Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Katie's Cancer

There is no doubt that Katie was my best friend in high school, with all that such a title implies. We did the usual: parties, proms, concerts, hours on the phone. One of my most vivid memories of high school (other than feeding jello shots to my dog) was Katie driving at least six of us in her parents' big blue bomb of a car up to Saratoga to see Tom Petty (or one of at least ten other concerts). We each chipped in a buck for gas, rolled down the windows (with a crank), blasted the radio, and snuck sips out of our Mickey Wide-Mouths while on the lookout for the state troops that patroled 87 North. In those days, no one worried too much about drunk driving. In those days, it was more about giggling and impressing boys than getting drunk or speeding. In those days...well, it was all just no big deal.

Really, though, best friend meant we were at each other's houses all the time and compared mean parent stories and kept an eye on the other one's boyfriend to make sure he wasn't getting too friendly with someone else in the cafeteria. What I admired about Katie, other than the way her strawberry blonde hair did this natural Farrah-flip, was the way she liked everyone...she was buddies with the guys on the bowling team...actually, she was ON the bowling team: cute, smart, funny Katie whom all the guys liked. She didn't worry too much about who was cool. She just was looking for the fun people, the nice people.

When I got her email a couple weeks ago, we hadn't been in touch much beyond the birthday-Christmas card thing. She has four kids, she lives in Virginia now and doesn't come home for the holidays anymore because her parents moved away, I'm really busy with my family and job...but I always thought of her as being there, somewhere, as somebody that I would hopefully reconnect with when things got less crazy. Maybe in 2018, when the kids graduate from high school? Anyway, she was emailing me about my favorite teacher, who had recently passed away, and I did the "Hey, that's funny, I was just thinking about you" thing, because I was. Out of the blue, the day before, I thought, I wonder how Katie's doing?

Turns out Katie doing just fine -- except that she has breast cancer. Recently diagnosed, just started treatment. I had so many emotions when she told me, via email. My husband had to restrain me from calling her, because it was 10:30 at night when I read it. It's probably a good thing he did, because I was a mess. I won't get into all the worries that ran through my mind, because Katie is looking forward and feeling positive, and there's no reason to go there. However, part of it was the shock of Katie, here and now, at 41. To me, Katie is sixteen. She is free and light and sunny. It doesn't make sense that when I wasn't looking, she grew up and got...cancer. It probably sounds ridiculous and a little selfish, because obviously she's not a teenager any more. It's just that, on some level, I still wanted to think of us as "US."

The good news -- and there's lot of it -- is that Katie is still Katie: sunny, optimistic, laughing at every turn. Maybe that means that hopefully there's still some of that sixteen-year-old me left, and Katie and I are still "us." I hope so, because I'd like to think that I can still make her snort milk through her nose once in a while. I mean, that's gotta be good therapy.

I just re-read this, and it sounds like I'm thinking of Katie's cancer only in terms of me. I'm not, but that's not something I want to share here now. I realize how something like this can affect so many other people, in ways that Katie didn't predict.

You've got to check out Katie's Breast Cancer Blog. You'll see just how funny and smart and BRAVE she is. and if you know anyone going through chemo, this will give you a pretty good idea of what they're going through. Yeah, she's definitely the same girl I knew in the BCHS Class of '83 -- only better.