Posted on March 2, 2015
In early 2014, at the start of my journey with cancer, a spinoff support group was formed on Facebook for a small group of people who had shared our stories on a parenting forum we all belonged to, about our cancer diagnosis. The irony wasn’t lost on any of us that we met on a forum dedicated to welcoming new life into the world, and now we were connected together by a group dedicated to the fact we might see each other out of it.
A lot of thought goes into whether you actually want to join such a group. Most of the founding members had stage 4 cancer….you just KNOW you are going to fall in love with these people, who you are bound together with in an intense shared experience. You know you are going to talk to them every day, know them better than you know people who have shared your life for decades. And you know you are going to see them die.
Still, I jumped in with both feet. I desperately needed to be with people that understood. And it has been….extraordinary. These are the people that I would have wanted in my life if cancer had not bought us together. Our cancer clique is not a place of misery. Sure we share the bullshit that comes with poisoning yourself half to death with chemo, in order to try and live as long as you can. We know when each has a scan, and we hold the space around each other, hold our collective breaths, until we know the results. We celebrate, we commiserate, and we help each other move the fuck on when the shit hits the fan. Did you notice I said fuck there? Yes, we also discovered that we all like to say fuck, and we say it a LOT. All the members that have joined us in the ensuing period of time have been warned that if copious amounts of fucks are not for them, then we probably aren’t, either.
One of our founding members was Deb. Diagnosed 5 days from me in December 2013, with an aggressive gall bladder and bile duct cancer, the prognosis for Deb was always terrible. There are terminal cancers and there are terminal cancers, and this bastard has some serious legs. Deb was given just 12 months to live.
And what did Deb do? Did she give up? Did she just wait for death to take her? Did she fall apart, turn into a mere shell of a woman, lose her killer wit, and her zest for life? No, she did not. Instead, she married the love of her life, went on honeymoon, learned to play the violin (the magnficent results of which she recorded for us to see), and fuck me if she didn’t make a croquembouche. This was one of her status updates during the making of this delightful and complicated confection:
“Day 2 of croquembouche making – the toffee…all sugar and glucose. Decided I am bored with cancer and I am going to give diabetes a go!” Vintage Deb. She was funny as FUCK, our girl.
Towards the end of ’14, we decided that we had to meet, our Cancer Clique (the name being a nod to just how bloody cool we all are). Melbourne in January was decided, and members made arrangements to fly in from all around the country. Even as Deb was losing her battle, one of the things that motivated her was making goals, and getting to our meet was one of them. We assured her that if she could not come to us, we would come to her.
As it turned out, we did have to go to Deb. She bloody well nearly made it, to our lunches, to our High Tea at the Windsor, but just before the weekend of the meet she was felled by severe pain, and had to be admitted to hospital. After High Tea on the Saturday, we arrived at the hospital to visit her, one of our other members carrying some contraband – scones from the Windsor – in her handbag.
Outside the hospital, I fell apart a bit. There was never any question of me not going in, though the other members of our group assured me that everyone would understand, especially Deb, if i did not. See, I had just found out the day before that the operation I had not yet decided to have would carry a 50% risk of resulting in my death. And if I did not have it, I would almost certainly be taken by secondary liver cancer, the very same thing that Deb was currently succumbing to inside that hospital. All of this was difficult, but it was never about me, it was about looking into the eyes of my friend, who I loved, and knowing that shining light, that beautiful spirit would soon be gone from our lives. How the fuck do you DO that?
I should have known that Deb would make it easy for me. As soon as we opened to the door to that hospital room and Deb’s beautiful face lit up, I catapaulted towards her and we had the most massive squashy hug…it was like a hug I had been waiting for all my life…with all the warmth from a true friend, and to be honest, a hug from my absolute fucking hero. I parked myself at her side, as the other girls had already been in to see her the day before, I wasn’t giving them a look in! We sat there for the next hour and a half and we LAUGHED. Non stop laughed, and laughed, and laughed. Most of the laughs came from Deb herself. She was literally one of the funniest people I have ever met, the quickest wit, even in the darkest of times. She knew her time was nearly up, she knew that she was missing all the activities of our weekend that she had long planned to join us on, and not ONE TIME did that smile leave her face, not ONE TIME did a word of self pity come out of her mouth. I walked out of that room knowing that I would never see her again, but she had left a mark on me that would stay forever in my heart.
Yesterday fucking bastard cancer took our Deb.
My darling Deb. I know that if we had met in different circumstances, we would have been friends, anyway. I’ll always wish we did, and we had a lifetime to cackle together until drinks came out of our nose. Thank you for caring about me when everyone would have understood if the only thing you cared about was yourself. Thank you for your lessons, you have taught me so many things, not so much how to die with dignity and bravery, though you certainly did that, but thank you mostly for the lesson in how to live, REALLY live, when you know you are not going to get to do it for a really long time. I need that lesson more than ever now. Thank you for everything sweetheart. I love you Deb, and will never forget you. Go gently, my friend.