My friend had breast cancer.
When you have cancer, and somehow the body that grew those rogue cells is able to overcome them, people say that you are lucky. That always makes me cringe. I know they are talking about the fact that you had the Big C and are still here to tell the tale, but from what I’ve seen, it doesn’t look very lucky.
Have you ever looked at cancer cells under the microscope? Even if you know nothing about histology, when you see them, you know something has gone terribly wrong. Under the microscope, there is an organisation and structure to normal cells, and in fact, the cells of each organ have distinctive features. So you can tell the difference between a thyroid cell and a liver cell, a heart and a lung. Cancer is not something from the outside, it is those self-same cells, but they are in a death rush to end it all. They are multiplying and dividing and multiplying again, in some frenzied tornado of reproduction, so that they become some mutated, ugly cousin of the original cells, hideously echoing the family traits.
Their evolution is like Gremlins, but they have the malevolent fury of something from the other side of the Pet Semetary.
I despise them.
My friend had breast cancer.
It ravaged and contorted and shrank her body, killing her from the inside out, just as mine swelled and glowed and created a new life.
She used to talk to my fecund, streched skin, right up close, whilst I was doing for her the only thing my hands know how to do for people in pain. I would rub away on her tissues from the outside, hoping that I was erasing some of those cells deep within. She would tell my baby all sorts of things, and I now realise I was squirrelling those stories up, like quotes in one of those “Words of Wisdom” books, saving them for the Winter of my empty.
When someone you love dies, that is all you have. Photos, stories and perhaps some things that they used to wear. Nothing new gets added as the years mount up, so you have to save up those fragments and slips of ideas that you shared, and store them deep inside, for it is all you will ever have. Nothing new will be added, not ever. So those fragile wisps must be wrapped lightly in the most delicate of tissue papers, and stored in a box with plenty of air around them, so they can breathe and retain their shape and stay precious and safe.
When my friend used to talk to my ripening abdomen, I was often struck by the thought that we were both growing things within us. She talked to mine, she told it to be good and healthy and strong and creative and funny and to pop out at home in a rush of bursting life. I talked silently to her’s and told it to fuck right off and leave her alone and have our business done and done and over and done.
Mine listened. Her’s did not.
So now I count off the years gone, in the milestones of my daughter. Every December as Christmas draws near, I wait for the punch in the guts and I struggle and claw myself past that day on the calendar fearful that if I go down, it will kick and kick me, as I cower on the floor. I hold myself rigid as I think of the people who have more right than me to grieve, the people who share those very same cell lines that took her down. And I think of the love of her life, and the hole that he has somehow filled with wonderful things, old and new.
I don’t even know what to say to them any more.
My friend had breast cancer, and she didn’t let it stop her one bit. Until it stopped her for good.
She was not one of the lucky ones.
None of them are.
RIP Rick. Miss you. Still.
…From The Ashers