Sometime in the fall of 2014, I learned that my godmother had been diagnosed with cancer. She initially was treated at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, about 30 minutes from her home in Central New Jersey. My godmother is an amazing woman who has had three different careers, and had moved into a retirement community less than 20 miles from my mother’s home about a decade ago. She is an active swimmer, fitness enthusiast, and yoga practitioner. I was confident that she would beat it.
I saw my godmother a year later when we celebrated my grandmother’s 86th birthday last September. Annie, the nickname my older sister gave her as a toddler when she couldn’t say “Aunt Jackie,” looked really well six months ago. She had lost a few pounds, but still had a headful of hair and her usual go-get-‘em attitude. As we talked throughout the fall, she shared with me about the treatments she was receiving at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in midtown Manhattan. She had moved back to the Bronx in the ensuing year, and was being treated at arguably the best cancer hospital in the country.
I told myself I would go visit Annie for her birthday in November, but I didn’t. Then I said I would go over Christmas Break, but that didn’t happen either. Finally, I made the train ride up to New York right after Martin Luther King Day. When I walked into Annie’s apartment and saw her for the first time in four months, I nearly passed out. She had lost all her hair and another 50 pounds. She was weak and frail, and looked nothing like the healthy woman I had known my whole life. I plastered a fake smile on my face and tried to keep the conversation as positive as I could. But I knew the truth… I was going to lose Annie to cancer... and soon.
That same month, she was diagnosed with an intestinal bacterial infection. Those menaces tore up her insides, making her immune system weaker and weaker. After the second failed course of chemotherapy and radiation, the doctors at Sloan-Kettering wanted to put her on an experimental treatment regime. But the infection had left her too weak; the doctors didn’t do anything during February to treat the cancer. As a result, the tumors kept growing rapidly, and Annie was in a lot of pain. By March, the doctors announced they were out of options. Annie moved in with her older son in upstate New York, and currently is on hospice. A home health aide comes to the house daily to help bathe, feed and care for her. A nurse checks in on Annie twice a week to ensure she is as comfortable as possible during her final days.
When I was newly separated from my ex-husband back in 2004, and dealing with a horrible case of the winter blues, I did not know how to function. I could barely get out of bed in the mornings and go to work. I tried to share what I was experiencing with friends and family, but didn’t get much sympathy. The only person who seemed to understand was Annie. She let me talk as much as I needed, and I would call her several times a week to get things off my chest. Eventually, I was diagnosed and began treatment for my seasonal affective disorder. But those months of almost daily conversations brought closeness between Annie and me that we had never experienced when I was a child and teenager.
As I think about losing her, I can’t even imagine life without my biggest advocate and greatest friend. Who will I call first when I get asked out on a date if Annie isn’t around? Who can I talk to – besides my therapist and psychiatrist – when the winter blues come back next fall if Annie is gone? Who will be my new best friend?
The Bible and Yoga Sutras both talk a great deal about accepting what is. Right now, that means accepting the fact that Annie is very ill and probably won’t be around much longer. There is nothing else we can do to make the cancer go away. But I can encourage her. I make sure to call at least once a week. I mailed her a card in which I thanked her for being my rock. I make the 350-mile trip to New York to see her every chance that I get. I want her to know how much she is loved and appreciated and admired while she is still with me.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 2:3-5)
I am so grateful for all the people who have been comforting me during this time as I prepare to say goodbye to my loved one. It helps to share my burden with others and receive the support and encouragement they offer. I also know one day I will be able to do likewise for someone else. In the midst of pain and suffering, it’s hard to think about helping others. But know that eventually, you WILL find the silver lining, and understand how to turn your heartbreak into HOPE for someone else. Until then, may you allow those around you to comfort you.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.