The phone call came in late morning last July while visiting my family and friends in Buffalo. One never expects such a call. We all know these things happen. We all know we can’t escape being touched by it. But we still never expect it.
My friend, Janice, had small cell lung cancer. I never met Janice in person. We “met” when we were both following Weight Watchers and posting on the diet plan’s website’s message boards. We sent cards a few times. We e-mailed. It’s amazing how close a person can feel even though she lives hundreds of miles away and never shared the same physical space. Janice was a wonderful friend. Our friendship spanned years. She told people I was like a sister to her.
She’d been having trouble losing weight, no matter what she did. Janice had hypothyroidism, so she just assumed that was the problem. She’d recently been having a little trouble breathing. Now she knew why.
“I’m not afraid to die,” she told me in that telephone conversation — only the second one we’d ever shared. Janice had a strong, admirable faith in God. She was sad at the idea of leaving behind her family and friends, but she was at peace with where her soul would go in the end. She would fight, but she knew the possible outcome and it was OK with her.
She explained that her doctor told her not to look anything up on the Internet because what she would find would be scary and discouraging. He said he intended to treat the cancer aggressively and do all he could to keep her in the world with the people she loved — and who loved her in return.
Janice kept everyone who cared “in the loop” about her treatment. Chemotherapy, radiation, hair loss, pain, stomach ulcers, exhaustion and nausea. The treatment for cancer, it always seems, is worse than the disease. Except it’s the only hope.
Janice faced it all with aplomb. She stayed strong. The only complaints I heard were that she missed her daily walks with her dog. She was simply too tired and lacked the energy to make it very far. From what I learned of Janice over the years, this was just who she was. She endured an alcoholic and abusive father in her childhood and an alcoholic and abusive first husband. She survived and escaped both and found a man she loved who treated her with the love and respect she deserved (thank you, Jim). She deserved better than what she got for a lot of her life, but she kept her sense of humor and selflessness. She was always available to listen to others complain, even during her worst times. She said it was a nice distraction.
About a month or so ago, Janice reported that the doctors did a scan and she was cancer-free. We all celebrated.
Then she had pain in her neck: disintegrated discs. She needed surgery. Weeks passed without Janice making an appearance on the message boards or sending e-mails.
On May 29, Janice’s husband announced on Facebook that the cancer was back. It was in her spinal fluid and brain. There was no treatment. She had weeks to months to live. She couldn’t even use her phone or computer anymore due to the illness’ effects on her body. She went into a Hospice. Her friends left messages on Facebook and sent cards that her family read to her. Her husband posted that she was enjoying them all.
I sent a card when I first heard. On Saturday, I went to the mall to try to find a card that would make her smile, but nothing seemed right and I decided it was better not to send one at all than to send something that wasn’t right. I found out at 10:15 Saturday night that Janice passed from this world at 7:30 Saturday, June 12, 2010.
I learned so much about courage and peace from a woman who endured pain and faced her own mortality with bravery and strength. Janice is missed by so many and will be for years to come. She was a wife, mother, grandmother and friend. My only regret is that I never got to meet her in person.
We love you, Janice.