I heard what I didn’t want to hear. Greta had cancer. Again. I didn’t know her through her first bout with uterine cancer, but I had heard the stories. I knew it was going to be difficult. It was the last thing I wanted to hear that day. When she answered me, I panicked and ran, afraid to hear any more. My instinct was to pull back from our budding friendship to protect myself. I couldn’t go through that kind of heartache and lose a friend I had just found. It was better to cut myself off now before things went any further.
For a few days, I ignored Greta. Didn’t call her, didn’t e-mail her, and only uttered the barest of words needed to communicate at work. I confided in Alex about Greta’s cancer. I was afraid of losing her. Alex didn’t seem to concerned about it. He told me that everything would be okay. But I wasn’t so sure about that. I thought why get involved with someone if they’re only going to leave me?
Ding-dong! My e-mail blinked in front of me at my work desk. Sighing, I saw that it was from Greta. Can we talk at lunch? Minutes passed by as I gazed at her question. It’s not that I didn’t want to be friends with her. I did. She was funny, sarcastic, loving, tender, gentle, but headstrong, determined, and opinionated. I had never met anyone quite like her. The problem was I didn’t want to go through the pain of losing her. My fear was that she was going to die from the cancer. I had no idea how bad it was or wasn’t, what the treatment was, and so forth. All I had was my late night Web MD searches on the Internet. By the way, not a good thing to do when you’re already paranoid and upset about a diagnosis. It gives you the bleakest picture possible. With trepidation, I hit the Enter button on the keyboard. OK.
Now what do I do? I had agreed to meet her for lunch, but my stomach was in knots. Again, I wanted to stick my head in the sand, and refuse to hear or see reality. Around noon, I wandered downstairs to her office, trudging along as though I were headed to my execution. Melodramatic? Probably. But you have someone you cared about and prayed for to come into your life and then be told they have cancer. All you hear are the bells tolling doom.
I sat at the little white wooden table in her office, our lunches heating up in the microwave. The air was redolent of spicy tomato sauce and melting cheese. Spaghetti leftovers. I stared at the floor, avoiding eye contact. She heaved a sigh and sat down heavily beside me.
“Kat…I know you’re upset. Talk to me. Let’s work it out together. What’s going on with you? Please talk to me. I know you’ve been avoiding me.” Greta gently touched my shoulder. I wondered if she could feel my trembles as I tried not to cry.
In a subdued, small voice, I replied, “I’m afraid of losing you. I’m afraid that you’re going to die. We just became friends and I don’t want to lose you!” A single tear slipped down my cheek. I was embarrassed by my lack of control of my emotions. I hastily swiped the tear away.
“Kat, can you look at me please?” I lifted my aqua eyes to meet her baby blue ones. Her hand was heavy on my shoulder, gently caressing, “I’m not going anywhere. I promise. I’m here with you forever. My cancer isn’t that bad. Yes, it’s cancer, but it’s minimal and easily treated. You don’t need to worry.”
“Are you sure, Greta?”
“Yes, I’m sure. The doctor is calling Stage 1 uterine cancer, but she said it’s more like a half stage. It’s not even a full stage one. We caught it very early.”
She brushed another tear away from my cheek.
“What do they do for treatment? Do you have to have chemotherapy?” I asked, feeling steadier by the moment with her answers. I snuffled and snorted into a tissue.
“No. The treatment is hormone therapy. All I have to do is take some pills every day.” Greta smiled and stood up to get our lukewarm lunches from the microwave.
“Does it hurt? What’s the cancer like? Will the treatment make you sick?” The better I felt, the more curious I became. My mother called me the “why” baby when I was little because I asked so many questions. It hadn’t changed much as an adult.
“Yes, it hurts. I get really bad cramps and back pain. I also bleed a lot and it’s very heavy. The hormones do have side effects, but not like chemo. It’ll make me really tired and have less energy, possibly cause hot flashes and headaches. I’ve been through this before. It’ll be okay, I promise.” Greta set the plates down on the table. She grinned, took hold of my hand, and squeezed reassuringly. “Don’t worry, Kat. I’m not going anywhere. You’re stuck with me now.”