Thursday, February 28, 2013

My Chemo Buddy

If you've followed this blog during my treatment, you may recall references to someone to whom I referred as my "Chemo Buddy." I shared with you that she was a couple of years younger, we'd known each other for some time, but we were diagnosed around the same time with breast cancer. We started the same chemotherapy regiment on the same day. We lost our hair the same day and shaved our heads the same day. We finished chemo the same day. We celebrated our chemo "graduation" together at Mary's Place by the Sea.

But we weren't identical in our cancer stories. Her cancer was triple negative - far more resistant than my cancers. I had 2 forms of breast cancer, one highly aggressive. I had the BRCA 2 gene mutation which commanded a double mastectomy. She opted for a lumpectomy and radiation with chemo. My cancer was estrogen responsive, so I had to go on hormonal treatment, she did not.

I revealed that while I was very vocal about my cancer journey, she, in my opinion far more bravely, remained relatively silent. While I worked from home, she hid her disease and went to work with little time off to the extent most co-workers has no idea of her battle.

On a personal level, she was never married and had no children. I had been divorced with 2 children. She looked forward to building a family. I looked forward to when my kids went to college so I could romp and play.

Our joint cancer journey, however, tool a drastic turn this fall. She was ripped from the No Evidence of Disease path when she discovered a lump in the same breast which has been radiated - a feat with shocking odds against recurrence. That was bad enough. She and I talked about her getting a double mastectomy as I had and that was what she was considering.

But, then, she was drawn further off-path when they found that the cancer had spread. Each exam revealed another site. Liver. Back. More.

Her doctors no longer spoke of cures, nor treatments. They stopped speaking in terms of years or months.

She was less connected. We went from phone calls to text messages to Facebook messages to the occasional like to a post. I was lucky if I got a one or two word response.

Hospice wasn't an option. She went home where her mother and aunt cared for her. Her sister kept in touch from out of state, and the friend that introduced us and I got updates from her sister, but we couldn't visit or see her. Communication died down.

Then, the phone rang on February 10 as I was wrangling my daughter and her friend who was over for a slumber party. She was gone.

Mary Caprio died at home on the Jersey Shore. This beautiful, vibrant, young woman was gone. My friend, Nadine, lost her baby sister. Lisa lost her friend who helped her recover from the death of her fiancé, one of my dear friends. And I lost my Chemo Buddy.

I'm relieved, now, to be able to name her. I hated to speak of Mary with a label because she was so much more to me. She was my friend. She was my sister with whom we could connect and speak frankly about our cancer and chemo and side effects in a way we could not speak to anyone else.

Her funeral was over a week ago. I'm here in Chicago at the LIVESTRONG Assembly in a room of survivors and supporters in an exercise where we were handed sealed envelopes with a fake diagnosis to role play. My throat choked up because my diagnosis was normal. Mary was recovering better than I was. Even in this fake diagnosis, I was devastated that I am still alive and Mary is gone.

As much as Mary's death hurt me, perhaps the heartbreak that her time ran out so early and mine is still going, but I'm doing it alone without her scares me. The guilt that I, who has been taking longer to recover while she looked better than ever, was embracing life, who hadn't yet experienced the joys of motherhood and marriage, survives is overwhelming. More than anything, the fear that I'm next is too much to bear.

But this is about Mary. A beautiful woman. A devout woman. A loving daughter. A devoted friend. My Chemo Buddy.