Remembering Carolyn

Carolyn, the Art of Breast Cancer

I’d be the first to admit that 2015 was a shitastic year. Every damned week, sometimes every damned day, there seemed to be a news headline or three which served to highlight how batshit crazy, fearful, and murderous we humans can be. And that was when we in the Northeastern U.S. weren’t over our ears in snow, collapsed roofs, and power failures. Sometimes, the only way I hung onto my equanimity was to avoid any and all media.

Then there were the personal losses. Several people I knew and loved died, most of them too young, many from breast cancer. But the one I will miss the most acutely died at the start of the penultimate week of 2015, five days before Christmas. She died of metastatic breast cancer. Her name is Carolyn Frayn.

Even though it was a wretched year, losing Carolyn makes it painful to let go of 2015. I do not want to have to endure a new year without her friendship. I do not want to accept that there will be no more phone calls or texts or Skype chats or ridiculously long and funny and cozy conversations on Facebook chat with her. No meandering emails, no more mutual rants about Pinktober, no more of her art, no more trenchant, poetic writing on her blog, the Art of Breast Cancer. No more Carolyn. How can this be? Not for the first time in my life, I hate that the earth turns, impersonally, thoughtlessly, on its axis.

Carolyn, 3 years before breast cancer

One of the things I love (I refuse to use the past tense) about Carolyn is knowing that I am not the only person who could write a blog post like this. Because of MBC and its treatment, she pretty much felt like shit for most of the time I knew her. ‘Knew,’ fucking past tense. I think this might be the first time I’ve actually spelled out the word ‘fuck’ on this blog. Fuck. Fuckity fucking past tense. She was tired, sick, hurting, afraid, and angry a good deal of the time. Yet, she was also kind-hearted, intelligent, creative, loving, and hilariously funny. She generously sought and nourished several friendships with like-minded souls she met in our cyber community. I was only one of them. There is comfort in knowing that many, many people out there besides me love her (NOT in the past tense) and will miss her forever.

One of them is her systir Julie Frayn, with whom I also became friends. As if it weren’t wonderful enough to know Carolyn, I also got to know Julie, a fellow writer and blogger, an award-winning novelist, and truly the best sibling on the face of the earth. Julie, who was by her side as often as possible during Carolyn’s last weeks on this earth. Julie, who also has a job, a home, and a mother with worsening Alzheimer’s. Julie, another smart, articulate, funny, beautiful, and good-hearted soul whose heart should never, ever have to endure such a soul-sucking loss. Goddammit.

Julie & Carolyn Frayn, flipping systirs

I have a misty memory of Carolyn and I stumbling upon each other’s blogs sometime in early 2013, not long after she published her first post. But we became friends because of a phrase. The phrase was ‘Fifty Shades of Pink.’ In the lead-up to Pinktober of that year, we had both written blog rants for which we wanted to use that title. I published mine, Fifty Shades of Pink — and Still No Cure, the day before she planned to publish hers. So, she emailed me to ask if I minded her using the same title. I told her that of course I didn’t mind, and was frankly surprised no one besides us had used the phrase for a post title before. So she published hers, Fifty Shades of Pink…the Rant, the next day. We both thought it would be great if all of our blog sisters flooded the blogosphere with posts of that title for Pinktober. That didn’t happen, but what did happen is that she and I became instant fast friends. We pretty much burned up Facebook chat and our email for three days straight. That soon led to phone calls, texts, Skype, any way we could communicate except a visit in person.

Yes, we talked a lot about breast cancer suckage, and Pinktober suckage, and stupid, unaware people who do not get that breast cancer is not a pink sorority party. We also talked about families, and shitty relationships, and aging parents, and our art photography, and cameras, and kicking Photoshop’s ass, and kicking WordPress’s ass, and writing code, and Doctor Who, and nerdity and geekitude, and a lot of other things. One day, we spent hours on Facebook exchanging YouTube links of our favorite bits from British comedy shows. When she was enduring chemo — again — I sent her a really soft hat and a pair of the best socks ever, made of thick, hand-knit cotton. Once, when I failed to find a link to stream a British mystery show I wanted to watch, she got one of her sons to help me figure out how to download torrents and watch it that way. Didn’t matter much what the subject matter was. Whatever we talked about, it provided another opportunity to cuss eloquently, get silly, and make each other laugh.

