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Thursday
Apr252013

Saying Goodbye

There is nothing harder about living in this cancer world than saying goodbye to a friend. Honestly, I could care less about what I personally have to go through – the bi-weekly chemo, the two-a-day Lovenox shots, the scans, the supplements and vitamins and lack of cheeseburgers and cocktails. None of that stuff upsets me. What upsets me is losing a friend to cancer who fought so hard to live.

I found out last Friday, when I was at the Coachella Music Festival with my cousin, that my good friend Alla had passed away. Her very close friend emailed me the news and, even though I knew the news was probably coming soon, I was not ready for it. You can never be ready for losing a loved one. I got the email as I was walking across the fairgrounds and immediately stopped and sat down in the grass, my head in my hands. It took me a long while to get up.

I met Alla a few days after she was diagnosed, in September of 2011. I urged her to come to Norris for treatment. She did. I urged her to become a vegan. She did. I told her that we were young enough and strong enough to endure and to survive until the cure for all of us was available. I believed that with all of my heart. I believed that we both would live to see that day. I was wrong. The sting of that cruel reality hurts me deeply and probably always will.

Alla was a brilliant lawyer – a public defender in Compton, California – and an incredible person. A devoted wife, mother, daughter, and friend. My friend, too.

Her memorial service was almost too much for me to take. Even though it was Chemo Day 2, I knew I was going to get myself together and make it for her service, but I was not prepared for the overwhelming grief I felt while I was there. To see her family and friends so heartbroken, and to be heartbroken myself, was so hard. It was so, so hard.

It brought back memories of losing Annette a few months ago. My two best buds at Norris, Annette and Alla, were gone. Both of them, incredible women and true forces of nature that I was lucky and blessed enough to know, were no longer alive.

It’s hard not to feel robbed. Their families and friends have been robbed of their beautiful presences. The world has been robbed of their talents. I have been robbed of their friendship. It feels unfair…so cruel and so unfair. I sobbed at Alla’s service and I sobbed on the drive home, for the loss of my friend and for that feeling of being wronged by the universe.

But here’s the thing, and here’s what I always remind myself. I can’t get caught up in what is fair and what isn’t in life. There is no fair or unfair. Life is what it is, and I have to continue to live it with a full heart and with gratitude. So after dusting myself off, wiping away the tears, and with a still-tender heart, I gave thanks for Alla. I gave thanks for the fact that I knew her and that she was such an awesome person. I gave thanks again for Annette and how much she means to me. I gave thanks for being in a position to know both of those women, to have helped them and to have been helped by them…to have been good friends and fellow soldiers with them.

I share a bond with them that most people could never know. And I am thankful for that. It’s a bond that nobody would elect to share, but it’s ours. And it’s powerful.

Because, you see, we are cancer patients. We are looking death in the face, every single day. We are fighting for our lives, every single day. We are bonded together by our shared struggles, triumphs, hopes, dreams, spoken and unspoken fears. We are bonded together by our common enemy and our shared zest for life even in the face of that enemy. And while my two friends are no longer fighting and are at peace, I will still fight. I will still hold the banner of cancer warrior in their honor. I will receive that chemo and give myself those Lovenox shots and lay down still when its time to scan my body. And I will continue to be grateful and joyful in the face of challenges and sorrow and struggle. For them, for me, and for all of those who fight this terrible disease.

Rest in Peace, Alla. Your legacy will never die. You are in my heart always.

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