Last year my son had been asking me for a playdate with one of his classmates over and over. My answer every time was ” I need to meet his mom first.” In the spring last year I finally met Sandra on the playground each of us picking up our boys from school.
I remember the sun was out and she was wearing a beautiful scarf. I can’t remember how we started our conversation but it flowed so easily. Within minutes she had disclosed to me she had been diagnosed with cervical cancer not to long ago and was in the process of separating from her husband. She said she wasn’t sure why she was telling a total stranger this as she was a private person but she felt like she could. I then told her about my own similarities to her. How my own divorce was very fresh and that I too had dealt with cancer (albeit a different kind and a long time ago) We hugged, exchanged numbers. I told her to call me, that she could call me to talk or vent or get her mind off things.
A few days later my phone rang and I was pleasantly surprised to see it was Sandra. She said she had been in a funk, wasn’t dealing with her diagnoses well and was taking me up on doing something fun. To know that she felt like she could reach out to me meant a lot. It wasn’t long after, that her and her son were over for a playdate, dinner and a campfire. We sat around like normal parents and just talked while the kids ran around. As she was about to leave I felt a huge urge to give her something I hold dear to me, my trust rock. This is a rock that was beautifully painted for me by a friend when I was pregnant with my last child. It’s like something inside me was yelling that she needed it more than I did. We hugged and cried as I gave this women I barely knew something I cherish and I told her to trust herself.
I wish I could say this forged a tight immediate friendship. What happened though was life. I was busy, she was busy. School ended, summer started and she started treatment. For some reason something held me back from really reaching out more even though she crossed my mind a lot. Maybe it was my own fear. In her I saw my worst nightmare come true. Cancer at 14 is not the same as cancer as a mother with young kids. School started again and I was excited to see her, talk to her and hug her. The day after her last treatment is when I got the news of my own new cancer diagnosis. I knew I should tell her and I simply didn’t know how. They say news travels fast, in a small town news travels even faster. Soon on the same playground, at the same spot we met, picking up our kids from school she came up to me and hugged me, she had heard. We held each other and cried, I hated that we both understood each other so well.
As I went through surgeries and chemo, Sandras name would pop up on my text messages just when I needed it most. ” thinking of you”……”sending you pure love”. She even came over with dinner for my family one night. The fact that she could think of me and do for me so soon after her own cancer journey blew me away. I didn’t feel worthy of her goodness and selflessness.
This past spring I discovered both our boys were on the same baseball team. I knew I was going to do better and get to know this wonderful woman. Sitting on one of the baseball bleachers early in the season she told me that a couple months before the Drs let her know treatment hadn’t worked, her cancer had spread and there wasn’t anything they could do. While I heard her words and I knew they were true I don’t think I really believed them. She still looked so healthy, so full of life, so vibrant. We sat next to each other almost every Monday and Wednesday night this baseball season. She sang silly songs to my girls and they sat on her lap. I got to know more about her on those baseball nights, and I looked forward to them. She understood me in a way very few people did. We both knew the struggle of being moms with cancer. We could both say how done we were with everyone wanting us to be positive when sometimes all we wanted was to cry or scream. How sometimes all we wanted was to be “normal” She would sit in my car and we would just say things you can only say to someone else with cancer.
On a Saturday not to long ago I was standing in my kitchen when my partner came down holding my phone. ” Sandras messaged you like 5 times, you need to see what she needs.” I opened my phone and the wind was knocked out of me. Her cancer had spread again, this time extensively to her brain. I sobbed, caught my breath and sobbed some more. The next days were intense, processing, grieving, crying, screaming and planning her end of life. I was consumed with helping her and loving her. Not even 2 weeks later she was in the hospital, as I packed for my vacation I got a text from one of our mutual friends, ” you need to go visit her before you go.” I called her, I wanted honesty…..”am I going to say goodbye?”
I went up and spent 2 hours with Sandra. I rubbed her legs, gave her water and talked to other women who were visiting and loved her. She slept almost the whole time. When I had to go I asked for some time alone. I put down the bedrail and crawled in next to her. I stroked her hair and told her how beautiful she was, how loved she was and that we would all help look out for her kids. I sent all my love into her and then I walked out the door. 4 days later I got the call, she was gone. She had gone peacefully.
Her death has left my heart both heavier and lighter. This pure and beautiful women is finally free of the pain she had been in, she wasn’t alone, she left this world in the most loving way possible and I think that’s something that brings all of us comfort. We will all miss her though. We will all wish that she was the one watching her children grow up. We all wish we had selfishly gotten more time. We will all grieve for her forever.