I’m not very fond of feasts or celebrations. I dread Christmas time. I’m not too keen on Mother’s Day either.
I became reconciled with my birthday ever since cancer #2 because it is definitely fun to get old.
I used to kind of like Valentine’s Day though. Maybe because Popeye and I, we still are in love and we go boating together. And those red hearts popping all over the place are cute and funny!
Now I feel pretty miserable on Valentine’s Day ever since 2 years ago exactly, my best friend decided to let go forever. On Valentine’s Day 2009.
We shared the same first name. We lived in the same street, a few houses apart. We 'shared' our children who grew up together. We were very, very close. As close as sisters can be, I think.
She’d sew or do her ironing while we’d be talking. She’d paint while I was taking pictures. We read together. We went to art exhibits. There was always a time during the day when we’d get together while the children were away at school and our husbands at work. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
We shared a lot of very private thoughts and feelings. She was much quieter and calmer than me but I made her laugh. She’d say: «You are completely crazy, you know but I love it!»
She trusted us enough to leave her children to our care while she was working. (She spent every school holiday working with children who never went away.)
When she turned 50, we threw a big surprise party for her where we invited 50 friends, brothers and sisters of hers. She was a very faithful person. Once someone had become her friend, it was for life.
I loved and admired her so much. Her life was not easy but she always managed and kept smiling. She was an extraordinary gardener and a better cook even. She was so sweet and nice.
Of course she was going through times filled with despondency. Her husband was very self-centered and sometimes scornful. And her children were a little bit hard to manage, mostly because of their father.
I loved them though - to be honest, only two out of three. One girl who was Swee’ Pea’s age and one boy who was 6 years older and was acting as SP’s older brother. They were part of ‘our’ children and they came very, very often to Brittany.
When I went through cancer #1, she wanted to come and take care of me. (I was already living in Belgium.) I did not want her to because I thought it would be too harrowing for her. She would worry about her family all the time. So we had long talks on the phone. We managed to laugh a lot, I remember.
I was still feeling awfully tired in April 2005 when her daughter decided to celebrate her 60th birthday at home. They had a wonderful garden, filled with flowers. The weather was very nice and we had a lot of fun.
In November 2005, she was with me in Swee’ Pea’s appartment when I got the first tests results. Bad, very bad. We cried a lot.
In January 2006, after the first surgery, she was again with me in my son’s appartment when my oncologist called me with very, very bad news. We cried again. We were so sure there wasn’t much hope left I’d ever celebrate my 60th birthday.
But somehow a miracle happened after a very hard chemo. I did survive (not too well at the beginning) but I got stronger as time went by. She was extremely relieved because she knew how close I had been to a very unwelcomed end.
We were living in Belgium, but at the time, I needed a lot of rest and I stayed quite a long time in Brittany.
In July 2008, I turned 60. She had decided to throw a party for me in her lovely garden but in October since she’d be working in July and I would be staying in Brittany until the end of September.
So October, it would be. We talked a lot on the phone. She was feeling tired because she was still grieving over the death of one of her brothers, in February. But she insisted on planning the party.
I called her on our way back from Brittany. Her daughter answered the phone. Her mother had fallen down in the garden, that very morning. They had called an ambulance and she was to spend a couple of days at a nearby hospital.
When I got there, I discovered that she hardly could walk or stand up. I was appalled that none of her children (one is a nurse, her daughter-in-law is a doctor) had tried to find a better place for her, where they would start clinical examinations and tests.
I was quite adamant that she needed help and very quickly. She then had this weird crooked smile: ‘Don’t start worrying about me. I need rest. They are driving me crazy at home. I only need some rest.’
I came home crying because I knew that something was really wrong with her. I was sure that she had brain cancer. And I felt that every minute, every hour without proper care would be crucial.
Weeks went by. Yes, weeks. They had decided at the hospital that she probably had suffered from a CVA. (There are bad hospitals in France after all.)
It was so hard to get her family to try something else. So hard. I got mad at them. I yelled at them. Her son and daughter-in-law finally remembered that they knew an oncologist in a very good hospital in Paris. They called him.
They moved her there and scans were made. Brain and lung cancer. (She never smoked in her life.)
She called me from the hospital to let me know the results. And she said: ‘You showed me a while ago that you survived the worst cancer ever. Tell me I will survive.’
And she added: ‘I am so sorry you won’t have a birthday party now.’ So much the old 'her'!
I jumped in a cab and I very seldom left her side. They used radiotherapy on her brain. She started to walk again, not too well but it was a start. When you are this sick, every small improvement makes your day and the days to come.
Then came chemo for her lungs. I was there. I never thought I’d be strong enough to hold her hand during chemo nor to literally carry her around after chemo but I found out that I was very resilient after all (even though my oncologist was getting more and more upset and worried about me).
I’m still boiling with anger and rage. Her family was completely unconcerned. They were in total denial (remember, one nurse and one doctor).
Popeye came along with me as much as he could.
I kept on telling my friend that she was there when ‘cancer #2’ struck. I reminded her how bad it had been and yet I was there, well alive. I kept on telling her that she had to fight and she’d come out of it, just like I did.
But as weeks went by, I realized that because of those deep differences that had once been a source of fun, me being restless and almost scatterbrained and her being so calm and sedate, it was not going to work even though I was desperately trying to give her all my strength.
It didn’t last long. She fell down in her garden in October 2008. She died in February 2009. On Valentine’s Day.
She had gone back to the hospital a couple of days before for some last chance surgery which they did not try after all.
She called me from there and her last words to me were: ‘My cancer was very bad after all.’
She then fell into a coma and never woke up.
As I said, I am still very angry at her family. Popeye and I spent the whole day with her while she was dying. We talked to her. We held her hand. We stroked her forehead. Because she was still there.
Her family was there too except for one of her sons who came and left because ‘this wasn’t something he liked.’ They were staring at her not quite believing that she was dying.
And then she died peacefully at the end of the day. Valentine’s Day 2009.
I think I would never have noticed what day it was if someone hadn’t mentioned that now she had ruined this day forever for them.
Great! I still feel so mad.
Her daughter (the nurse) called me a few months later to ask me how I knew that it had been cancer.
How did I know? I don’t think it was because I had been twice through this. I think I simply used my mind and my heart.
I thought for a while I was going to be sick again. Until one day, thanx to a long talk with a doctor at the hospital, a doctor who knows me well, I realized that my friend letting go had actually started the very day she had told me that she needed rest because they were driving her crazy at home.
It is so sad that for her, resting meant dying. It is so maddening for me.
She hasn’t ruined Valentine’s Day for me. It is only a day in February. But it’s been so hard to accept her abandon and the fact that I had fought so hard for nothing.
I want to live so fiercely that I have such a hard time accepting that she could have let go so easily. Because she could still be alive.
While my friend was ‘resting’ in the crummy hospital, her younger sister fell into a coma. When she came out of it, she was diagnosed with the same cancer exactly. She is still alive, two years later.
Spring is coming. I wish my friend was still alive.
Spring was her season because she loved her garden and she loved the slow awakening of nature.
I love Spring too and I have discovered that I love it even better now, for me and for her.
Except that I am still very angry.
*Good Luck, and Good Night*