You Gotta Have Friends

I cannot write any more entries without talking about my amazing friends and the lengths they have gone to help me, to support me, to constantly remind me I am loved and to just be there for me.

For starters, I have to talk about Deb and Judy, with whom I have been best of friends since law school and with whom I practiced law at my current firm for most of my career.   After my diagnosis, they texted every hour on the hour asking me if I needed anything, telling me they were there for me, insisting we get together and overall being there for me.   They were also clearly devastated – when they thought I had squamous cell cancer (because of the wrong diagnosis) they knew that if I lived one year I would be lucky.   That first week they went into action.  On Friday of week one of my diagnosis, I returned from my first oncology appointment with Dr. Death, distraught, planning my funeral and overall unable to quell my anxiety.   Deb and Judy showed up at my house with lunch (for at least 12 people when they were only 5 of us).   When I told them no way would I be treated by Dr. Death, they mobilized and went into action. Deb, who is on the panel at Karmanos that runs the race for the cure, and Judy, who knows someone who is on the board of St. Judge Research Center, took control.  They sent my husband to the office to make the conference call he had scheduled, and then went to work.  They had my daughter. Sara, set up a fax app on my iPad so that we could fax the medical release form to the first hospital I had visited to get my records for Karmanos.  Within two hours, I had a 9:00 a.m. Monday morning appointment at Karmanos, a top doctor I would be seeing there, and Deb had called the first hospital, pretended to be me (with my agreement) and ordered copies of all of my tests and the slide from the biopsy, arranged for the pick-up, and put me in touch with two well placed people at Karmanos.   Judy talked to her contact at St. Jude to get more information about the best places for treatment and options and passed on that information.  She wrote the medical release that I signed.  I sat back and let it happen, which is not my usual style.  But at that point, I needed someone else to take charge.   Instead of the spa appointment we had planned that afternoon, they spent the afternoon getting me set up, ready and feeling like something positive was being done to handle this.  As someone who is used to controlling the room, this felt better, still not good because feeling good was not yet an option for me, but definitely better.   I was in the midst of high anxiety, and feeling good was not yet an option.   By the end of the afternoon when Alan returned from my office he was shocked that all of this had been accomplished in the few hours he was gone.

And it did not stop there. They insisted on coming to the appointment with me, took copious notes, asked a lot of questions, and spent the day at Karmanos, as we started with Dr. P., the GI doctor, went to Dr. W, the lung doctor, and arranged for a core biopsy of my bad lymph nodes.   They were wonderful. They continue to be wonderful.  With one exception, one of them has come to every appointment with me, Deb cried with me at Karmanos while we hugged and wrote the questions I should ask at Sloan Kettering about its treatment options and clinical trials, they have taken me shopping, out to lunch, out to dinner, and are even coming to the healing circle that Karma Yoga is holding for me on Saturday May 31. For Judy, a strong Catholic, this will be an interesting experience.  I expect her to be saying the rosary with my cousin Mary in the back of the room….   And it will not stop.  We talk every day, they make suggestions for things we can do together and if I am treated at Sloan Kettering, we already are planning a girls’ weekend in New York after my chemo appointment. They are my sisters in more ways than one. As Judy has said many times, we have been through marriages, divorces, break-ups, cancer (with Deb, who had breast cancer many years ago) and now this.   This has reminded us to spend more time with each other and really appreciate each other.

Then there are my other good friends – Jackie (and Joel), with whom we were supposed to go to Paris the first week of June and who is the best travel planner ever.  That trip is off but she has said more than once, wherever you want to go we are there with you.  She and her husband Joel are not just our favorite travelling companions, they are such good friends and so warm and supportive and loving.  We have been lucky to have them in our lives.  And now Jackie, Deb and Judy know each other, which pleases me to no end.    Jackie and Joel were great at distracting me when we went to dinner the Sunday after my diagnosis.  Jackie understood that I needed to NOT talk about cancer, NOT talk about my diagnosis, but needed to talk about other things.  She did it, and for a time that day and for the first time that week I forgot all about the cancer and simply enjoyed myself.   She drove me to the hospital at the last minute for a test, leaving her other friends with whom she was playing mah jong.  She met me for my wig consultation and luckily encouraged me to buy the good wig – as she said this is not the time to scrimp, why wouldn’t you buy a good wig.  And she is a constant source of good suggestions for great reads, because, like me, she loves to read.   Like Deb and Judy, she is constantly reaching out – calling to see how I am doing, what is the news, do I need anything.

Than there are Diane and Alan with whom we also love to travel and with whom we share our house in Utah and who are so loving and supportive to me. Diane is determined to feed me to wellness – I now have a few quarts of her homemade soup in my freezer and she promises to make me her ginger cookies once I start chemo.  Marla and Rena also are always calling and always there.  Marla took me to Cranbrook that first week to see the student art show.  I thought I was not enjoying it much because everything was still too new, but later she said wasn’t most of that show awful, and I felt relief.  It was not me, it was the art….. She put me in touch with the stomach cancer doctor at Henry Ford who met with me, in part, because of her.   Marla calls constantly to check on me.   Rena (and Mark), who is also an oncology nurse at Karmanos, has been so wonderful.  She went through metastatic cancer herself some years ago when her kids were young.  Like me, she was an outlier – she did not fit the profile, and it made no sense she had it.  She called it the “rogue cell,” and since then that is how I think of my cancer.  Like her, I am an outlier, do not fit the profile for stomach cancer, and I plan to be an outlier and survive a long time.

