She sat next to me in the waiting room. I did not know her. We had breast cancer in common. This is why we could talk easily to each other as if we had been friends for a long time. We had seen each other in the breast cancer "Gear Up" workshop. She was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer and was having a double mastectomy. I felt my Stage 1 was a blessing. Strange to think of cancer as a blessing, I thought.
I asked how she was doing. She looked directly without hesitation and said, "I worry about what will become of my children when I am gone." I was so taken with her honesty that I felt as if I was let into her secret world without the password. I was speechless. She knew that direct communication and honesty was the shield she would need as her time ran out. She could not waste a moment on trivial, meaningless thoughts. She had to focus on turning turmoil into comfort.
She described to me how her every day was consumed with cancer. Cancer doctors, cancer tests, cancer surgery, cancer reconstruction, cancer drugs, cancer side effects, cancer clinical trials, cancer therapies, as her family watched helplessly. She could hardly take it, them watching helplessly. We shared our tears in that little space where we were hidden behind the post in the waiting room.
I was deeply moved. I could not respond. I remember someone telling me once that you cannot talk about a death in the family unless you experienced it once yourself. All you could say is, "I'm so sorry". I looked at her and thought of her courage and determination to make it all right before she left. I also knew that when a mother is leaving she does not think about herself as much as she thinks of her children, who are left behind. I suddenly had a vision of my two sons clearly in my mind's eye. I had a flash of where she was in her mind's eye. I shared with her one of the most moving moments in my life.
She was a stranger. We became confidants. We had children and we had cancer. She knew where she was going. I could not say, "I'm so sorry". I had another chance and would not know the depths of her sorrow this day.
Maybe it's not about the happy ending, maybe it's about the story.