The Seasons of Our Lives

The Seasons of Our Lives

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

The Seasons of Our Lives

Waiting behind glass panels at the airport for a delayed flight from Honolulu, I reflect on how the world has changed since another time I had waited for my best friend. Before 9/11 and the new airport security, I could wait directly at the gate, a blessing because her e-mail that morning said test results had confirmed that the small lump found in her annual mammogram was indeed cancer.

Mary Kelly and I had met seventeen years earlier at a three-week-long motivational seminar where we’d been assigned to each other as “Perfect Partners.” Our job was to keep each other on track and accountable in achieving our business goals. Her naturally ebullient nature and enthusiasm made our assignment of checking in by telephone with each other every day a joy. As our friendship and trust deepened, we realized we’d found the best friends we could each imagine.

In the years that followed, I comforted her when she went through a painful divorce and consoled her as she told me how she yearned for a storybook marriage just like mine. A few years later, she met just the right man, and as she made plans to move to Hawaii to be with him, my own husband lay dying of cancer. She buoyed my spirits then, reminding me of my many blessings and how much life I had ahead.

And now, again, it is my turn to comfort her. I can think of no way to be of real help. “Let me know if I can do anything to help you . . .” well-wishers say kindly, feeling helpless when there’s not much to be done.

Rows of people exited the plane that day, and she rushed into my arms. Her husband, Don, stood to the side, looking pale and perplexed, as men often are when there is a problem they can’t analyze and solve. During their visit, the four of us, including my second husband, Ted, who had lost his wife of twenty-two years to another, more virulent form of breast cancer, processed this new information together.

Ted spoke about his friend, Mo, who told him recently her breast-cancer treatment hadn’t been as bad as she expected, so we called her on the phone, and she and Mary talked a long time. I heard Mary laughing, saying, “Really? You’re kidding!” She later related that Mo told her she’d found chemotherapy to be a beauty treatment, saying that every cell is renewed in the process, and her skin has never looked better. How startled we were at this idea!

Mary found new resolve in our loving embrace. She told me how, because of the successful Tahitian pearl business she and Don had built together, she always finds inspiration in how the pearl oyster deals with an irritant, turning the experience into something exquisite and unique. She said she was determined to do that with the challenge ahead.

“Will you come to Hawaii and be my chemo buddy? I plan to choose someone I love to be with me for each of the sessions. Having company will give Don a break and will cheer me on.” Of course I said yes.

Her sister was her first chemo buddy, and Barb cooked what seemed like one hundred ready-to-eat meals and stored them in the freezer.

Before Christmas 2000, I arrived, prepared to sleep on a futon on the floor, with their little black cat for company. I learned Jet had his own preferences, liking to be petted as he ate. Mary was a wonder during the second treatment, stoic about any discomfort—reminiscing, confiding, loving my poring over her manuscript and making editing suggestions. I felt deeply in service, like I was making a real contribution, so her invitation to me was a gift.

Now, a year and a half later, there she is, waving as she rushes into the terminal. Skin glowing (the beauty treatment promise was true!), weight gained from the experience nearly gone, she has triumphed. And like the pearl oyster, she has produced something profoundly meaningful in dealing with breast cancer—her appreciation for life has been enriched, and she is more clearly in touch with what matters and who she is at her core.

Greeting her at the airport once more, I reflect that in the years ahead, no doubt a time will come when it will be her turn to comfort me again. Through the changing seasons of our lives, only one thing remains the same—our devotion to each other as Perfect Partners.

Diana von Welenetz Wentworth

“You’re such a good friend,
you can complain first!”

Reprinted with permission of Stephanie Piro ©2004.

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