Late last night, as I fought to hold my stake of the six inches of mattress that wasn’t occupied by my sprawled-out labrador or my pinned-in husband, I found myself scrolling through Twitter.
It’s amazing how many folks are posting at odd hours of the morning. I hadn’t been on the site all day and it seemed that quite a day it had been in the Twittersphere. That’s when I came across my friend Beth Caldwell’s post:
“So, I have some bad news. Yesterday I found out that I have leptomeningeal metastasis. Median survival is 2-4 months. I have decided not to continue treatment and to instead enjoy the time I have left with my family. It has been my great privilege to be a co-founder of METUP.org, a movement of people with metastatic breast cancer fighting to keep each other alive. I ask all of you to keep fighting for more and better research for MBC. It’s too late to save me, but it’s not too late for others.”
Beth and I share a similar name, a breast cancer mets diagnosis, the same political bent, a sense of humor and a fiestiness that has kept us alive. In this war, Beth is a general. When doctors, pharmaceutical companies and the FDA said to her “you don’t fit our clinical trials criteria,” she responded by saying “What’s that? You’ll need to speak a little louder. I can’t hear you.”
When doors slammed in her face, she kept knocking. When no one answered, she found a window to climb in and announced, “I’m Beth. I need some help. I guess you didn’t hear me.”
When her tumor sequencing came back showing itself similar to a type of colon cancer, she fought insurance and drug companies to get a colon cancer drug that held promise but wasn’t approved for breast cancer – a huge, recurring problem in the fast-changing world of cancer research and treatment.
When that didn’t work, she fought the FDA and pharmaceutical companies to get into an immunotherapy clinical trial that barred people with cancer that’s spread to the brain, where hers had lodged itself.
She joked and posted photos while undergoing gamma knife treatment for the tumors in her head. She shared her pain and anguish that the drug Keytruda caused in the clinical trial. We all saw it as a sign it was working and cheered her on.
And now, this. A point we all come to, particularly with a disease that has a 90% fatality rate.
That unsettling fear that I’ve been writing about suddenly announced its purpose – it’s been serving as a mask for grief.
Grief for the people I’ve lost, like my sister who’s death anniversary is Sunday. Grief for the people like Beth, whom I’m losing. Grief for myself, for what might of been, for what will never be.
Somewhere, though, in the silence of the early morning hours, came a realization, the thing I couldn’t put my finger on in my last post. That this journey comes with its bumps and boulders and grief is always going to be among them. My challenge is to find a way to integrate that into my life without the despair that holds me back from living or accomplishing what I’m trying to do.
And in that moment, I formed a wish for my friend: Beth, may you have a magnificent death, surrounded by the love, honor, respect and admiration that we all feel for you. May you exhale your last breath with hope in your heart. Once your spirit is freed, please visit. Send me a sign to let me know you’re there. And know that I will be carrying on the fight with you in my heart, harnessing the hutzpah you’ve shown us and smiling fondly as I ask myself “What would Beth do?”
Suddenly, grief lost its hold on me.