A couple of weeks ago a good friend passed away. She had been fighting uterine cancer that metastasized first to her eye and then shins and finally her brain. It’s been almost a year since she was diagnosed.
I remember clearly when I first heard about the diagnosis. I was in a car with an Ultimate Frisbee friend going back home from a tournament. As we were approaching home, he dropped the bomb. He told me that our friend was diagnosed with cancer.
At the time, my mother had recently gone through a round of chemotherapy for her breast cancer and was told that the cancer was in remission. Living halfway across the world, my mother hid a lot of her pain and anguish that came with the discovery and treatment. I guess she wanted me to focus on my studies. She was very brave and even embraced the “rest” she was able to have with family and friends in Korea. She started swimming again, took voice lessons, and got to spend quality time with her mother. Over Skype, my mother made it sound like she was doing really well even though she was in excruciating pain. The chemo took her hair and strength but it couldn’t take away her spirit.
So I thought, that really sucks but my friend will become better also. She was one of the most optimistic, enthusiastic, resilient and wise woman I ever knew. And that’s an understatement. I met her through Ultimate Peace, an NGO that brings Jewish, Arabic and Palestinian kids together to bridge the sociopolitical wall.
One of my fondest memories of her is when a bunch of the volunteer coaches took a trip to the Dead Sea. In the car, we were taking turns playing DJ. It was her turn. She put on Arcade Fire and started to sing along at the top of her lungs. It was obvious she was having the time of her life and she wanted to share that moment with those around her. She wasn’t particularly a good singer but she sang with joy and encouraged, no inspired, us to sing along as well.
My Facebook wall exploded the day she passed away. All of the people who had been touched by her smile were posting words of condolences and pictures of her. I sat there, not knowing what to do. But that was definitely not how I wanted to find out.
It’s not like I haven’t faced death before. In fact, I participated in a code during my internal rotation. He was an elderly man from whom I had been taking blood every morning. He had been suffering for a long time from multiple chronic diseases. One morning he had a heart attack and we could not resuscitate him. The attending nonchalantly called the time of death, which made the air seem so heavy. I saw his wife and caretaker of three years walk in the room. I tried to comfort them but my words were lost before they left my mouth. I put my hand on the caretaker’s shoulder to comfort him and he nodded acknowledging my feeble attempts of compassion.
I often wonder, how would I have felt had I gotten to know the patient better? Maybe something similar to what I’m going through right now. At first, I was in shock and couldn’t grasp that my friend passed away. I took a long walk, trying to process her untimely passing. On Facebook, many friends mourned together from around the world by sharing memories and pictures. It hurt and it still hurts. I’m sure the pain will dull with time but it will linger.
Rest in peace.