Rachel and Sarah

Rachel, June 2011

Ronnie here, standing in while Sarah’s away

Early this morning I took Sarah to Manchester Airport for her plane to New Jersey, to join everybody else there and say goodbye to Rachel. Going there, at the same time and the same terminal, reminded me of a happier day last June, when Sarah set off to go and stay with Rachel and Anthony for a week. Later in the year the two friends both mentioned this magical week, when they published these two parallel posts about each other and their friendship, on the same day, last October.

My Friend Sarah, by Rachel Cheetham Moro

“This year I have spent a lot of time in Liverpool. Yes! The Liverpool of Beatles fame in Northern England. I was surprised to learn that Liverpool’s climate actually rarely sees snow because it’s temperate maritime and the city is a recipient of warm bands of Gulfstream air. So this is why I’ve seen daffodils growing in Liverpool’s parks in February. Spring comes early in Liverpool.

On the deck of the allotment

I’ve meandered down Penny Lane in March and have been a regular visitor to a wonderful public space known as an “allotment”. It’s a kind of cooperative where the good citizens of Liverpool may rent garden plots to raise fruit and vegetables or whatever their inner gardener desires.I’ve clomped around in garden beds and dug for spring onions of all colors, fresh bulbs of garlic, and delicious little new potatoes. I’ve picked tomatoes and cucumbers and wondered aloud what to do with them all. I’ve even picked a pomegranate. A tropical fruit grown in Liverpool? Must be that Gulfstream air.I’ve strolled down flower and tree lined rows of allotments. I’ve shaded myself under an apple tree and I’ve marveled at the bounty of the most beautiful pear tree I’ve ever seen. I’ve sat on the deck of the allotment shed, sharing a picnic and catching the last few rays of summer sunshine and I feel like I never want to leave.

Princes Avenue Synagogue, Liverpool

I’ve been on some delightful walks through the city of Liverpool, and have enjoyed visiting a 19th century synagogue and other historic landmarks. I’ve been for a ride on the the local bus, to a street market in Granby, a blighted area of town, which the residents hope will soon become an area of urban renewal. I could certainly see its charms the day I was there.

I have ambled through little villages, that are “just what one imagines an English village should look like.” Lushly green, cosy little cottages, crumbling graveyards and medieval churches. I’ve hiked through gorgeous meadows and woods, and I’ve stopped for picnics at some breathtaking vistas on the miles of the Dee estuary, a short drive from Liverpool.  I’ve even been camping in a forest and was treated to an impromptu ukulele concert and singalong around the campfire on a trip to Lincolnshire.  And last but not least, who could forget icecream in the seaside town of Parkgate. The town that no longer has a seaside, but my oh my the icecream was still delicious and worth the trek.

Readers, I’ll stop here.

I haven’t really been to Liverpool.  I haven’t really been anywhere this year, except in my minds eye. This year is littered with cancelled vacation plans due to medical issues. One crisis after another. I just don’t seem to be able to catch a break. And with each new medical crisis I lose a little bit more confidence in being too far from the safety of home and my medical team. And as my confidence erodes, and my physical self gets a little weaker, I find myself leaving the house less. My world is shrinking right before my eyes.

And this is why I am so grateful for my friends.  Today I’d like to spotlight my friendship with Being Sarah. We met virtually after reading, and becoming ardent fans, of each other’s blogs.  We struck up an email correspondence which has now morphed into regular Skype chats. A real friendship.

Ocean Grove, New Jersey

Sarah possesses a wonderful creative spirit and a zeal for life which is quite infectious. Something that has been in short supply around my house of late. But really one of the qualities that I love about her is that she has invited me to see life through her eyes. Sarah also happens to be a filmmaker, as well as an artist, author and blogger, so any opportunity she gets, she will send me short films of her adventures around Liverpool. I’ll watch the film and, of course, have a ton of questions for her, which we’ll cover in our marathon Skype chats. I like to talk about the details you see.  Sarah even came to visit me in June this year, and I had a wonderful time showing her my favorite spots in New Jersey and New York, and in 3D!

The thing that I seem to need most these days is brain stimulation.  My world is so much smaller now.  I spend so much of my time dealing with all things cancer, so I need to hear about the kinds of experiences that don’t involve doctors, hospitals, tests, treatment or otherwise.

I hear constantly that people don’t know what to say to me, which invariably translates into saying nothing at all. I hear that people worry about not wanting to bore me or somehow seem disrespectful for sharing the “mundane details” of their lives, which again, usually translates into saying nothing at all. But the truth is,  I can’t live my life the way I want to live it, including the “mundane details.” And who wants to talk about cancer, or listen to platitudes all of the time? I need to hear about other people’s lives.  Even the mundane details.  I crave them. What’s happening with your job? How’s the family? What did you have for dinner last night? Have you seen any good movies lately? What’s your favorite color? Details. Please, I need details.

