Written by Bess KercherIn this touching reflective series blogger Bess Kercher shares the story of what happens when two friends are diagnosed with rare cancers, and celebrates the nature of friendship during crisis in mid-life.
I flip through my calendar, which is the first indication that I am middle-aged.
While my iPhone is starting to feel like an appendage and I am happy to send a retweet or two, I just cannot give up the comfort of touching the real pages of my paper calendar. The ability to write in pencil the possible things and in blue ink the for sure things seems comforting in a way that is hard to explain.
I once heard that you can learn what someone holds dear by looking at their checkbook (another relic?), the money trail a reflection of their values. I think the same could be said for how you spend your time. Want to know what is important? Check out the daily planner.
What fills mine is the second indication that I am in middle age. It is mostly stuff for the kids: the spring music concert and school play, sports’ practices and games; also the church fundraiser, family birthdays, dentist appointments.
But there is one special marked day that stands out above the rest: Friday, March 28th, the night of the Bal Masque′ party benefitting the PStrong Foundation. The foundation inspired by my friend Pattie, created to fund research to discover better treatment options and to develop cures for rare and unusual cancers.
Pattie and I wrote a blog together for our friend, Sheri, after she was diagnosed with a rare abdominal cancer.
After somewhat unremarkable but persistent symptoms led to an overwhelmingly remarkable whirlwind of surgery and a diagnosis of peritoneal cancer, we partnered to keep folks in touch with Sheri’s situation.
Pattie, with her nursing background, understood medical details and deftly authored the most comprehensive updates. And Pattie, with her writing background, also created the design of the blog, and posted clinical reads full of difficult information. My posts were less useful to the larger information-sharing goal; I only hoped that they would make Sheri smile if she read them.
Because smiling and laughing is what Sheri does best . . . how many times had I shared a laugh with both of these ladies, social friends connected by our husbands who are all surgeons with Carolinas Healthcare System? We enjoyed a similar sensibility as women with strong personalities married to partners with big jobs.
Surgeons fix problems – or at least try to – and the problems are often huge, as is the lingo: laparoscopic bariatric surgery, live donor nephrectomy, minimally invasive endoscopy, microwave ablation. As former nurses, Pattie and Sheri spoke that second language in a way that I could not, but they never made me feel inferior or out of the loop.
We found a lot of common ground, in the things that interested us and that made us laugh and we bonded over the shared suspicion that behind every good surgeon is someone on the home front tempering the Type A.
Some friends come your way because you seek them out; some are put in your path and are an unexpected gift.
When I became friends with Pattie and Sheri, all I knew was that they were both interesting, smart women with whom I always felt a grateful affinity, like when Pattie and I were dressed almost identically at the dinner where we first met, or when Sheri helped me when I was felled by a stomach bug moments before guests were to arrive at my house for a 4th of July party.
They are the type of friends that show up. This reminds me of the cake brought to Sheri’s house for the pre-chemo party she had before starting treatment. I took a picture of the cake turned just so, the bright decoration revealing the words BECAUSE FRIENDS.
Because there is so much you cannot control in life, and the older you get the more you experience that reality.
Because the mundane days on your calendar may be replaced with a tsunami of life-seeking struggles in the blink of an eye; things that were once rare and unusual, remote dark possibilities suddenly become realized fully by those who find themselves fighting to reclaim the ordinary. That even when it seems the earth has stopped its cheerful turns and is instead like a needle skipping on a broken record, stuck on the winter solstice, too cold and with not enough light, that even then you can find relief and healing and lasting goodness through the actions of those around you.
Because friends are a constant joy in a world full of random heartbreak.
So on Friday March 28th I know I will be laughing and dancing with Sheri and with Pattie, but this story starts before then: before the creation of the PStrong Board on which Sheri serves, before Pattie’s diagnosis and surgery, before PStrong charms and Blue Mondays.
I flip the calendar backwards and note for all the tumult, the parts that are ongoing, and so much that is unknown, that there is always space ready for the pencil and the pen-- all that can be recorded as possible, and those awesome things we do know for sure.
For more information about the P Strong Foundation and their upcoming Bal Masque click here.Coming Thursday, March 20 - Part Two
Bess Kercher, M.A. lives in Charlotte with her husband and two sons.