I could go on and on – Lynn (feeding me at her house and calling every few days to check on me), Chick and Susan (travelling to New York just to take Alan and I out to dinner when we went to Sloan Kettering), Laura (not only being there for me every day at work and beyond, but offering to research clinical trials and meaning it), Kathy (calling me and writing a note to my cancer that it does not know me and will lose the battle and that it picked the wrong person when it picked me, while dealing with her own crisis at home with her daughter), Lorraine (calling me regularly to check on me), Linda (taking me to dinner and letting me know she is there for me), Therese (crying with me at dinner), Ava (having me over to her new house for wine and cheese so that I could also talk to her friend Marcie who survived metastasized ovarian cancer), Cyndi (letting me know an apple tart is on its way). Not to mention my newer friends Kate, Hillary, Molly, Linnea and Rick, and my Karma Yoga teachers and friends Debbie, Katherine, Nancy, Kathy and Lynn, all of whom I became close to at Karma Yoga, and who have already told me they plan to give me massages, planned the healing circle, send me messages regularly, and hug me every time I see them.  Nor can I forget my Ashtanga yoga friends whom I have known for many years, over many practices since I started this amazing practice in 2003. These include Lorraine, Therese, Ro, Taya, Marc, Karen, Sarah, Kelly, Matthew, Heather, Arti, Beth, Laurie, Amanda, Sue, Richard, Cheryl and the rest of my Mysore yoga group.  Matthew, my teacher and friend, called me soon after he first heard I had cancer and what he said about my spirit, generosity and ability to love and my strength was so touching it still makes me cry.  And when he called me the second time to sing to me, I started to sob and my daughter hugged me.   Heather has not stopped calling and neither has Lorraine,whom I miss because she is far away in Encinitas. And Therese, Taya and Marc are all coming to the healing circle for me.    And there is Bill who is like a brother to me, who lost his younger sister to cancer many years ago, and who I know is so upset that I have this.   He often said in the past that I reminded him of the sister he lost and how she may have been had she lived past her thirties.  And there is Danielle who is such a close friend and who always gives me the best massages when I am in shivasana.  This does not even count all of my friends at work, but that will have to be another post.

Then there are my cousins, Denise, Mary, Anthony and Bill and Clarice, who have been there for me, who are now on a string text with me where we constantly text each other, and who purposefully have texted me funny stories about our relatives just to distract me.  They are not just family, they are friends.  I will write more about them later, but have to mention them.   Over the years we often let the stress of life get in the way of talking regularly.  That is not the case now and the bonds and friendship are there, and stronger than ever.

I know I did not remember everyone nor name everyone, but like an Academy Award speech that rattles off names to thank to the point where the listener becomes numb,I think I better stop this before it gets too tiring to read.

I am rich in ways that have nothing to do with money.   These people, my friends, enrich my life, enrich my spirit, help bolster me, make me feel cherished, and really care for me in ways that money could never buy.   They mean it when they say whatever you need, just let me know and I am there for you.   I am learning to ask for help when I need it, which is hard for me, because I have always prided myself on my strength and ability to do it myself.  From a young age, I refused to be helpless and just became more determined if someone told me I could not do something.  But now I know I should take the offers made to me when I need them, and take them with gratitude and accept them with the love with which they are offered.

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2 thoughts on “You Gotta Have Friends

  1. Therese samarco says:

    Marilyn, my dear friend. You marvel in the rallying around you, the concern, the love, the ACTION but, you of all people have always been the ‘go-to’ person for so many of us. That person who organizes, connects people, things, events. What’s the saying? If you want something done ask a busy person. That person already has momentum, a driving force. That person is you.

    I clearly remember meeting you at Matthew’s on the first day the Maxwell Shala opened. The upstairs practice room. Ugh- it was so hot, I remember the smell of our collective sweaty bodies mixed with incense and Matthew’s chai tea. In Savasana, I’m momentarily transported to another place and time. To somewhere jungle-y. In my mind’s eye, I look down at myself and see skinny brown legs, brown feet and a muddy, slippery path. I’m rushing. Where I have no idea. To practice? I slip, fall and, realize with a start that I can’t move. I’m alone, afraid. I’m in a man’s body. This startles me. I open my eyes abruptly in Savasana. Back in the Shala at Maxwell, thank God. I realize I feel at home, at peace and, that I’ve known many in this sweaty group of yogis for many lives. I’m not even sure I believe in reincarnation and, yet these are my thoughts. I get up and leave the practice room and see you in the outer room. Her practice is so fast, I think. We talk. About what I have no idea and, yet I know intuitively we will be friends. Life long friends.

    You’ve taught me so much about persistence, dedication, loving life. You are one of the strongest people I’ve ever met. If anyone can come out of this healed, it’s you. I’ll be there. Be here. You are so very loved.

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