A friend of mine is dying of stage 4 small cell lung cancer, which has spread to the bone. She is my age; we went to high school together, though we didn’t know each other then. I rack my brains, trying to remember her, but she is always just outside my frame of reference.
We “met” last year on the brokerage platform where I work part-time, a few months before her diagnosis. Like me, she survived a difficult divorce. She had moved on and was focused on other things that consume single moms without enough financial support from their exes — earning enough money to pay the bills, learning to do home repairs, celebrating her daughters’ achievements. She is strong and practical, resourceful and caring.
The chemo didn’t work for her. Although she still wants to fight, her options are dwindling, and the cancer is spreading fast. She has been keeping a blog, Purple Death Hawk because she wants to help other people who are going through this fight or have friends and relatives who have been diagnosed with late stage cancer.
I think you will be moved by her story.
I am 55 today. My paternal aunt, my father’s only sister, didn’t make it so long. She died at the age of 54 from ovarian cancer, which progressed quickly after the initial diagnosis. She, too, was divorced. Her husband, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, cheated on her multiple times before casting her out of his life without so much as a backward glance.
She had been so pretty. Once, she took me by bus from South Station to Pembroke, Maine, where my grandparents owned some vacation cabins. She’d gained a lot of weight by then. To me, she seemed old, but she was only in her early thirties. My grandfather would invite me to sing a song:
“We don’t want her,
John can have her,
She’s too fat for us!”
I didn’t want to sing, but I joined in any way to please my grandfather. The teasing made my Aunt withdraw, and I felt conflicted and ashamed. I went with my grandmother to get a dish of ice cream from the diner across the street, and I tried to be happy, but I couldn’t. I felt like there was something wrong inside me that other people could see. It had something to do with being a girl, but I wasn’t sure exactly how or why.
My Aunt died, and her cat was heartbroken. The neighbors adopted it, and it hid beneath the bed for months, refusing to emerge until no one was around.
As for my Aunt herself, I don’t know if she ever got over having been abandoned like that. Sometimes a fire is like that. It burns brightly, then smolders and goes out.
Thanks to my grandparents, I fell in love with coastal Maine, its rich light and the smell of sea air. The furious cawing of crows at dawn and the slow reddening of twigs before their buds begin to leaf are just some of the things I am looking forward to as I get to experience each day of the changing seasons.
A Place of My Own
It’s been so long since I’ve lived in a place where seasons change.
Cropped image of “Colorful Leaves at Jordan Pond,” by Lee Coursey
The property I bought is on a part of the coast I’m relatively unfamiliar with, the Blue Hill Peninsula. I am at the end of a small village populated by people who care intensely about their community and the restoration of the historic homes there. I look forward to getting to know the people and the place.
Buying the Anchorage is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life. I know that writing about two women who were struck with cancer too young is possibly not the best way to begin a post about new beginnings, but I feel connected to these women. They are part of the story of my life.
They are the reason I am here.
For the next 6.6 years, I am going to build a new life, one that is filled with friends, laughter, and purpose. I’ve had enough negativity in my life.
But because I’m not the most lighthearted person in the room, let me be clear about what I think negativity is. Negativity is cutting someone else’s dreams down out of jealousy or despair. Depression does that to people. So does living for other people rather than being bold enough to follow your own dreams.
The reason I mention this is I often see people calling out things that aren’t really negativity. Poverty, heartbreak, anger, and cruelty aren’t negativity. They are the reality.
Negativity is blaming the messenger. I’m not going to do that anymore.
I’m going to listen respectfully and speak my truth.