We have many silent killers in our midst: High blood pressure, ovarian cancer, heart disease….illnesses that hide out doing their work until it’s much to late to do proper battle with them.
My friend and neighbor, Alison Sinclair, was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. (I’ve capitalized this disease because I’m giving this evil beast the respect it deserves…it’s a nasty bastard.)
I met Alison through a mutual friend who had known her husband professionally. Alison happened to live on my street, so it was only natural that eventually we would become friends.
We began the friendship by taking our dogs for walks together. Her Tommy is half Shih Tzu and half Maltese, a wonderful combination of breeds! My Shih Tzu, Georgie, a.k.a. ‘The Princess,’ is a diva extraordinaire. Georgie gets pushed in a pink jogger stroller that features a pillow, (a gift from Alison) that reads, ‘The Little Princess Sleeps Here,’ along with a crown. Oh, and it’s pink, of course.
Tommy is the easiest dog I’ve ever cared for. He will eat anything (Georgie is allergic to nearly EVERYTHING!). He sleeps when you are working, plays when it’s playtime and LIVES to go for a walk. When Alison went out of town, I was asked to ‘babysit’ him. During the day, he would sit at my feet while I typed. I occasionally forgot he was here…since he was so quiet. At night, his presence was more stated, as he crowded our bed. Georgie was used to the shotgun pillow, and when Tommy commandeered it, someone (guess who!) went into a major pout mode!
Many morning walks lead to a cup of coffee (for me) and cocoa (for Alison), and the evening walks would often end up with a glass of wine. Sitting at either of our kitchen counters, we shared our busy days. Alison became a real estate agent a few years ago and was really awesome. Her light blonde hair and blue, (bordering on violet) eyes, along with her Australian accent, made her a sensation with her clients. She would dress impeccably and drive clients around in her Mercedes and absolutely WOW them. She sold so many homes in a market that had crashed, you might have thought that she was giving them away! Her success was dynamic and she was unstoppable…until her diagnosis.
The doctors gave her about six months to live. That’s a terrible option! What are you supposed to do with SIX months? Sure, we all joke that under those circumstances, we would see the world, run up all our credit cards, buy whatever our hearts desired…but if you’re in pain, which she was, none of those seemed like a very good option. She took off for a hospital in New York. The flight almost killed her.
She didn’t know she had major blood clots in her legs and in her lungs. The altitude made them worse. She was rushed to the hospital in New York, her legs in pain, gasping for air. Sloan-Kettering did what they could and sent her home to Las Vegas. I guess you can take the same pills here as anywhere.
I sat with Alison on her back patio a few days before she began her chemotherapy. We even had a short glass of wine. Hell, we could have had cigarettes, too, if we’d known what was in store.
The next three months she was in seclusion. She had a friend from Australia come to stay with her. Her friend believed she was doing what was in Alison’s best interest by allowing her to haunt the halls of her home (as the friend put it), frightened and isolated. I am so angry with her friend for not allowing Alison’s many, loving friends to visit her. I know that we would have been able to assuage her fears of dying and brighten the days she had left.
Alison had discovered an awesome Botox doctor and we went together several times, making sure we defied our age brilliantly. She was a beautiful woman who really cared about her appearance. (In Neuro-linguistic programming, she would have been EASILY pegged as “Visual.”)
The illness was turning her yellow. To me, it looked like she had experimented with the earliest self-tanning creams that hit the market in the 80’s…you know that shade: kind of pale yellow/orange, kind of unnatural?!
Her eyes grew more violet as her body failed to eliminate the toxins. I didn’t notice her discomfort that evening on her patio when I commented on her appearance. I, too, am visual and if I see something, it’s likely on my tongue before I even think to edit myself. I told her how beautiful her eyes were, but I had also mentioned the unique shade of her skin. I wish I could take it back. Knowing how self-conscious she was about her appearance, I didn’t realize she would have thought the worst of my comments.
It wasn’t until later, when she developed a rash from one of the drugs, that her friend shared how upset she was that she looked like a schoolgirl with measles. Such trivial things to worry about at such a time!
Her friend wouldn’t let us see her again. Each of her friends would e-mail me and ask if I’d seen her, since I was right down the street. I know that at one point, her white blood cell count was so low that she would be risking infection to visit with friends. But that wasn’t the case all the time. I know her friend thought she had her best interest at heart, but I think it would have been much better to have friends around the past few months….the last few months.
Well, we friends finally got to see our dear friend, as she lay dying in the neighborhood hospital, just five minutes from her lovely home on my street, her newest Mercedes in the garage, her new laptop collecting dust. This was the laptop she and I had sat at for hours, looking at pictures of her kids, the dogs, the ‘Fabulous 50’s’ party we had thrown together. Georgie and Tommy would lie next to each other as we drank our wine and laughed, sharing stories of work and life.
How can someone so vital disappear from our lives so suddenly? She was barely 50 years old. She loved living here in the states and being successful and beautiful. The week that she was diagnosed, we sat on her sofa one evening talking. She told me how surprised she was at the outpouring of affection from her friends and coworkers. Her office created a training program and named it ‘The Sinclair Initiative.’ She suddenly had flowers everywhere and friends calling from all over the world, asking what they could do to help. She had never felt so loved in her entire life.
I guess the people in her life weren’t demonstrative enough to share their feelings for her every day. As I shared at her funeral, she said to me that evening, ‘You know, in spite of everything, the diagnosis, the prognosis, and everything that I’m going to have to deal with, this has really been the best week of my life.’ What a terribly sad revelation. To live a life filled with love surrounding you and to be unaware of it.
It’s been about six weeks since Alison’s passing. I miss her every day. Sure, there were occasional weeks that passed when we were each too busy to even grab a minute together…dashed e-mails or voice mail talking to voice mail. We laughed about it, thinking we had forever.
Now, whenever I make a pot of soup, (she loved my soups!), put out a bowl of mixed nuts, (yeah, she loved those, too), or do any of the things I used to do while Alison sat in the kitchen and kept me company, I am overcome with the sense of loss I feel. It seems as if we’re just on a hiatus – she’s showing homes and I’m off speaking somewhere or busy writing articles. Then I realize that is it….there will never be another evening spent laughing or talking about the day we had. There would be no more running to her beloved Stirling Club for cocktails or taking the ‘kids’ to the District for a walk along the shops.
Of course there is a lesson in all this…several lessons, actually. First of all, we need to live our lives as though each day is our last. We must take care of our bodies and eat our fruits and veggies (even when we’d rather have just meat and potatoes or cake). We need to share with others how much they mean to us…EVERY day, not just when we find out their days are numbered. Our lives are so very delicate. So are our hearts. Without love, they may wither and die. Whether you tell your friends, your family or your little doggie that you love them, be sure to do it often and with passion.
Alison, there are fresh nuts out on the counter and there’s wine in the fridge. I bought some of that pate you love so much today, and some interesting new cheeses to make our wine visit extra special. Stop by any time. I miss you so much.