On her 60th birthday in December, my friend Gail announced that "I haven't had many challenges in my life."
I thought, "Good Lord, Gail, don't say that." My head was in my hands. That's thumping the bull on the nose. That's tempting the fates.
It's not that she's hasn't had challenges. She's had some dandies. But she's so capable that they barely registered. This one will register.
In the last ten days or so, she's been through that whirlwind round of tests and more tests. And then a few more. Things from 30 years ago, now have to be attended to, which is requiring a bucket of prescriptions, enough to protect her over the next two months. She did that while she was working in a highly demanding job. Her diagnosis: Cancer. Something went wrong in her colon, probably the result of HPV—human pappiloma virus. My spelling is questionable here. The diagnosis is not. It's rare enough.
Gail is as healthy a soul as you can find. She is not sick. She has some out-of-whack cells that are smallish and well contained, but her weight is righteous, her vessels are clean, her bones are strong, her head is on straight—she's not using the words "battle" or "war" on her disease. She is using "healing, wholeness, peace, attention, learning, compliance."
She is being cared for some people whom I idolize: Dr. Zuckerman, the younger. Dr. Kuhn, Denise and Pat in the chemo unit, for starters, the people in the radiation unit, one of the pharmacists, Robbie, Sherry's handsome son. All of her friends. All of them, and there are many.
Gail thinks she is a pragmatic, practical introvert. All of that is true. She is also a visionary, an athlete, and an artist. She's made every home she's ever lived in . . . into a palace. No matter how big, no matter how old. Everything she works on turns out to be a thing of wonder, comfort, and beauty.
Gail is part of my Blackberry Tea Club, my girls, Marty, Sherry, and me. I wrote a book about us, soon to finish another. We did a head run, straight into dismay. Gail gave us 10 minutes of shock and awe, then told us to get over it—that those faces were not helpful to her. She wanted her friends, her women to be "all hands on deck," directed and helpful, on point, strong. As she is.
Sherry, who has had two bouts with cancer, asked for some time to grieve. Marty, who is an ardent practitioner of new healing modalities, wanted to offer everything. I was quiet, stoic, but cancer has touched my family too. It's amazing how fast a new diagnosis flips you back into that awful mind state that you have to fight your way out of. I had my own moment this morning, woke up nauseated and high on the blind side of panic. I had to talk my own way down from that one. I'll have some more of those moments as we move through this, but I promise that I'll do it on my own time—and offer the most practical of helps along the way. Soup and warm hats, at the moment. E-mails that are encouraging, every day.
She also asked me to tell her stories on my blog. Yes, yes, of course, yes. She wants to remember the things she might not otherwise. I think she wants to send people to the blog in order to keep everybody up to speed. I'll do one blog a week, and then maybe two or three more, depending on how things go or if something new comes along. So, with her blessing, here we go.
I also promised her prayer that moves the universe, that would be our task as well. The Marty, Sherry, Barb part of us. We've already proven our worth as prayers, in some really, really tough situations.
Dr. Todd, for whom Gail is a combination of beloved ex-partner, a powerful sister, a best, no-matter- what, friend, is her primary caregiver. A thing that seems ever so necessary for her and the rest of us.
Both of Gail's doctors used the word cure, with her, promised that the whole ordeal would be over in about six weeks. She's doing both chemo and radiation. I believe them, they are the smartest, kindest folks on the planet, coming from Harvard and Yale, Johns Hopkins. The best of the best.
They do not use that word thoughtlessly.
We're counting on that.