heartbreak

Today is a day to be heartbroken. Last night, an online friend died of breast cancer. She was twenty-six years old. Let that sink in. Twenty-six years old, twenty-six years old, twenty-six years old. Three years ago she was diagnosed with stage 2 ER+ breast cancer, and last night, she left this world. It seems like only yesterday that she learned of her cancer metastasis. In fact, it was only in November. It’s barely February. In four months, she went from being a twenty-somethign who’d had the worst luck with young breast cancer to dying from breast cancer. Four months. And she was twenty-six. And so sweet. She reached out to me after my diagnosis, she comforted me, she introduced me to the other young women.

Today is a day to be heartbroken. This morning, an old friend- one with whom I haven’t talked in decades but with whom I shared those very early, formative, childhood years announced on Facebook that she was in a health crisis. I reached out to her, as Caroline had reached out to me. She is in the grips of terror. Of unknowing. Of cancer-possibility. I hope with all my heart that her surgery went well and revealed no cancer. And though we haven’t spoken in years, if I was closer I’d show up with arms wide open for a hug and a cooler full of comfort food for her and her family.

In the context of our conversation, she said we were kinship friends. That it didn’t matter how long we went without speaking, that those years of chlorine-green hair and swim meets and hopping across hot black pavement, warmed by the California sun, to the swimming pool won’t ever fade. And she’s right, you know. It’s not that anyone who posts about health crisis elicits from me an emotional reach-out and whole facebook-chat. It’s that those people who’s lives are always and forever tied up with who I am- those people who have been forces in my life at critical moments, like those childhood summers, are indeed, kinship friends. She’s one of them. She’s part of that tribe. I’ve moved across the world and fallen in love with feminist theory and no longer really think of myself as part of that suburban world we grew up in. And yet, you just can’t shake those growing up relationships. And nor would I want to. They’re my tribe. Broken and far away and fallen out of touch, they’re still my tribe. And when one of them is hurting, it reverberates. It brings tears to my eyes because I know how f*cked cancer is and I’d rather sever a limb- or another breast! (cancer joke. sorry black humour)- to save her from knowing how f*cked it is, too. Sadly, I can’t trade a limp, cut-off boob for her health, but I can send all the positive love vibes and hope to all the goddesses there ever were that she is just fine and healthy, that this is a nightmare who’s next chapter involves waking up and discovering that the world is right again.

So today, I am heartbroken. I am heartbroken for Caroline, for the way cancer rips brilliant young women from the world. I am heartbroken that we will never know her continued brilliance. I am immensely proud to have called Caroline an online cancer buddy. But I am heartbroken. I know more than ever, that The Song (Breast Cancer Pink) and the video and my scholarly project on young women with breast cancer is imminent, urgent, and necessary. I must move forward, holding Caroline’s sweet concern over my diagnosis close to my heart.

I am heartbroken because the members of my childhood tribe are hurting. I am here, people. I love you. I am fighting for you. I will listen to you. I care about you. Besides, she was right: we are kinship friends. Forever friends, bonded by screaming swim team cheers and avoiding the many mothers trying to slather us with sunscreen. We yelled… “I-I-I like us…. nobody’s like us…. We are the kids from PhD!” And it’s true! We ARE the kids from PhD, in grown up bodies. And nobody’s like us. A tribe unto ourselves, and I like us. Now let’s just get all our people through these medical nightmares, and let’s do something about the horrible chemicals causing cancer in our young bodies.

Tell your kinship friends. They might be swim team buddies, neighbourhood friends, kids who lived down the street, your elementary cohort. You probably haven’t spoken to many of them in years, but there is still an intimacy. You probably know their families and can name their siblings. Tell your kinship friends you love them, tell them you’d fight for them, tell them they’re in your thoughts. And keep all your fingers and toes crossed my dolfins (yes, that’s spelled correctly) are all alright. “Hey you over there on the other side…. we’ve got something called dolfin pride!” Love to you all, and to your kinship friends and families. Love.

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