I never knew a soldier so tiny yet so brave, courageous and strong. You used laughter as a shield and humor as your sword. No one will ever say you didn't give it the fight of your life. Because you did.
World Cancer Day.
Important to acknowledge? Yes.
A necessity to raise awareness? Yes.
An easy day? No.
It's no Fourth of July - there are no picnics, no fireworks, no parades or echoes of laughter.
It's the Fourth of February - and it hurts.
The Fourth of July is warm and sunny decorated in green grass and red roses...the Fourth of February is hopeless and cold, bitter and barren.
Cancer has put so many people through hell - not just the afflicted, but their loved ones, too. Their survivors carry the burden of the memories left behind.
I had just moved in with my fiancé. We were in the middle of wedding planning mania when my soon -to-be sister-n-law took a turn. The cancer had spread to her brain and she would opt to remove the tumor - an option she took when it was in her breasts, her ovaries, and countless other places. She was going to fight to the death.
She remained optimistic through every grim appointment I took her to, always using jokes to shield me from her fear or her pain. She took on the role of protector, guarding her loved ones from the harsh truths of this disease. I humored her, because it was the only way I could cope. We made constant jokes. It's all we had left.
I loved her chili. She made damn good chili. The night before she went in for the brain tumor operation, I got this email...it would be the last email I would ever receive from her.
Hey you...here is my chili recipe just in case they remove the tumor AND the part of my brain that holds the right ingredients for the chili. xoxo Marilyn
I laughed-but then I cried. I was scared for her. I had always wanted a sister and Marilyn and Mark's other brother's wife was the closest I had gotten. The wedding was just weeks away and I asked her and Dina to be bridesmaids. Soon, I would have two sisters. They squealed out a YESSSS as quickly as the question left my lips. But fear was looming along with the dark cloud of that surgery.
She was never the same after that surgery. She couldn't connect words anymore, and the confusion that was becoming a more permanent look on her face replaced the sly grin she often wore while being silly. She suffered a pretty bad infection that prompted part of her skull to need removed. She needed a helmet for daily activities...she bedazzled the shit out of that thing, letting us see glimpses of her personality resurface here and there. Her friends and family came out in droves to help pass her time during those days. She was loved deeply by so many.
Dina and I had the opportunity, to go down and be with her during her post-surgery days. We could see her when we looked in her eyes. She was still there, only behind a veil of illness and fatigue. Dina and I bonded in a way that only terror and grief can make happen - we would look at each other with uncertainty and sadness on the bad days, watching hope actually diminish over a period of weeks.
When we would help her shower, the scars were tattooed all over her body like she had walked through a land mine. Remnants and remainders of previous battles, some won, some lost - all just temporary outcomes in a bigger, more vicious battle.
She made it to my wedding and for that I am grateful. She died only a few weeks later on one perfectly sunny day in June. Her red hair and porcelain skin glistened from heaven all the way down to earth, being seen in flowers and trees, rays of sun and sparkling waters. On days when I start to lose focus on what is really important, I only need look around and I see a reminder from her in a bird flying by, a butterfly landing on a flower, fresh falling snow or the roar of a fire, and I remember how fragile we are and how precious life truly is.
I miss her. I miss our long talks - but I really miss her laugh.
I won't let her death be in vain. I don't sweat the small stuff if I can't help it - I revel in the simple things - I laugh at every opportunity, and I love as much as I can, as often as I can, and let as many as humanly possible feel that love.
I hope, on this fourth of February, you pause to remember those who fought this battle, and you honor them by living and loving as much as your heart can stand it.
PS - When my brother- n- law was mourning Marilyn's death, he met us out one night for dinner. He was sad, lonely, tired and worn down from the grief. We told stories, and he laughed - and he laughed harder - and louder and he released so much grief through that laughter. The waitress came over to our table and asked us if we could keep it down, that his laughter was annoying the other customers. That made us laugh harder and louder. We weren't drunk, we weren't offending anyone. We were sad and consumed with grief - and we just didn't want to be sad for a while - so we laughed instead. You just never know what someone is going through. That night was incredibly therapeutic for him and for all of us...so to the woman at the table behind us that was annoyed by the laughter from our table - sorry, not sorry.