Of Friendship, Goodbye…..and Hope

Friendship brings so much into our lives. True friendship, I mean. Life would be a desolated place without our friends. Many would argue that family comes first and I would agree, but many of us have either lived away from family or have families that are not supportive or caring. It’s a fact, not a judgement.

This new year has brought friendship front and center for me already. It has been expected, but it is still difficult. It began last year with the celebration of our 50 years of graduating from high school. I have become involved again with those girls I went to school with so long ago. It has been wonderful!!!

With all the excitement of the week of celebration, I got even closer to my best friend in school. For years we were inseparable, knew each others’ secrets, supported each other in our crises and laughed and cried when needed. We have kept in touch and have shared the ways our lives have changed in these past 50 years.

Since she lives in Panama and I’ve lived everywhere, it has not been easy, but we have managed. Her mother was originally  from Curaçao and somehow I couldn’t get her to visit while I lived there. I now regret I didn’t try harder to convince her, but that is water under the bridge. Not important anymore, so I have to let go.

A few months after our fabulous week of celebration, she was diagnosed with advanced, inoperable cancer. There was talk of chemotherapy, talk of giving her quality of life, giving her more time. There were tears, but there were also laughs and a new closeness. We have been on our phones chatting away, sending funny messages, calling at all hours even during her chemo treatments.

I held up hope this could be beaten or at least it would give us time to have more moments together. I had planned to go see her for a week and do only what she wanted to do: out for lunch, car rides, ice-cream, beauty parlor visits, girl talk, reminiscing, just enjoying each other company.

This week, her doctor cancelled the chemotherapy when her body gave up and she was hospitalized. Now I am traveling to Panama on a different mission. I have no idea when I will be able to visit again since this will be a very hectic year for our family. So I am going to say goodbye to my dearest friend.

I am going to say goodbye now, when she still can enjoy my company and I can enjoy hers. Now that we still have the time to  laugh and talk about our friendship. Now when we still can sit in silence at times because we both are fluent in that language. Now when we can both look at each other and smile, laugh or cry. Now when we can embrace and hug and kiss.

As I get ready for this visit, my heart cannot help but be hopeful. After all, I am only human. So against all that I’ve been told, against all that my mind says is true,  there is a small voice that tells me: “Hope is the last thing we relinquish“. I know this is true, in my heart, where it counts. So I am taking this trip, for our friendship, for her and for me. May we be granted many more times together and then may it be as it must be.

Photo: Dreamtime Credit Commons Zero (CCO)

 

 

Something has Changed……..

There comes a time in everyone’s life when a discovery, a piece of news, a flash of understanding changes it forever. That is what happened to me in 2015. It has been a long 18 months, a time of adjusting, of accepting and of working on moving forward. What I have to share, in the hopes that it could help others, is about living with a chronic illness.

For months, years even, I experienced all sorts of odd symptoms seemly unrelated: low-grade fever, joint pain, unexplained cough, upset stomach and on and on. Everyone told me that we all get some aches and pains as we age and we should not over think that. What do you do? you begin to doubt yourself, you begin to think everyone is right and you are just not accepting your age or the changes in your body.

I kept trying until finally, I found a doctor willing to run tests until she found what was wrong. This is most important. A doctor that listens and is willing to go along until the reason for your symptoms is found. I have been lucky with that and are doing better because of it.

Just before Christmas 2015, I received a call from my doctor’s office. She wanted to see me that afternoon. I immediately thought: this cannot be good. It wasn’t. The tests were back and the doctor said the four words that have changed my life: You have Rheumatoid Arthritis. At the moment, I was not familiar with what all that meant. Arthritis didn’t sound good, thought. Well, it was worst than that.

RA is an autoimmune disease that presents many symptoms and causes untold damage to the human body. It is in the same group as Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Crohn’s Disease and other illnesses. It causes the immune system to attack healthy tissues in your body. There is no cure and produces painful inflammation not only in the joints, but the heart, lungs, liver, stomach, kidneys and any other part of your body.

Pain is your constant companion and fatigue is ever-present. Insomnia, brain fog, dry-eyes, forgetfulness are just a few symptoms. Left untreated can be deadly, but known treatments can slow the progress and help with symptoms. Unfortunately, they could also cause untold damage since they involved chemotherapy and steroids. There most be a balance so you need to research and read, inform yourself. Ask questions and go for second opinions. When you find a doctor that understands you, keep her!!!

Most of people suffering from RA have a hard time explaining the illness. It is difficult because most of us do not look sick, we continue our lives as normally as we can and try not to complain. Besides, not everyone is comfortable  to sharing everything with everyone.

Each day brings new challenges and we deal with them as best we can. We can make plans and cancel them unexpectedly. There is always a possibility of a flare that will take us to bed and keep us there for a while. A day of activity can render us useless for many days afterwards. So understanding is an important part of what our friends and loved ones can do for us.

Taking care of ourselves is a priority, more than ever. Becoming selfish is a most. You cannot help anyone if you are not fit to help yourself. You learn not to feel bad about standing your ground and saying no when needed. RA is something that will shape your days for the rest of your life.

Each one of us deals with this in our own way, but it is important to realize that we must have a plan. Make changes in our way of doing things, our diet, anything that needs changing. Keep active as much as we can, don’t give up on what we enjoy. Also we must accept that we might need help to do the smallest things and must learn to accept it. Finally, love yourself and take care.

 

P.S. “The beauty of life and the reality we live with” — perfectly captured in this photo of a Curaçao sunset by Neelam Melwani. Thank you!!!