I lived in my house 5 years and all I ever did was wave. We were both professionals, heading to work or eagerly looking forward to the down time that came with coming home to a house with only a husband and dog. We said ‘Hi’ at the mailbox, if we happened to be there at the same time. But she didn’t know my name and I didn’t know hers. We were two busy women with no other connection other than we lived across the street from each other.
We were brought together by a common bond, our children. I met Sally while she was out walking R and I out with BabyGirl. Two professional women who chose motherhood over career. It was a bond that connected us in many ways. Our children were born 3 days apart, at different hospitals. We never knew each other was even pregnant. She had a boy, I had a girl. They were so similar yet so different, but it didn’t matter because we were both overwhelmed by all the newness of being a first time mom.
She went by Sally, but her given name was Sarah. Imagine that! Another bond.
Fast forward to 2009 and a hot summer day in July. Our kids are now 6 and great friends. A summer day at Sally’s pool with the kids laughing, splashing and having a great time. Two moms sitting with sunglasses lamenting how the baby fat is still hanging around, even though the kids are no longer babies. Two moms, caring about how they look but not competing. With big sunglasses, hats and a propensity to slather sunscreen on their sunbabies. We sigh, if only I could lose this weight.
Her tummy grumbled. And grumbled. She apologized. Part embarrassed, part annoyed at not knowing why she was bloated and gassy for what seemed like the entire summer so far. Sally told me she was going to see a doctor in a few days. She was sure it was nothing. Probably something related to menopause, she thought.
The doorbell rang about 11am. She walked across the street to tell me in person. I could see the words on her face, before she spoke them. Sally came to tell me. That summer morning in August 2009, Sally knew she was going to die. Soon.
She fought hard for nearly 3 years. People with pancreatic cancer don’t usually get that long. Steve Jobs had pancreatic cancer, the best doctors in the world, the money to do everything right and even he barely made it 5 years. It’s one of the highest mortality rates among cancers. It wasn’t a matter of beating it, it was a matter of how long she could subdue it.
Last time I saw her I told her I loved her, that she was so strong and made my life more beautiful just by knowing her. She weighed 86 pounds. She joked that she takes back what she said about wanting to lose weight by the pool years ago. I smiled. We both knew this might be the last time. We didn’t cry. If we had, who knows how long it would have lasted. Sally was on her way out to get ice cream with her son. For the last time. We spoke softly so he couldn’t hear. But I’m sure he knew. I left by saying, I’ll see you later. She said she’d call because the doctor was encouraging her to walk outside to get some sun. The phone never rang. Except to go to the doctor she never left her house again. Until Saturday night, when she became an angel.
I drove by her house today and her mother’s car wasn’t there. For almost 3 years it was there every morning. Not today.