I thought marriage, motherhood, homeownership, and the high side of my thirties were enough to make me all grown-up.
But there was one vestige of youth I had not yet shed.
My dearest friend has breast cancer.
She is certainly not the first person in my life to have the Big C. Sadly, I have a strong family history; my grandmother, uncle, and three aunts have also battled the disease. The thing is, even though I was an adult during some of those instances, my role in the relationship was still that of a child. This is the first time cancer has touched a contemporary of mine.
It is the first time I have been called to help.
Which is an honor.
My other friend, whose life has been put on hold to care for her elderly parents who are suffering from dementia, often uses that word to describe her role as a caregiver.
Because even though nobody wants these moments, standing by a loved one allows you to bear witness to something incredibly beautiful. You would think that when life takes a dance with the possibility of death, your loved one would seem terribly fragile.
But that is not the case.
I am reminded of the wedding gift my sister once tried to take in her carry-on luggage. After the X-ray, the TSA agent opened her bag for a hand search. Although it was a crystal vase, something that looks delicate and ready to shatter, it was made of lead. What appeared transparent was actually one of the strongest metals on earth.
I see that in my friend.
That leaded crystal vase is on her journey back to health.
I am on another journey.
That final stage of adulthood where I have to get comfortable with vocabulary I never had to use. Biopsy. Cancer. Malignant. Chemo. Surgery. Remission. That my friend’s sweet name is lumped with that vocabulary, breaks my heart.
Through social media, I realize that a lot of my friends are facing similar situations:
Dad’s Alzheimer’s is bad, so I can’t make the reunion.
The tumor came back and Mom’s at St. Mary’s again.
Pray for my Dad. His aorta is blocked and he’s in surgery now.
Today would have been my sister’s birthday….
Each time I read updates like those, I marveled at the comfort my friends have with medical jargon. It’s simply a fact of life for them. My whole life I have listened to my mother speak cancer words with her siblings. I have never been sheltered from tragedy, but I also never took those words as my own. I kept them at bay, knowing that one day, they would invariably enter my life. No need to rush.
They are here now.
It is the last step in growing up, so I don’t hesitate to take it. I know I must follow the path before me. I become what is needed. I lock arms with other women as we gather around our friend. Each of us is ready to be useful, strong, funny, and present.
We are fully grown women, decked in silly pink ribbons, saying the words that need to be spoken:
I love you.