancer, especially, childhood cancer.
That would be normal and unselfish and…..righteous, even.
But, at the time, all I could think about was how our life would be forever changed. This cancer was taking away our best friends, leaving us on the outside, in a completely different world, watching, helpless, out of control….
Yet, here I was, angry that our weekly coffee dates were gone. There would be no more last-minute dinner invites. Our weekly habit of putting together our leftovers and other random foods (the extreme opposite of formal dinner parties) would not be resumed.
(In actuality, there would be more dinners.)
I was angry that my own daughter would lose a very special presence in her life. Natalie, you see, is the closest thing to a sister Isabela has. How could we bring her through this? How could we show her hope in the face of this destructive and life-threatening cancer?
I was angry and there was nothing I could do to save the day….
Because, that’s what I do, you know? I’m that friend who swoops in, brings food, cleans your house, helps you move, takes you to the airport at 3 a.m., watches your kiddos, helps wherever and however I can. I am there, and I want to be there for my friends.
But this time I couldn’t. There was absolutely nothing I could do but pray, wait, pray, wait, pray wait, pray wait and OH, how hard that is for a broken and fallen person, such that I am.
So, with shaking hands and faith, I pulled over into the parking lot of a mall and I wept.
I felt like I had experienced a death, yet I knew even in that moment, it wasn’t about me at all.
Still, I wept.
I wept selfishly at how everything would change for us, yet I knew that this was the least of things to weep over.
Oh, how I wept.
I wept bitterly over the loss of our strongest support system. Yet, I knew that in reality, they were the ones losing their support systems, their home, their community and quite possibly, their daughter…
Yet, however self-consumed I was, I never said a word. I have never shared those feelings about that day. Part of it was shame – man, I felt guilty – but mostly, it was because it wasn’t a story that needed to be shared, from me, at the time. It wasn’t my right, it wasn’t my priority, and most importantly, it wasn’t my truth.
Somehow, even in my anger, even in my grief, I knew this.
It wasn’t about me.
It was about them.
It was about Natalie, her family and doing everything we could to be positive, even if we were scared out of our minds. It was about sending small gift packages and funny memes, even when we were depressed and questioning God’s providence.
It was about always respecting and valuing their faith and never-ceasing to share scriptures of hope with them. Even when hopelessness was raging inside me so much so that all I could hear was the rushing winds of fear and the howling screeches of anxiety….I could NOT give in. I needed to be strong.
And, in the dark night of my anger, I realized I could not stay. I could not live there. That knowledge gave me gumption. It gave me the ability to speak back to the storm around me.
You know, looking back, I’m glad I stopped to weep over my selfish concerns. I’m thankful that I got it all out, then and there. I needed to take a few minutes to release my fears over the situation and even the ones pointed at myself, the “what if I won’t know what to say,” and the “what if I won’t know how to be a good friend through it all” kind of things…
I needed to release it so I could see clearly. So, I could stand on the other side of fear, and say, ” No! I will NOT hide out. I will not be so distracted by my day-to-day that they will have to go through this alone. I will be a constant. I will listen. I will supplement fear with faith. I will pad frustration with gentleness. I will finish negativity with reminders of blessings and truths, however I can.”
Sitting in that car, I calmed down and made an internal vow to not just encourage my friend, Natalie’s mom, to be strong. But, I also made a vow that I would stay strong too, even if I had to fake it….
My friends, I have truly failed at a lot of things; I have truly failed a lot of people.
But, this is one thing I might have done good on.
Still, I do have regrets.
I wish I had visited more. I wish I had quit my job so I had the freedom to leave and give Natalie’s mom a break when she needed it most (this is a big one). I wish I had sent more care packages. I wish I had texted more often. I wish I had prayed more; I wish I had cleaned her house more while they were gone.
But most of all…I wished I had loved Natalie more. I wished I had hugged her more. I wished I had enjoyed her laughter and freedom to just be who she was more.
(Beautiful Natalie, home from St Jude’s)
I wished I had given more attention to her, I wished I had talked to her more. I felt so ashamed when I thought of the type of friend I was to my own best friend’s daughter.
I felt intense regret for not playing with her more or playing the guitar for her more, all day if she wanted……
This precious and beautiful life, our Natalie. So full of joy and perfection, our Natalie.
This is my greatest regret…..
But yet, there is hope, you see. Read on…
Today, I received a phone call from Natalie’s mom. I had been waiting all morning for this phone call; I knew it was the day of her scan. When the phone finally rang, I ran around the house, desperately searching for my phone, answering it when I heard it.
This silence was tinged with anticipation, and in a split second, I thought “No, please do not let this be the silence of mourning.” But, her voice broke through the tension, choked with tears, saying, “ She is cancer free, Natalie is cancer free!”
I don’t remember what I said. I’m quite certain there were no real words spoken, anyway. Whatever it was, it was lovely, shattering the darkness with one loud, beautiful and deafening crash!
It’s finally over! This time, I can cry tears of joy, defiant joy! No more death, no more disease, no more cancer, fear, anxiety and no more insidious and ruthless cancer lurking behind us! Life has won today! Life has won; Natalie has won; God has won and hope has returned. Thank you, God.
Thank you, God.
(cancer-free and home-coming party)
“Why do we doubt the Lord of the seas
Who has parted its waves; made a way from the enemy!
Why do we doubt the God of miracles
Who has raised the dead, created the world!
From dust, He made flesh
From death, He raises LIFE
His works never stop
His word stands through time….”