Written by guest blogger, Colleen Kaloostian:
My name is Colleen. I met Mary during our freshman year at Marist College, and we’ve been best friends ever since. We’ve traveled the world together, we’ve kept some liquor stores in business for years, and we’ve spent enormous amounts of time on each others couches, knee deep in lifetime movie marathons, among other things.
I’m honored that she asked me to write something as a guest blogger. This is my first (and possibly only) venture into sharing my feelings with the Internet. I generally like to guard my feelings like a stubborn Irish mule, but if you’ve been following this blog, you already know that cancer doesn’t care about your insecurities. So here we go…
I’ve been gearing up to write this for awhile and have been doing some really great thinking in the shower (it’s when I get my best ideas, Mary says the same). I thought about her previous posts, and figured, the only thing she can’t write about is what it feels like to have someone who you love go through all of this… to watch your beloved friend fight for her life… to beg the universe, curse the universe and wish it was you instead.
I’ve learned a lot, more than one ever wants to know about cancer, treatments, options, side effects, insurance and healthcare in a short amount of time. Reading this blog, you all have too. Cancer is the ultimate professor of life. Here’s what else it’s taught me so far.
So someone you love has cancer…
I didn’t know Mary when she was sick as a teenager, but I’ve come to learn all too well that a traumatic experience like teenage cancer, any cancer, sticks with you forever. I’m sure at the beginning of college when we first met, there was a certain freedom in not knowing anyone. Maybe this was the first time Mary could get away from being sick and start over… talk about something else.
However, it is inevitable that when you become good friends with someone, and then confidants, and then ultimately develop a covalent bond with that person, your cancer history creeps its way into your conversations. Not because it’s something you want to talk about, but because it’s something that you can’t ignore.
When Mary was ten years cancer free, we celebrated. It was a victory. Yes, there were some hiccups afterward, the removal of a thyroid, a revolving door of prescriptions to be filled, and always a few new specialists to see. But nonetheless, it was a HUGE victory, and it deserved a party. It may have been a party of two 20-somethings in their pajamas at the Irish Cottage in Forest Hills at 3 a.m., but it rocked.
After that 10-year milestone, I did the unthinkable… I started to believe that the weight, the burden, that Mary had been carrying, had finally been let go. It was for awhile. There were less doctor visits, less worry, and a sense that this was all a thing of the past.
I was about to learn that cancer is never a past tense.
Not so long ago, after an epic Memorial Day Weekend with Mary where I live, at the beautiful Jersey Shore, she called with some news. I knew she’d gone for a biopsy, because her doctor had seen something they wanted to take a “closer look at.”
These kinds of scares and phone calls from doctors have gone on for the duration of our friendship… but none of us were prepared to see Mary, our strong, funny, beautiful friend, go through something like this after all of THAT…
Rollercoaster of Love…
The beginning of June was tough. Mary was still processing her diagnosis, and her break-up, herself, and she wasn’t ready to tell her story a million times and answer a million of the same questions. This part of the month was brought you by Rose and Xanax… I accidentally once bought White Zinfandel in a hurry, and drank it anyway. WHITE ZINFINDEL people. I reeked of desperation and woke up exceptionally hung over and sad.
I learned quickly that cancer doesn’t really care if you’re ready or not… it’s like an uninvited house guest who just won’t leave. So I started my research…
I wanted to know everything I could about her breast cancer, originally diagnosed DCIS. I wanted to be informed so she didn’t have to explain everything to me. It helped, but the Internet is a fickle friend… down the rabbit hole of information I went, and at first the more I read, the more helpless I felt.
Then we got on the phone… I kicked my husband out of the room (I think he was happy to leave, there was a crazy look in my eye) and we came up with a plan. The four-hour conversation went something like this:
“You are going to BEAT this… THIS IS NOTHING. And after your surgery, everything will be as it was… it HAS to be. And I will BE THERE AND HELP YOU anyway I can.”
It was some Tony Robbins shit.
But I hadn’t actually willed the cancer away. How was this actually happening? WHY was this happening? The cloak of sadness grew thicker. My Xena warrior princess flow chart of “Mary Roundhouses Cancer” was no longer relevant.
The burden, the what ifs, crept back into my bedroom while I was sleeping. A pain I’d never felt sunk into my chest. Mary had limited options for treatment; none of them were a walk in the park. She’d have to face this head on, and in a very short period of time, these life changing decisions would come to fruition.
She’d accepted this reality, and began the process of telling her closest family and friends.
But cancer is draining on the mind, body and spirit. This is not the way Mary likes to operate. She’s usually like Jesus wearing giant eagle wings, singing lead vocals for Lynard Skynard with an angel band…And I’m in the front row hammered drunk.
