Since it had been more than a few months, today I summoned up the courage to Google my long-time friend and fellow stage IV lung cancer survivor, Suzanne. Suzanne and I had been years out of touch (for no real reason other than initiative and the geographic consideration that she lived in Barnstable, Ma. and I live in Burtonsville, Md.) and recently back in touch – due to our identical cancer diagnoses. I learned that she had succumbed to her disease back in October, 2013. We last had contact electronically back in the summer. She was extremely weak then, she said, too weak to talk, so e-mailing was best. In that e-mail, ultimately her last, she wrote that the most recent chemotherapy drug with which she was infused was no longer effective and that her oncologist had no other drugs left to recommend. Not that she said it in so many words, but at that point her prognosis was grim. She offered that her two boys were with her and from them she would gain great comfort. The news was very unsettling to me and I was afraid that this e-mail might be our last – and so it was.
Suzanne and I were never boyfriend/girlfriend, but from Elementary School through High School we were extremely close and confidants of the highest order (“thick as thieves,” to invoke a quote from the warden in the movie, “Shawshank Redemption” describing the close relationship between Tim Robbins – “Andy Dufresne” and “Red,” – Morgan Freeman). Our friendship was forged during those formative, pre-adolescent years and maintained on – and then off – until back on again a year or so ago, for nearly 50 years. The reason I hadn’t inquired sooner than today was because I was fearful of what I would find out. Typically her e-mails were fairly random and on the occasion when I would e-mail her, she would rarely respond in a timely manner. I tried not to worry about this last silent interval. Today my worst fears were realized.
Just as cancer survivors draw great strength from those of us still living with this terrible disease, so too are we weakened when one of us dies. Rather than feeling fortunate that I am still alive, I feel sadness that Suzanne is not. When one of us dies, we all die – a little bit, or at least, our resolve to persevere dies a little bit. I’ve always said that there is strength in our numbers, numbers that we cannot afford to lose. (Lung Cancer causes approximately 160,000 deaths a year, the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.)
Certainly Suzanne’s death affects her family way more than it affects me. However, learning that she has died has given me pause to consider/reconsider how serious my health situation is. It’s ironic that Suzanne and I were friends for so many years and that ultimately we should be diagnosed with the same disease and given a similar prognosis. It seems only fitting that since we started together, we should finish together. I imagine I’ll see her soon enough. For the moment however, I hope it will be in my dreams – not that other place.