Of Hello and Goodbye
It was a Spring day in 2018 when I met Katrina. Pollen covered the streets of Chattanooga like a thin blanket, and birds whirled around overhead. It was the first and last time she and I would ever meet. Katrina had stage IV metastatic breast cancer, and her treatment was failing. She would soon be flying home to California to be with her family. Going home, essentially, to die. Little did I know as we sat at her favorite tea house that I, too, would be diagnosed as metastatic that very same time next year. By then it would be six months since Katrina had passed away.
Her energy was as ebullient as that spring day; bright, beautiful, all-encompassing. Katrina was divorced, and her young children lived with their father. By the time she was diagnosed, the breast cancer had already metastasized throughout her body. This is called de novo, which according to The Free Dictionary means, "from the beginning". Katrina still held out hope for her health turning around once in California but also realized she was slowly dying. These were her final days in Chattanooga, and she spent one of them with me. Her words from that afternoon echoed in my ears as I learned of my own diagnosis. When I found myself in a crying heap on the floor, it was Katrina that I wanted. While she was gone, her ebullient energy still remained. Her impact on my life was that powerful, and brought me enormous comfort.
Saying goodbye to the things I love
"I find myself slowly saying goodbye to the things I once loved", she explained as she showed me around her home. "I made this loom myself. I am making one final piece with it". Katrina played me a song she wrote, sang, and played on her ukulele and said, "I hope my kids listen to this when I am gone." She was going to miss her neighborhood and talked about her children a lot. "We walk to the zoo from here!", she said with happy eyes. I wondered what that day was like when they walked to the zoo together one last time.
The day slipped past us, and it was time for me to go. We hugged for a long time. What do you say to someone you will never see again? I grasped a resinated butterfly wing I purchased in the tea house. "Wherever I end up, I will be sure to hang my butterfly wings in the window and think of you." "You’d better!", she said. And, that was it. This was our one and only day together, one of hello and goodbye.
My own MBC diagnosis
It has been nearly a year since my own stage IV metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, and I am doing well. Responding to treatment, settling into my new life; I have come a long way from that crying heap on the floor. There were many dark days that led me to where I am, which were equally painful as well as necessary. I have grown a lot, learning when to fight, and when to accept. When to hold on, and when to let go.
Today the butterfly wing hangs in my window, as promised, in her memory. It reminds me that in order to say hello, sometimes we must first say goodbye. This does not have to be cruel, nor painful; it can be gentle and beautiful, as Katrina’s were. With every goodbye, I have said a hello. There have been wonderful hellos, to new people, places, experiences. I still have a lot of living left to do, carrying her with me, always, because no one ever really goes away. Katrina taught me something that not everyone is fortunate enough to know; that life is full of hello and goodbye. Maybe that is not such a bad thing after all.
How old were you when you were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer?