Finally, the tears found their way to the surface, slowly but surely, I was crying. The warm thunderstorm had quietened but I didn't mind the rain. In a strange way, it was comforting.
Almost a year ago, I sat in the same Café, next to her, my dear friend, who impressed me with her dedicated role as a teacher, her child whom she loved most. She was encouraging me with my research on resilience in breast cancer. I remember telling her and our lovely friends, that it is early days but I am determined to develop our Centre for Building Resilience in Breast Cancer taking it forward. She promised to take part in the studies we running. She was keen to contribute to the research in any way she could. Today, I sat with my brother in that Café, to spend a few moments reflecting on those conversations.
The dinner was a pleasant one, the healthy type, us 'survivors' of breast cancer had gathered in that lovely Café in Oxford. We had all been treated at the same hospital; giving each other hope, strength, and courage, and sharing our fears, our vulnerabilities. Today, as I reflected on that day, I questioned what it meant to be resilient. The topic of my every day thought, the essence of my research. What does it mean to survive? Her vulnerability took the better of her. Today, my friend revealed to me that her breast cancer had metastasised to her spine and pelvis. I felt like I had been thrown off a cliff, yet I was standing. I wanted to turn back time, but is that resilience? I wanted to scream and cry but I had promised my six year old daughter to practice her dance moves. 'Mummy, let's start dancing', she said. But how could I? I wanted to run to my friend, take her cancer away and run with it. I could run fast and now I was determined to run against her metastasis. Perhaps the rain can wash it away, I thought, as I ran faster around University Parks. I wasn't sure where I was heading but Christ Church Meadows felt like a familiar place, perhaps I can bury her cancer here.
Metastatic breast cancer is breast cancer that has metastasised to other parts of the body. There is no cure for it. Its growth can be controlled for an uncertain length of time (from a few months to a few years), that is, if the medication works.
A few weeks ago, I'd met her in Starbucks with her lovely family. She mentioned an MRI and pain in her legs, her pelvis and she was in crutches. Did you cross my mind? Yes you did, but I put you out, no it could not be metastasis. My friend looked so lovely, so vibrant, so elegant and kind. It was too good to be true? She protected her child when I asked. She put her son first. Her motherhood, her passion for teaching inspiring me like she did before. The kindest, the heartiest, my friend. You tried not to show it.
Today, as I write this, I have come back from my run, but I have not been able to bury her metastasis. Perhaps I ran too fast? Perhaps I missed the chance? Perhaps the wind was too strong. Perhaps I should have run for longer so the rain could wash it off my body, my mind, and my clothes. I thought of her son, he loves her mummy so much. I sat down holding her cancer tight, no I could not run against it. I was running with it, and the rain took the better of me. The soil was moist and the cancer was firmly placed inside and the scars were covered. As I started running again, I saw her on every face, in every street, and on every name. Metastasis can beat you to it, it can run faster than you. Faster than anything you have ever imagined in your life. And it can do it quietly, while you follow your healthy, loving, dedicated life.
They say that the toughest iron is made of the hottest fire. Survival in primary or metastatic cancer needs melting, you know, the helpless kind of fear that we face. Toughness is flexibility and bending, rising in the face of metastasis like my friend and thousands of other amazing women with metastatic cancer do every day. You survive every moment to the end. You survive the thunderstorm. You are the survivors that don't need to suppress your fears, but you live with them, and take them running with you.