October 12th, 2011
My friend Krista died yesterday of Stage IV Breast Cancer metastasis. (Yesterday was also Mark’s and my first wedding anniversary.) Like me, Krista was 50 years old. We met during treatment for our shared diagnosis last year at the clinic in Reno. She inspired me. She was vibrant and beautiful and sexy, and funny. We sat there with IVs in our arms in side-by-side recliners, surrounded by the sick and dying people, who we were not. We loved them… but they had come for naturopathic treatment too late, and their days were numbered. We were different. We would survive. We compared notes and shared strategies and knew we would make it.
One day Krista, always the multi-tasker, had an on-site windshield repair service come and work on her car in the parking lot of the clinic. She told the receptionist to send the guy back to her for the keys when he arrived. When he sauntered in, cute as a button, she gave him her keys and a spectacular smile. He seemed confused, but happy about it. When he left, she turned to me and asked; “Do you think it’s weird to flirt with an cancer IV in your arm?” I assured her it wasn’t.
I had just started my first GiveForward fundraiser when I got there, and Krista was full of questions about that. She tracked the progress of donations to my site on her smartphone, and gave me blow-by-blow updates from the recliner. I was feeling ill from the treatment and she was cheering each time a donation showed up on the site. I had started the fundraiser as a last ditch effort to get treatment and felt embarrassed to be begging in public, but Krista saw it differently. She thought it was brilliant and brave and she wanted all the details. Shortly after we returned home, she started her own wildly successful fundraiser, which she credited all to my inspiration. She focused hers, in addition to funds for treatment and expenses, on donations of airline miles and vacation rentals so that she could spend precious time creating memories of family time for her two teenaged children.
Last year she went to Mexico, Europe, and Hawaii with her kids, all on donated miles and lodging. She also met the love of her life and traveled to Spain with him… but in the Spring of this year, she was having more and more pain and confided in me that something was happening, something really bad, inside her body. Still, on April 3rd in an email she wrote: “I am loving my life right now – and I see myself well and strong and helping others.” When she returned from Spain, she was rushed to hospital with tumors blocking her intestines. She called and told me that things were serious, with cancer in every major organ, and time was running short.
I flew down to CA in July to see her for the last time. She was preparing. She had asked her ex-husband to move into her condo so that her kids would not have to move and change schools when she died. She was in the process of giving away all her belongings. She had just moved in to her new love’s cottage, but was wistful about the circumstances… as she said, they weren’t really starting something, but both knew that she was coming there to die.
I wish I could remember clearly all the brilliant things she told me about myself that weekend, but I can’t right now. I’m too stunned and saddened that such a force of nature could ever be quelled. Of course, she’s not been extinguished, just transformed… but I can’t reach her on the phone anymore, so we are going to have to find another way to communicate. She’s been my cheerleader and sister-in-arms for the past year and half, the only one who really “got” what I was going through, because she was going through the same, and I was humbled by her practical and present approach to her own death.
But tonight I’m just trying to grasp a picture of Krista in my mind, feel the warmth of her smile, her energy… I watched a video that someone made at the clinic (video here: http://youtu.be/UiuAmla3EE8); Krista is the blonde in the grey sweatpants and black hoodie. The speaker is Marilyn, in a star-spangled sweater, who Krista started calling “Mom” that week. Stew is in the corner, doing poorly, and to her he was “Dad” – spouting wisdom and Shakespeare and telling us all that love is all you need. Krista told me that she and I were the “kids”, sisters. It’s so painful to watch now, all that hope and enthusiasm… not that it is ever wasted, but just poignant. Our “Mom” and “Dad” from the clinic were dead within the month, and most of the patients in the video within the year. And now Krista. So that leaves me. The only one left alive from our hopeful little group. And I am wondering about how cancer chooses whom to take, and when.
For the past five months my own cancer markers have been steadily rising, up to 40 points over normal. And I’ve been in constant pain from the small cancer lesions that are in my spine now. Krista knew this, and warned me to live my life as strongly as I could, because this, she said, could be the beginning of the downward spiral. She scared the shit out of me, and woke me up to my life every time we talked. Today I awoke to the news of her death. Today too, I got the results of my latest blood work – my markers are suddenly DOWN by 20 points. The cancer is backing off for now, perhaps, giving me time to live a little more. Thanks to Krista, I have a good idea of how to do that. SO, I’m launching a new GiveForward fundraiser today to get the treatments I need to keep going (link above right).
I just found a parting gift from Krista. Last Fall, she sent me a recording of her talking to one of our favorite doctors in Reno, Dr. Maged. I hadn’t listened to them before, but now just hearing her voice is precious. If you would like to listen, here it is: https://public.me.com/lightpoler (It was recorded in two parts, so there is some overlap.)
Goodbye my friend. We shall meet in the sweet by and by.