“You know, that’s the same kind of cancer Laura died from.”
My heart stopped momentarily. All during the dying of my friend Laura in 2000, I never thought much about what kind of cancer was consuming her lovely body. All that mattered to me at the time was that she was leaving me, and that the cancer that had settled in her was rare and aggressive and…cruel.
But yesterday, my world started swirling backward and forward when a mutual friend of Laura’s and mine revealed this to me during our biweekly walk: Laura had died of sarcoma, the very same cancer that took Emilie on Christmas Eve.
So often while processing Emilie’s life and death, I have thought of Laura. Both were mothers, both vibrant individuals who were not satisfied with pat answers. They were naturally inquisitive women who had a lot of questions and, sometimes, few answers for the toughest of them, but they asked anyway. They had beautiful spirits and were guided by their faith. They loved their families and fought hard to stay with us longer because they could not bear the thought of leaving their children motherless.
At the end of her life, Laura said death was exhilarating. Emilie never used those words, but in her final column for the Catholic Spirit, we see that same sense of awe over the letting-go.
I wrote about Laura not long after her death. That reflection is still moving around in cyberspace. If you have some time today, you can find it here.
During some online probing of my own just now, I pulled up these facts about sarcoma: “Soft tissue sarcomas are rare. About 9,500 new cases were diagnosed in the United States in 2006, which is less than 1 percent of all new cancer cases.”
In my life so far, I have experienced the deaths of two fellow mothers close to my age and dear to my heart. Both were ravaged by the same “rare” cancer. Sarcoma might only occur in 1 percent of all new cancer cases, but it has occurred in 100 percent of the cases of people special to me near my age who have died from cancer.
Suddenly, sarcoma doesn’t seem so rare after all.
And suddenly, I feel even more of an urging to contribute to the cause of finding a cure. I know some things “just happen,” but many more things happen for a reason. It is obvious to me that mere coincidence isn’t at play here. My crossings with Laura and Emilie have been intentional, and I’m going to keep searching for what I’m to do with these new thoughts and feelings over this sinister disease.
As Emilie pointed out in a blog entry from this past summer, sunflowers have become the symbol for sarcoma healing. She asked readers to think of her whenever they see sunflowers. Sunflowers also grace the cover of my children’s book, P is for Peace Garden, thanks to illustrator Joanna Yardley. My editor, Amy, will attest to how hard I worked to get those sunflowers in the book and on the cover. Perhaps there was more reason for my enthusiasm over sunflowers than I realized at the time. Maybe part of the answer lies here.
I still think of you, Laura, whenever I see an eagle (you know what I mean), and Emilie, I will never again gaze upon a field of sunflowers without calling you to mind. You will not be forgotten!