We shared friends in our cyber world. One in particular was Shelli Ray Gibbons, another friend with metastatic breast cancer, who wrote one of our favorite blogs, the Dirty Pink Underbelly. Another sister of snark, wit, and gloves-off candor, the three of us enjoyed a bond forged of those qualities, plus enormous affection and trust, until Shelli died of MBC on Valentines Day, 2014. Carolyn and I mourned her together and continued to cherish those brief months of our short-lived trio.

Our favorite of Shelli’s posts is a classic that I plan to repost every Pinktober. Called, Any One of Us Could Go at Any Time, Shelli hilariously and utterly shredded that bromide that stupid people toss at folks who live with a disease they know they will die from: “Well, listen, any one of us could get hit by a bus tomorrow.” She described how an old friend of hers, who’d been in a severe car accident, told her that she thought of Shelli as she was waiting to be extricated from the hunk of metal that was once her car. “She thought of me and how any of us could Go at any time. Go in this instance being a euphemism for dying, not a confession that she had just soiled her underpants.” After destroying the euphemism in the rest of her post, Shelli ended it by saying, “Please discuss this post today and for my next post, let’s talk more about death[…] And what your thoughts are [in those] last few moments before you go. Again, by go, I mean die, not take a tinkle.”

Once, during a Skype chat, Carolyn told me I might be crazy. I laughed. “You wouldn’t be the first to think so.” I said. “But why do you think I’m crazy?”

“Shelli and I used to talk about you,” she said. “She loved you to pieces. We loved that you wanted to be friends with us, but, well, you know…she died. And I’m going to die. And that sucks.”

“Yeah, that does suck.” I said. “Maybe I am crazy. But how could I not be friends with both of you? I mean, that’s not even possible.”

“Yeah, but I come with an expiration date. I’ll probably die before you do.”

“Yeah, maybe. But you do know, Carolyn, that I could get hit by a bus tomorrow. I mean, any one of us could go at any time. And by ‘go,’ I don’t mean tinkle.”

Uproarious laughter.

Carolyn & grandbabies, August, 2015

In one of her early posts, I Hope I Grow Moldy, Carolyn talked about her expiration date.

My expiration date is between July 2015 and July 2022. I think the three years actually puts the minimal around July 2014, but I’ll go with 2015. The year 2022 if I am very very lucky. Do I feel lucky? All my life I have been the lemon person, then the lemon patient. If there is a small percentage of could have or might have been I’ll fall into that percentage. Who gets spinal meningitis twice? I do.

After the stage IV bomb my sister gently told me that since we know this to be true, that I am the lemon, perhaps I will fall into that small percentage that lives those wonderful extra years with this impending death sentence, maybe I’ll die of something else. My family doctor reminded me that we all have an expiration date, I just happen to be able to reach out and touch it.

Both of those statements struck me, I decided to simply strive to do well in my window, to live happily, to live fully.

And you did, Carolyn. You surely did. And I’d have been crazy to have missed out on one nanosecond of our friendship.


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This entry was written by Kathi, posted on Saturday, January 02, 2016 at 05:01 pm, filed under Fighting the Pink Peril, Life & Mortality, Metastastatic Breast Cancer and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

20 Responses to “Remembering Carolyn”

  1. Well shit. You made me fucking cry. Again. I didn’t know you sent her those socks. She lived in them, they became her hospital slippers in the end. We knew for a while that she had an expiration date, but fuck me, it came so quickly in the end. Like a Maui sunset (Carolyn would appreciate that metaphor), takes the sun forever to kiss the horizon, then it sinks like stone and it’s over in a blink and a half.

    Fucking cancer. Stupid fucking cancer.

