Metastatic breast cancer is not pink.
For my best friend and mother-in-law, it was white like hospital sheets, the washed and faded blue of examination gowns, the unforgiving beige of hospice walls.
For me, a caretaker, it was murky grey – there was so much to do for her, so little time, so many unknowns. Her incurable disease was a cloudy veil drawn over her life and mine.
She was an ebullient woman, full of laughter, wit, and truth. She lived life out loud: always the extrovert, never apologetic for her positivity. She was a hard-working single mother of four children, the youngest a daughter. She loved interior design, music, and Tweety Bird.
Her favorite color was yellow. She was yellow personified.
She had beaten breast cancer, or so we thought. After a terrifying diagnosis of aggressive Stage III, her survival was a testament to her resilience and strength. She endured the surgery, radiation, chemo…the sickness and pain that came with it all.
When she lost her hair, she plunked down a neon pink beanie over her head and kept right on moving.
Two years after her “all-clear”, on Christmas Day, she spiked a fever and felt nauseous. I took her to the ER, sat with her in the waiting room, watched bad TV. Triage, then the room, then some tests, more tests… I don’t know how long we were there. Everything faded, time slowed. Finally the news: the cancer had returned, metastasized, traveled to her brain. It was terminal.
I cannot imagine how that news affected her internally. Externally, she was the picture of courage and decisiveness. Only a day after the news, she gathered her children, her parents, and me around the hospital bed. She directed us with her plans and wishes; we all had a job to do. I became her legal guardian, overseeing the daily needs of her life, managing the bills, taking care of her apartment. Her parents found the hospice center, made sure she was comfortable, visited every day.
We considered it an honor to support and care for this incredible woman, who had and would give her all for her loved ones, to the very end.
She laid in hospice through those grey, cold, cloudy days of late winter. The day came when she stopped talking, stopped laughing. It broke my heart.
Less than three months after the diagnosis, she was gone in her sleep.
I miss our conversations, our inside jokes, our road trips. Winters are still tough; the grey days remind me of her struggle and the imminent outcome. Spring always arrives, though, and with it bright yellow daffodils. They remind me of her spirit, and give me hope for better treatments – maybe one day, a cure – for patients like her.