Saturday, February 12, 2011

Farewell to Ann

What do I write to capture the essence of one of my best friends in life, who passed away yesterday morning (Friday, February 11. 2011) at the age of 55 from metastatic lung cancer. I want to remember all my times with her over the years, but my memory is flooded with images from the past three years. During that time,  she vanquished the survival odds of originally 8 months after the discovery of the stage 4 cancer.  She found out about the cancer on a January day when she and I had just had lunch at Urth Caffe in Santa Monica, one of our favorite places to meet.  At the end of lunch, she received an urgent call from her doctor and ran out to learn her fate.  Since then, she has been in and out of surgery, chemo, radiation and other hospital visits.  She never really was able to travel or do those bucket list sorts of things.  But we did try to spend as much time together as we could, knowing the end would be here much sooner than we had thought when we became friends so many years ago.

I met Ann over 21 years ago.  We were both lawyers at a law firm in LA.  She had moved from NY a few years after her first husband died, on the eve of their daughter's birth, from an illness that typically does not kill people.  She was a single mom, a widow, practicing law in a male dominated place.  I had my own issues with the firm, which did not really know how to deal at that time with mothers who planned to practice law full time. I had two children, one a newborn, when I decided that I needed to make Ann my friend.  So I went to her and suggested we have lunch.  Our neuroses meshed so well that I knew I had the makings of a BFF.  And I was not disappointed.

My son and Ann's daughter were around the same age so we did play dates together for a few years. I am sad that I do not remember those playdates, even though Ann tried to remind me of places we went, such as Disneyland, I believe.  I remember being at her house one Channukah and eating potato latkes that Ann claimed she did not know how to make but turned out delicious.  Another year we went to a local synagogue with the kids to listen to a Channukah play.  I am not Jewish but I always tried to expose my children to the religion of their paternal grandfather.  I figured I better turn my job over to someone who was Jewish, like Ann, when my young son mistakenly said that Jews do not believe in God. He had understandably muddled a statement I had made in answer to one of his questions that Jews, unlike Christians,  did not believe that Jesus was the son of God.  Trying to explain comparative religion to adults is hard enough, let alone to a child.

Ann struggled with her weight most of her life which also appealed to one of my neuroses, since I too have always felt fat.  After moving to LA, she tried to get out and date but not much happened until she met her second husband at our  firm.  After a few years, they decided to marry and combine their families. He had two daughters from his first marriage who were about the same age as Ann's daughter.  As these things happen, Ann and I stopped seeing each other for children's playdates and other activities.  But we regularly talked and had lunch, which was always a challenge when Ann started her strict, some (including Ann) would call obsessive, Weight Watchers diet that led her to lose a lot of weight about 10 years ago.  I, on the other hand, unable to be obsessive, continued to gain weight in my enthusiastic embrace of slovenly middle age.

About 4 years ago in March 2007, Ann and I went to a spa in Ojai together for several days.  We became inspired by our foray into healthfulness and decided to try to hike together.  As life happens, we did not discuss the hiking again until the fall of 2007 after a trip Ann took to Paris.  She said we would have to wait until her bursitis got better.  She was having pain in her hip and said it had hurt to walk in Paris, although she did it anyway.  In January, 2008, when the bursitis was not getting better and the pain was still bad, she had a CT scan.  The results of that test were why the doctor called during our lunch at Urth Caffe.  Her femur and hip were disintegrating from the tumors, which had originated in her lung.  Other than the pain in her hip, she had no symptoms.

When I first found out about her cancer, I vowed to do whatever I could to make whatever time she had left funny.  My thought was that you can't cry about death if you are laughing.  I also started to think of what my life would be like without my BFF.  I was irritated about the unfairness.  But I also became more vigilant.  I made my husband see a doctor when he had pain in his hip.  It turned out he had early stage, treatable bladder cancer, although the hip pain was unrelated. (Thanks Ann for helping us find that) I also thought I had cancer about a year after Ann was diagnosed.  I was so tired all the time so I went to several doctors to try to find out what was wrong with me.  They all assured me that I was fine but unfortunately that was not the case.  Like Ann, my cancer was in a later stage when it was finally found.  Unlike Ann, however, mine was not immediately deemed to be terminal.  Indeed, my oncologist called it curable.  Ann came to visit me when I had chemo, even though she was confined to a wheel chair.  She made me laugh, turning the tables.  But we both knew that she was certainly dying and I was not (at least not yet).  Now there are the makings for some potent "survivor's guilt"! But I have pushed it aside as much as possible because I needed to spend as much time with this wonderful person before our "forever" was over.  It became harder, though, from Ann's end.  She had trouble with pain and mental focus in the past year or so.  I would call and get voicemail. I would send emails.   Sometimes it took weeks before I would hear back.  I heard from her right after Christmas and things seemed bad.  She was in pain and could not talk for long.  After a month of trying to reach her, I got in touch with her brother who told me that she had been taken off chemo.  I called and luckily got her husband who told me to come over.  I went immediately.  That was about ten days ago.

On that visit, Ann was home in hospice care but still able to talk, although she fell asleep mid sentence in a story about her beloved daughter, who is now also a lawyer.  I went to visit again earlier this week.  She was in tremendous pain, barely able to talk and begging me (and her husband and her brother) in the muted voice she could muster to "help me, please".  Her husband was able to get her new home hospice care that would provide an IV with  palliative pain medication and the last time I saw her on Wednesday, she was mostly sleeping, and clearly much more comfortable.  I talked to her that day and although she did not answer, I felt she knew I was there and I hope she knew in my own small way by supporting her husband in his discussion with the hospice nurse I did do a little something to help her at the end.

I hope in time that my memories of Ann return to the days we thought we would always be in each others' lives.  Although during those days, even though we both considered each other close friends, we did not talk about our feelings for each other.  In the past three years, both Ann and I have lost that inhibition.   I could not tell her enough how much I loved her and how much she meant to me.  And she said the same to me.  One of the last things we said to each other was "I love you, honey"  "I love you too".  That's the one thing I must remember, the one thing of essence.

Ann with Wrigley  

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