  2. Oh, Julie…I’m glad you told me about the socks. It makes me cry again, but also smile to know she still wore them. Stupid fucking cancer indeed. I keep thinking of a line from a Carly Simon song, “Don’t mind if I fall apart. There’s more room in a broken heart.” xoxo

  3. […] Kathi writes a tribute to friendship, sharing memories of the beautiful Carolyn Frayn (do also read Stacey‘s post on Carolyn’s passing). […]

  4. I love every word of this (is it ok to love it even though it’s crushingly unfair and wicked sad?). I especially love your creative use of the word “fuck;” fuckity is my favorite. There is no other word that so adequately describes the cancer scenario. I’m so very sorry about all of this. Every bit of it. xo

  5. Thank you, Nancy. It’s just bat excrement, as my friend Elaine would say. By the way, the word ‘fuckity’ comes from one of those British comedy shows that Carolyn and I laughed about. Said, often and with feeling, by Peter Capaldi, in his wonderful role on “The Thick of It.” Best insults ever. I watch old episodes when I’m feeling particularly frustrated. I highly recommend it when one is feeling the kind of helpless rage we all feel about breast cancer. xo

  6. Hi Kathi,
    Thank you so much for this post. The losses just keep coming… I am so glad you and Carolyn had grown so close. I considered her a friend, too, although I didn’t know her nearly as well as you did. Knowing you two were such great friends is very comforting for some reason. I love that you sent her those socks and I loved Julie’s comment about them. It’s so painful to lose dear ones… And now we carry on and move forward into 2016 without Carolyn and without so many others as well. But we move forward remembering those dear ones, who will forever remain treasures in our hearts. Thank you again, my friend. xo

  7. God, Nancy, but it’s been a tough year, hasn’t it? And there are the friends recently grappling with mets, too, or with worsening mets, about whom we bite our nails every day with worry, wondering when things are going to turn that last corner. We all seem to be dealing with never-ending grief. It really makes me appreciate even more how precious our connections are here in this cyber community. Hugs to you, too, because I know how fond Carolyn was of you and how she valued your support of all ours friends with mets. This hurts so many so much. xo

  8. Kathi, this is a beautiful tribute. I am still trying to process all the losses we’ve had the last few months. Although I didn’t know most of the women, their deaths still affected me. I started reading Carolyn’s blog early last year. I always loved her level of sensitivity and the way she expressed her emotions through art. I find myself still visiting her page to read/view her work.

    When you get to know others who have walked the cancer path, the way you knew Carolyn, it hits even harder. I have known a few who aren’t here anymore but I wouldn’t change getting to know them the way I did. Knowing them made me richer. I just wish I could have taken their pain away. I think this is part of the struggle we feel, not being able to change anything.

    They will all be missed and remembered with love and respect.

  9. Yes, Rebecca, some of the loveliest, smartest, funniest, most kick-ass women I’ve known are women who have died of breast cancer. It’s hurt like hell to lose each one. Some losses have knocked me down so hard, I wasn’t sure I’d get up gain. But I wouldn’t have avoided the grief by losing out on their friendship. Not ever. Grief is only a measure of the love and affection I got to share with each one. But yes, I think the feeling of helplessness is brutal. Thank you for your kindness and insight. It helps.

  10. Kathi, I’m so sorry you lost your friend. You paid a beautiful tribute to Carolyn. Losing friends to cancer is particularly hard, but I’m glad she left you with so many good memories. xo

  11. Thanks, Eileen. I can only wish there were more memories. xo

  12. Kathi,

    An amazing tribute and what sucks is that we have to write tributes for those who die prematurely of breast cancer. This post made me cry; I recall the friends I lost to this fucking disease. I feel a deep well of grief for all those who died from cancer. It’s mind-boggling. The deaths just keep adding up.

    I’m glad you got to know Carolyn well. Experiencing grief means we are able to open up our hearts and love others.

    I wish I could give you a hug. I guess a cyberhug will have to do.

  13. Thank you, Beth. Yes, it’s worth it to open our hearts, even when they hurt from grief. I wish I’d been able to give Carolyn a real-world hug. But we exchanged lots of cyberhugs, and I’m very grateful to get one from you. And send one back. xoxo, Kathi

  14. […] Remembering Carolyn […]

  15. […] « Remembering Carolyn […]

  16. […] Carolyn used to tell me that she wondered why I would want her as a friend. She once told me that she and Shelli opined that I might be crazy for wanting to be friends with people who were likely to die, horribly, before I did. That stopped me in my tracks for a moment. But then, of course, I reminded her that I could get hit by a bus tomorrow, and we both laughed. […]

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