The Day Cancer Came in the Mail

Love, Heartbreak

Facing multiple tragedies, a friend comes to care for herself as much as she has cared for others.


I love getting mail, the real kind you don’t have to print out.  The kind you have to get out of your chair for.  So I was excited to see my friend’s return address in the pile, and it wasn’t just because the envelope didn’t hold a bill.

I’ve always known her to be calm to my frantic, brave to my wimpiness, determined with a self-assuredness I still envy.  Just to give you an example, she confronted her fear of snakes by attending a museum program about reptiles.  She forced herself to handle them and she can now see one slither across her patio and admire the snake’s place in the circle of things.  I’ll go on record now that this will never be me; I got the heebies just typing the word “slither”.


We used to get together with other gals like us:  35+, smart, professional and not nuts about being single.   Those outings were always good for gossip although it was mostly me who did the “observing”.  David and I happened a year before her marriage to Bill and over the last quarter century, we’ve tracked each other from Connecticut to Colorado to Arizona.  Some years ago, Bill had a quadruple bypass and the stress on his body blossomed a latent case of multiple sclerosis.  At least that’s what I think.   As his health declined, my friend was just like the Hallmarks describe — loyal, loving, patient.  She, of course, would guffaw at this; oh, I know they had their moments, but her unwavering kindness really is true.

I can remember us eating a picnic lunch of hard-boiled eggs and pepperoni on a chilly spring day in Cripple Creek, Colorado.


She loves purple, eclecticism, and cats.

She loves her sisters, me and David, and asparagus.


A friend like that makes it easy to see the reason I was eager to read her note.  It said: Diagnosis:  Stage 4 Breast Cancer.  Treatment: Radical mastectomy, chemotherapy.

It takes a lot of someone else’s pain to make me cry, otherwise I couldn’t be a psychotherapist, unless that pain hits me where I live, and hers waltzed right in my door.   See, she’s never been about putting herself at the front of the soup line, so when we talked and cried over the phone it didn’t surprise me that through this she kept on keeping on … with work and with caregiving, placing Bill in respite care only for the week she had surgery.


Only one week after that phone call, my dear friend called to say she’d come home to find Bill, fallen on the floor.  He was dead.

She still likes asparagus, will always love cats, and will forever be a kind and good soul.  She’s learning to put her needs and wants toward the front of the line; done with chemotherapy, life is opening up in ways she’d never ever imagined.


I just wish it hadn’t taken these painful sorrows for her to act more, for herself, on the kind of love she gave the rest of us. I’m glad she is, now.


This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.