Today, the 13th October 2011, is Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness day. I started this week with a post about metastatic breast cancer – The ‘M’ word – which did get people talking about it.
And today I’ve written a piece about my friend Rach, in particular our very special friendship. She’s a fellow blogger, that’s how we met, but she’s become much more than that. I recently published a post by Rachel in which she talks about the reality of living with metastatic disease, The well trodden path. You’ll probably know her as Rachel from The Cancer Culture Chronicles, to me she is just Rach.
Rach’s writing has always touched me very deeply and I swing from laughter to tears as I read her lively and angry posts.
I mean who wouldn’t love writing like this:
I’ve been reading a lot of things lately that make me want to run into the street, take all my clothes off, scream like a banshee, and then poke my eyeballs out with hot needles.
I feel like someone has removed my brain, stomped on it and reinserted it into my head.
But humour aside, there’s a truth in her writing that shines out, a truth about the reality of metastatic breast cancer:
It all comes down to the fact, that I want something better for myself. There I said it. Selfish me. Wanting to live a long life as well. Wanting to live the dream of the victorious cancer survivor.
And yes, that’s Rach in the photo, right there in New York City. And she’s wearing my hat. I know some of you will recognise it as the hat I wore to go to Buckingham Palace. Because here’s the secret, me and Rach were together when I bought the hat. In fact, she chose it! Yes, I’ve been all the way to the USA to spend time with my snarky, witting blogging cyber friend. That’s 3,500 miles from Liverpool, which takes eight hours on an plane. And I hate flying.
But I love Rach.
This year’s been especially tough for Rach. Too much hospital, too much treatment, too many unexpected side effects and complications. But since we first talked in January 2011 to do the interview for her piece about The story of Being Sarah over on her Can-Do Women blog (and which I featured here again last week), we immediately got on. And Skypes with Rach have become an important part of my life. When I first met Rach, she was actually Anna Rachnel – that was the name she used in cyber space, but after one of her impromptu hospital events she decided to write a very moving piece and reveal her real name.
So I sit at my computer in our back room, the room we use as our studio, and she sits at hers at her small desk in the kitchen. And we talk. For hours at a time. Even if Rach and I didn’t share the subject of breast cancer, we’d be mates anyway, there’s too much other stuff we enjoy talking about. We talk about breast cancer, of course, and how much we hate it. But we talk about knitting, cooking, gardening. We both grow tomatoes and she tells me about her favourite dressing. This is the absolute best tomato salad dressing ever – made of olive oil, sherry vinegar, garlic and capers, which I am now addicted to. Rach was particularly interested in my allotment so I made her a series of films showing her round every few weeks as spring arrived in Liverpool and things started growing.
At the end of April 2011 Rach attended the National Breast Cancer Coalition conference in Washington DC, along with some other bloggers. I’d considered going, but given my hatred of long haul travel and flying, I decided not to. But I really wanted to meet Rach. I gave this some thought and on 23 May I wrote to her:
Hi Rach – been thinking here in Liverpool about how much I missed meeting you by not coming to Washington. I know you have some plans for the summer but was wondering if I could think about coming over to visit you? It’s just an idea at this stage… but let me know what you think. Love from Sarah
And immediately got this reply:
YES!!! Sarah I would love to see you !!!!! Please do!!!!
We talked about coming in June, rather than July or August when it gets very hot in New Jersey, or later in September. Living in the shadow of cancer, I’ve learnt to do things sooner rather than later, so within a couple of days we’d sorted out some dates, flights were booked, and on 18 June my beloved Ronnie took me to Manchester airport for Flight 101 to Newark. Eight nights with Rach. Going to stay with someone you’ve never met, in another country, in their house, with their family is quite a daunting prospect. I mean, maybe it wouldn’t work out? Maybe I’d be homesick? Maybe we wouldn’t get on as well as I’d hoped we would?
Rach meets me at the airport. I’m tired, grumpy, too hot, my flight was delayed by hours and I’ve been awake for too long. Rachel is tall, I knew she was, she’d told me, and she bends down to hug me. I know it will be fine. Sitting next to her in the car as we drive along the New Jersey turnpike and she says to me, ‘This is fantastic! Being Sarah in 3D sitting next to me. Red lippie and everything, you’re just how I imagined you’d be.’
And so for the next week and a bit we simply hang out. We just ‘be’. We go to the beach, we eat chocolate, we visit New York Botanic Garden (a real thrill for me), we eat pierogis in Greenwich village, we walk Newman, her dog, together, we go to Asbury Park (another thrill for me), see The Stone Pony (but unfortunately no Bruce Springsteen), we eat ice cream, we go shopping for delicious food, we have lunch out, we watch TV together, we go to the chemo clinic together (interesting for me, we don’t have tills in NHS clinics), we go for sushi, and we buy my hat for the palace in New York. I’ve only been to the US once, back in 1999 to a yoga retreat in Montana and I’ve always wanted to go to the East coast, so it’s all just fabulous.
And what we mostly do is talk and deepen our friendship. So now there’s a conversation that we’ve started that just picks up the instant we’re in touch – sometimes by email, more often by Skype. We’ve always got something to talk about.
If you follow Rach’s blog then you’ll know that things aren’t going very well for her right now. I hate breast cancer and I hate what it’s doing to her and her life right now. But just for now, I want to celebrate our friendship and the good times, and the happiness we have found together.
My friend Rach. Thanks so much for being in my life.
There is a parallel post to this, ‘My Friend Sarah’ over on Rachel’s blog. Please go and have look, and when you do, send Rach a message.