The flow of tears yesterday was both a celebration and a mourning. Yesterday was the ninth anniversary of my first cancer diagnosis. It's a day I'll never forget.
In the nine years since I was first diagnosed I've felt tears fall for many reasons...but yesterday was a profound mix of gratitude and guilt. Gratitude for so many things...but a sense of profound sadness triggered by someone else's journey's end.
Yesterday I found out that a woman who was a tremendous resource to me during my darkest hours passed away just two weeks ago...from cancer. I didn't even get to say goodbye.
Coleen became in many ways so much more than a service provider in my life. Her sincere interest in my life (the one beyond my disease) and her casual banter with that charming chuckle made calls with Coleen a delight.
In 2007 she nominated me as the Spokesperson for the Rochester Light the Night Walk. She gave me a huge hug when I walked off the stage that night. Our connections didn't end there...when we worked together on a cancer conference for young adults in Rochester in 2010. She told me how much she admired what I was doing in Rochester and never failed to make me feel truly special. I'm grateful that I always told her how much I appreciated her in return. I always reminded her how much of a difference she made to me during those days of complete chaos.
Remembering my cancerversary yesterday...I thought of her. I meant to find a way to call her yesterday- to schedule that lunch we'd meant to set up. Instead I found her obituary.
A true hero to so many cancer patients, Coleen herself became a patient when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she made it through...her disease returned. I wish I could say that I learned of her recurrence from that obituary, but I didn't. I learned of it after I called her work number a year ago, only to find she had resigned and soon after learned the reason why.
I had her cell number and texted her a message of support. We exchanged a few lines and I made a plan to set up a lunch the next time I was near Buffalo. But time got away. It never seemed to be the right time. Perhaps it's too short notice for her, I thought. Yesterday I felt a lump of regret in my throat for all that procrastinating.
Coleen was special to so many. I can be sure that I'm not the only patient who felt the golden touch of her care and kindness. In the past nine years I have survived two different cancers. That was hard.
Saying goodbye to such wonderful people I've met on this journey is harder.
There are challenging bits of knowledge in the bright unfiltered light of survivorship. It's where the recognition of life's fragility meets our capacity to acknowledge it head on. It's a shattered faith in happy endings. Some run from it. It's easy to see why many desperately try to avoid the reminders of this finite and bitter reality. Damn right it's hard.
Yet people like Coleen should not be forgotten. And so if remembering her means knowing a little bit of life's unfairness... I chose to remember. Thank you Coleen.