Whilst not everybody is lucky enough to have a friend who is a  filmmaker,  this idea of sharing the “mundane details” of one’s life with a friend who is ill,  whether it be via a film (amateur or professional!), photographs, postcards,  email, snail mail, a real life conversation (shock!) or some other means,  is golden.  It goes such a long way in helping to reduce those feelings of isolation, and can expand a person’s shrinking world, if only for a couple of minutes. When I consider the friends that are currently in my life, their comfort in being able to share the details of their lives with me is a common thread and Sarah is tightly ensconced in that small circle. There is no insecurity on their part that I don’t want to hear about it.  They know that I do. But they’re also comfortable in letting me talk as well.

And so dear Sarah I say to you;

Thank you for the gift of your friendship at a time when I truly wondered if making new friends was even possible. Thank you for allowing me to talk when I need to. Thank you for giving me these wonderful glimpses into your life. Thank you for being there for me.
You enrich my life more than you know.

Thank you for just Being Sarah.

And for those wonderful films!”

Post card to Ronnie in Liverpool, from the other centre of the musical universe

My Friend Rach, by Sarah Horton

“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.

And this:

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.

Rachel and the hat, NYC

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, witty, 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.’

A day on the Jersey Shore, June 2011

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.”

Sarah continued to make the films they talk about above. There were twelve films in all. Two of them, with Rach’s agreement, went ‘public’ here and here. We made what has turned out to be a  final one last Friday, called ‘Miss you’, to cheer her up when she got out of hospital. Rachel never got to see it.

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26 thoughts on “Rachel and Sarah

  1. Oh, Ronnie. I didn’t want to bawl my eyes out first thing in the morning. I read both blog posts when the ladies originally published them, and thoroughly enjoyed them then. Now, with Rachel gone, they’re even more precious. A friendship forged from this terrible disease is a beautiful thing. Thank you for sharing. My heart hurts for you & Sarah, and everyone who knew Rachel. xo

  2. Ronnie, thanks for reposting these. I’m so grateful Rachel had this special friendship in her life. The joy on her face in the photos is evident of the love she had for Sarah and as for Sarah, I’m heartbroken all the more for her loss of such a great friend. Those friendships are truly rare.

    I plan on attending Rachel’s memorial service and look forward to giving a Sarah a big, fat hug in person, whether she likes it or not. xoxo

  3. What a friendship. And what an opportunity to meet! I love the fact that those two could connect. I feel I already know you and Sarah, but would still love to come to Liverpool to say hello and to see Plot 44. XOXO

  4. Oh, Ronnie…GULP!

    I’m probably going to sob when I get to hug Sarah in person this Saturday. Wish you could have come with her. But soon, one day soon, hopefully in Liverpool, you’ll get your own personal Amazonian hug.

    Cyberhugs for now. xoxoxo

    • I hope so too Kathi. Glad beyond words you, Gayle, Stacey and Sarah will be there on Saturday for Rachel. I’m currently thinking of how the rest of us, who can’t be there, could run a parallel cyber-celebration of her life and significance. Would seem entirely right to do it in the space where her influence, example and wisdom are, quite literally, changing the world. Ideas? xx

    • Going to talk to Jodi and work out how we do it later. But I want all of you in NJ to have the comfort of knowing that, at the same time as you are celebrating Rachel’s life, people all over the world are doing the same. Let’s change the world. It’s the least we can do for her.

    • Having trouble finding the right words myself Lori. So I’m doing what I’ve seen people doing before funerals, they get busy. ‘For’ the person who’s died, and obviously, to cover the emptiness. The words, I’m thinking, will come in reflection, after we have said goodbye tomorrow.

  5. Ronnie, I’m Rachel’s sister in law Jessalynn. I met Sarah this afternoon and it was an honor. I just had an idea but I don’t know how to execute. Wouldnt it be great if we could stream the memorial live over the Internet? I’m going to ask everyone tomorrow if they have any ideas.

    • That would be great Jessalynn, if you can work out how to do it. I’m planning how to run a parallel Twitter/Facebook event to your ‘real’ NJ memorial service – so people all over the world can be talking about Rachel and what she stood for at the same time as you are. So a live stream would be fantastic. Lovely to hear from you.

  6. Friendships with people who understand are so, so important. Ronnie, thank you very much for “standing in” for Sarah and writing this piece.

  7. Pingback: The Accidental Amazon » A Heart Full of Rachel

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