So when my friend was broken, I had to find the ways to be there and put her back together.
CANCEL ALL MY APPOINTMENTS…
This is one of the great lessons cancer has taught me: The small stuff doesn’t matter. It really, REALLY doesn’t matter.
The general annoyances of life that tend to control us, restrict us, “force” us to quit and make us feel like we aren’t enough, DON’T MATTER.
After the June Gloom portion of this story, Mary made some tough choices, but started the wheels in motion. Her surgery would be in August. It was time to kick the door down. She took the vacation days she’d saved up, and came up with an amazing plan. If her summer was going to be cut short, it was going to count. Lord have mercy, did it count.
Cancer gave Mary her freedom to choose. Everything else in her life was being dictated; how/what surgery would be performed, when it was going to happen, how long her recovery would be, but she’d have her summer, served on a giant platter of who gives a fuck. And she took us all with her.
I know there are MANY out there who’ve gone outside their daily routine to make plans happen so that they could spend some time with Mary as she recovers. In July, her Marist girls — the GOLDEN girls — threw her a party to remember. In the last few years it’s proven easier to put a monkey into orbit than to get us all under one roof. Somehow, the regular challenges that would have kept it from happening weren’t an issue. This was more important.
Cancer forces you to prioritize the important stuff.
When the going gets tough, you have to laugh…
After Mary’s surgery, I invited myself to stay a few days at Peg and Murray’s Chateau de Lewis on Long Island. The last time I was there was for her college graduation party… and her dad MUR cannon-balled off the diving board, fully clothed, including his shoes, into the pool. It had been awhile, and I knew that cancer was not going to stop any Lewis shenanigans.
But post-surgery is difficult, mentally and physically, and I watched Mary go through it firsthand.
Small things you do every day were impossible. Crazy things you’d never think of, like pulling a sliding glass door open, need to be done for you. I was up with her all through the night, helping her get dressed, fluffing and stuffing pillows, pouring her water, all things she literally couldn’t do, and I was proud to help her.
Cancer takes your independence. But in between those moments of sheer frustration, there is laughter.
Laughter, when I’m washing her hair in the kitchen sink, and spraying water everywhere, doing my best impressions of people we used to work with at a hair salon.
We laughed REALLY hard when I had to take a pair of scissors to one of her expensive bandeau bras that she was rocking as a bathing suit top so we could tan by the pool (in her drains)… she was all swollen and couldn’t lift her arms… it was like Carrie Bradshaw getting cut out of the wedding dress, except we were hysterical laughing. We belly laughed all the way through “A League of Their Own,” quoting the movie from beginning to end (“Hey cowgirls, see the grass? Don’t eat it”). We watched it with all the commercials, because we weren’t in any rush for it to be over.
We do what we do best, and just be. And that gives us small glimmers of hope that things can and will be good again.
Earlier this month Mary packed up all her stuff and headed back home to her house in Beacon. It had been months since she’d been there, and now it’s missing a person… the house was way overdue for a RE-DO. I took the scenic drive up the NY State Thruway (cue Billy Joel) to spend the night. The best part of the trip was going to the garden center, and picking out the hanging mums, pumpkins and seasonal shit that Mary absolutely loves, and finding as many phallic shaped gourds we could get our hands on. Her front porch, that sat idle and empty for months, blossomed once again. The neighbors who hadn’t seen Mary for months knew she was back. Yes, the very trying, nerve-wracking, scary, challenging and adventurous summer of Mary has come to an end, but the Autumn of Mary has just begun. And it stinks of pumpkin flavored awesome.
I’m proud to say, on behalf of all of her biggest fans, Mary has certainly come a long way.
Freddie and Madonna Forever…
I regret to admit, I used to be terrified of getting older. Those who know me would agree I’ve done a pretty good job attempting to Peter Pan my way through life.
After the last few months, I no longer feel that way.
Bring on the wrinkles and laugh lines (Mary will slather us in Rodan + Fields anyway). Each smile, adventure, moment and journey, will leave it’s mark upon my body. I will wear them all proudly, like badges of honor. These are the things cancer cannot have. When we share life moments like these together, cancer loses.
I am so grateful every day that I have Mary in my life. Some day when we are old, dressed up as Freddie Mercury and Madonna for Halloween, living in an active community for alcoholics, workaholics, commitment-phobes, peeping toms, megalomaniacs, emotional fuckwits and perverts, I’ll look at all my wrinkles and laugh lines and wonder how many of them are because of her. I will thank her for letting me be part of her journey, and for impacting my own.
She’s taught me that the challenges we face and overcome today, become the foundation for what is yet to come in the future. Most of all, I’ve learned through Mary that cancer gives you unstoppable courage.
Mary, thank you for teaching us all what it truly means to be brave, while never losing your smile.