Ever since I pledged my sorority in college (OOO-OOP), four has been my favorite number. It was my line number, my position in the group of eleven women who worked together to make the journey into DST. My identity was linked to my number during that time, and I saw the beauty in that digit. It was a perfect square, a pair of pairs. And it looked nice on the back of my red roller-derby jacket.
But four isn’t beautiful when it comes to cancer. My friend, my sorority sister, was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. There is nothing perfect about it.
I saw her about a month ago when she dropped her daughter at daycare. Our drop off and pickup schedules are usually about 45 minutes apart, but I was taking Elyse in a little early that Wednesday. Chris was limping.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “You look like you are walking funny.”
“Well, I have a mass in my abdomen. We’re going to see the surgeon on Friday. I haven’t been to work in a couple of weeks.”
I was thinking fibroids. A painful, but highly treatable, condition that a lot of women have.
“Okay, go home and get some rest. Let me know if you need something. I’ll call you next week.”
By Monday, the sister network had sent out an e-mail that was as vague as it was ominous. Chris had gone in for exploratory surgery, and the doctors found two masses. She was at home resting. I called a few times, but I didn’t catch her.
E-mail #2, sent out the next week, was even more ominous. It was difficult to tell what exactly her condition was, but the words “oncologist” and “chemotherapy” said it all.
That Sunday I went to our book club meeting, but I got there late. My friend Kay caught me up on what happened later that evening. I was vegging out on my favorite spot on the couch when she called. “I got Kim’s house a few minutes early, and we got to talk about Chris. It is cancer, and she is starting chemo soon. Her mother had cancer, and Kim says that she is cool with it being cancer.”
I sat up fast. “Cool with it? What does that mean? How is someone cool with cancer?”
“I don’t know. Maybe she just meant that she is trying to work through it.”
“Whatever. Nobody is cool with cancer.”
Hmmph. Cool my ass. You are cool with grape Kool-Aid instead of cherry. You are cool with going to the grocery store tomorrow instead of today. You are not cool with cancer.
I called Chris a few more times, but I still kept missing her.
E-mail #3 is released. Chris has lost more than 20 pounds and she was admitted to the hospital because one of the tumors is squeezing an artery and making it difficult to breathe. She is going to a treatment center in Oklahoma for a second opinion and potential treatment.
Cool my ass.
Another sister in our book club was celebrating her birthday this past weekend. Her husband threw her a surprise party, and we hoped to see Chris there. She wasn’t feeling well enough to come out.
Kay and I were still speculating and worried. The e-mails had been vague, and we weren’t sure if Chris was receiving treatment. Kay was able to talk with one of Chris’ closest friends and get some more information. She sat down next to me as I was eating.
“Okay, I talked to Tonya, and I was able to find out about Chris. She has stage four colon cancer.” I dropped my fork.
“So, all of the e-mails that we’ve gotten about her, about pain and hospitalization, that has been the cancer. She hasn’t even started treatment yet. The doctors here say that one of the tumors is inoperable, and she is going to Oklahoma for the second opinion, and hopefully treatment.”
I kept frowning, and Kay went on. “Colon cancer is typically something people get in their 40s and 50s. Doctor’s don’t recommend that you get a colonoscopy until you are in your 40s. Chris will be 34 next week.”
We ate our meal in silence. We eventually found our way through some small talk and back into the party.
Cool with it? Bull.
I cried on the way home. Chris is married with two kids. I started thinking about some of our times together.
When we were trying to learn how to rollerblade five years ago, was the cancer there then? What about when we were in the bowling league? Or when she was carrying her daughter? At my daughter’s birthday party two Decembers ago, she told me that she was starting a new job and considering having another baby. How far along was the cancer then? How did she carry Colin through this? How long did it take to get from Stage 0 to Stage 4?
But it does no good to speculate. This is Chris’ fight, her dragon to slay. I’m standing on the sidelines, watching her battle this beast. I wish I that I could jump the dragon from behind, give her an edge so that she could beat its ass. But I can’t. All I can do is pray.
So that’s what I do. I pray for Chris’ strength. I pray that God touches those who treat her, so that they can help to make her well. I pray for her faithfulness. I pray for her husband and children, and I thank God for her presence in my life.
I love you, Chris, and I pray for your safe and healthy return home.