Sunday, October 9, 2011

National Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As many of you know October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In the past, October would pass and other than the pink ribbons I wouldn't really think about breast cancer. Unfortunately that is no longer the case. Four and a half months ago I lost a coworker and dear friend to the disease. You hear people describe others as the nicest person they have ever met and till this day I still think to myself, well you never met Beth. Because honestly I have never met a more kind, loving and humble person.

Beth was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer ten years ago. Normally when a person hears stage four they have no hope, but Beth refused to let the disease define who she was and she fought it until the day she died. For someone who battled cancer for ten years, she never complained. Even when she went to chemo and it kicked her ass she came to work the next day and it was just like any other day. She came in with a smile, asked about my night and answered the phone when it rang. We didn't talk about her cancer. She didn't want to be defined by it. I didn't blame her. I respected her.

Before I started she just beat the disease. Or as her doctor put it, she would never be cancer free but for the time being she was in remission. After seven years of working with her it returned. It no longer was in her breast but now it was in her ovaries, however, it stemmed from her original cancer and they still considered it breast cancer. We talked about it more than we had in the past. She had a doctor appointment almost every day and every morning if it wasn't bad news she would tell me about it. Whenever it was bad news, I knew. She was quiet in the morning. You could tell she was out of it and by mid afternoon she would apologize for not being very talkative and then explain to me the setback she was currently facing. As the days turned into months the setbacks seemed to be a constant.

When she started getting pain in her back, me notorious for throwing my back out, she asked me what I did for it and I told her to get a heating pad. She did. It didn't do much. She also started getting really bloated and having stomach issues. At her next doctor appointment she found out that the cancer had spread. It was now in her back and not only that she also had fluid building up in her stomach and it needed to get drained. She gained twelve pounds in two weeks. She went for the procedure that took place right in her doctor's office. They drained over ten pounds of fluid from her stomach. She said that was probably the worst procedure out of everything because she had to lie on a table while they drained the fluid but because her back hurt so bad it was almost unbearable. This is when I knew it was getting bad. The Beth I knew kept those things to herself. She didn't disclose the pain or let the fear show in her eyes. I asked her why she came to work. She should have been home resting, recuperating. I'll never forget what she said to me. "When I'm home I think. I don't want to think. The other day when I was home I looked into the mirror and started thinking about what I would say to Stephen (her son, who is my age) when I know my time is up." I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream for what the cancer was doing to her. Find a way to cure her. None of that would do. So instead I looked her straight into her eyes and said, "Beth don't be silly. You are going to be around long enough to meet your grandchildren." I didn't know I was telling her a lie. Beth always bounced back. When things got bad and we all started worrying, she would all of sudden come back looking better than ever with great news from her doctors. This last time that didn't happen.

I never got to say goodbye to Beth. Even when she was in the hospital we all thought she would be back. Not to mention that none of us wanted to show up at the hospital because she would be mortified if we showed up when she didn't have her wig on. We didn't want her to have to worry about that. We wanted her to focus on getting better. Her sister called my office manager and told her that if we wanted we could go see her. She was okay to have visitors. None of us took that as it's her time. Come and say goodbye. I never got closure. Four and a half months later and I still feel like Beth is on vacation. I went to her wake and even though it was closed casket it took me over an hour to be able to finally walk into the room. I had every intention of going up to her husband and son and telling them how much I loved her and how she was the most amazing person I had ever met. Just as Beth did when my grandfather passed away.

At my grandfather's wake she asked me if she could go up to my grandma of course I said absolutely. I watched as she walked over to my grandmother, hugged her, a woman she had never met before, and then began to talk. It was the first time I had seen my grandmother smile in days. I wanted to do the same thing for her family. But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I lost my voice. I lost my nerve. I went numb. They will never know how much I loved her.

Beth used to tell me that she didn't look at me as a coworker but as a family member. When you work with people, you see them almost every day sometimes you see them more than your own family. They see you at your best and at your worst. They become your family. Beth was my family.

I'm crying as I write this. It almost makes it real. Almost. I'm still going to pretend she's on vacation because more than anybody I have ever known she deserved a vacation. I'll never forget Beth. Ever. I watch the X-Factor, the show she couldn't wait for and would never get to see, and when someone amazing comes on I cry because I can still picture the way her face would light up when she talked about someone who blew her away on American Idol. As the months pass and little things like that build up the realization becomes harder to hide from. The tears are more frequent than they were when she first passed. I guess I'm starting to accept the fact that she is never coming back. It's a hard thing to accept. Especially when she was so full of life and still in her fifties.

If you read this to the end, thank you. It is impossible for me to truly convey how amazing Beth actually was but by writing this more people know her story. A story that ended way too soon. Breast cancer is our enemy and we need to stand on the front lines and fight just like Beth did for ten miraculous years.

For anybody that lost someone to breast cancer, my sincerest condolences. One day we will win this battle.

F U Cancer.


  1. Wow. What a well written post and great tribute to your friend. It made me cry :(

    One day we will beat it.

  2. Thanks for sharing. Great tribute to your friend.

  3. What a beautifully well written piece. Full of emotion, sincerity, honesty and love. Your coworker sounded like a wonderful person. It's always hard to lose someone you care so dearly about.

    My grandma, mom and aunt all have suffered from this disease, but I am blessed to say they are all survivors. Although she didn't die from breast cancer, I lost my cousin to brain cancer and I miss her every day. Like your friend Beth, she died too soon, not even 11 years old.

    Thank you for writing this. It has touched my heart, Like I'm sure it has touched many others.

  4. Thank you everyone for taking the time to read and comment. I always love to read your thoughts and learn more about you.

    Stacey: Thanks for sharing your story and I am so sorry about your cousin. So young. Too young. But like Kelley said we will beat it one day. Hopefully one day soon.