We worked together at the Salinas newspaper. When I say, “worked together,” she was on the computer side of things and I worked in advertising and management; plus, it was a huge building. In other words, she fixed what I broke. We didn’t know each other really, except in passing — or when my computer stopped working. Years on and none of us work at the Salinas paper anymore — sadly, few people do. Then I found out she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and that is quite a large club of us former paper girls who have been diagnosed with that particular gift! You might even say a “cluster,” if you were a legalese.
I am nine years on from my own personal adventure with cancer. I am one of the lucky ones, thus far without reoccurrence, and I try and emulate my sister Rosie in cheerleader attitude where and when I can. No one forgets the black days following diagnosis — the shock, horror, loss, fury; all circulating like a crazy grief that means you can’t eat, sleep or function at all. At least, that was my experience. It wasn’t even a short period through hell, as you might think. Even when you have cancer growing in your body, the wait can be weeks or months even. I remember thinking that it would be all over my body by the time I got my surgery. It was one of the darkest times of my life. But I do remember all the cheerleaders who showed up at my self-pity party — my sisters, my friends and family — plus people I did not expect to reach out to me, near strangers even; and I appreciated everyone, but especially those that were not really my close friends. However, they became so through my journey.
I felt so terrible for Bridge and sent her a Facebook message. We were at least “Friends on Facebook,” so I could communicate with her that way! I wanted to tell her that I did know what she was going through and to use me as a sounding board, if she needed one. She was recovering from a work injury at the time of diagnosis, so not in the best shape in any case; but her good attitude sang out loud and clear. When I started out on my cancer journey, I wanted to hear from people who had been through the ordeal and come out the other side and back to life. Those people I held on to tight and imagined that I could, perhaps, now be one of them for others.
She and I chatted back and forth on Messenger and she told me that she was on disability and having a heck of a time paying her bills. A “Go Fund Me” account sprang to my mind. These are super ways to quickly raise funds for a needy person — or, usually, in the case of the rescue, animals. I asked her if she’d like me to put one together, since I had done it before. I was so amazed by how many loving friends she had in her circle who wanted to help. Within a fairly short while, we had collected nearly $6,000, which meant that she could pay off some of her bills and, at least, alleviate her stress a little that way. I was happy for her. From our vague connection at the newspaper, we were now sisters in disease.
The night before her surgery I checked in and she was ready to get going. She had had to wait some considerable time before the actual operation, but she was chilled and cheerful no matter what. She was ready. She even posted a photo of herself before she went into the operating room. I recalled the cool calmness of my sister Rosie prior to all her surgeries and treatments and was happy they still made people like that!
Bridge’s surgery was a huge success with clear margins and no spread to the lymph — super sweet words for those of us in the breast cancer club. I went to see her and pick up some of her world-famous tamales (a fundraiser she did for herself) and was so happy to see her cheerful, optimistic and ready to move on with her life. We cannot define ourselves by cancer — we cannot give it that power. We must acknowledge our cancer journey — because to deny it would be ridiculous — but we do not have to live with the cancer once it has been cut out.
I told Bridge that my life after cancer was a much richer one — I do pretty much everything I want to do, I am a more empathetic person in most cases and l live an enhanced existence. I told her I lived to pass the happiness along — as others did for me — and I think I did it for her just a little.
We are no longer acquaintances — we are now friends. A little thing like cancer can do that for people. If you know anyone fresh to the club who needs a friend, please feel free to have them contact me. I am always glad to share my experiences with any who are interested and, being a “Graduate” of the Cancer Institute, I like to be a cheerleader where I can and help others through those tricky corridors of diagnosis and despair with some friendly, positive direction.
While you are sitting around your Thanksgiving table this year, think of those less fortunate than you and include the newly diagnosed and the suffering. They are never too far away and it’s amazing what a little humanity can do.
Contact Lucy Jensen at [email protected]