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.
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.
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.”
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.