Diane Fine kicks off our National Family Caregivers Month blog series with a post about the love and support she gave to her late best friend, Katherine Mendez.
On October 15, 2015, my best friend lost the fight she could never win. Metastatic breast cancer allows for no survivors.
Our journey began in June 2014. I say our journey because that is what it felt like. For 16 months, it would be the largest part of my life. Let me go back…
Katherine and I were getting ready for a trip at the end of August. We were excited because she was near the five-year mark of being declared cancer-free.
Katherine called to tell me she was bleeding. It was thought to be cervical cancer. Though scared, we were told a hysterectomy would cure it. Twenty minutes after the surgery started, the surgeon informed me that cancer had gone into her cervical wall and pathology reports concluded it was the spread of her breast cancer, making metastatic, or mets. I remember sitting there, alone, thinking that I had to call people and tell them she has metastasis. From that to going in with the dr. to tell her, it’s a blur.
We were told that the cancer had become triple-negative (it was previously ER-positive). As Katherine sat crying, frightened, I promised that I would be with her until the end. I didn’t know that would mean sitting for 6-8 hours each week, worrying each time a scan was due, watching her suffer. She wanted more information but was afraid to look. I joined several metastatic groups that were open to caregivers. One of these was where I met the people who would form METUP.org (I am now on the executive council).
I researched for hours. I needed to find hope. We sought three opinions. I made sure I could take Katherine to weekly chemo, doctor’s appointments, scans. I stayed with her every other week for two-three nights. Opposite weeks she had her 15-year-old son, so it was done in a day. I live in Massachusetts, she was in Maine. I cried with her but mostly I cried alone or with the people from the support groups. Many friends pulled away saying I was too involved in cancer or should let others (who?) care for her. I felt very alone.
The backstory of our friendship is that we had found each other four years ago. Katherine and I were good friends in high school and like many we drifted in our 20s. I found her through Facebook. Katherine and I both felt an instant reconnection. In fact one of my fondest mementos is a card she made. Connected by a red thread were pictures of us as teens, with a proverb explaining that we were destined to find each other again no matter time or place. We both thought we’d have many years to continue our friendship. However, that wasn’t to be.
Despite Katherine’s cancer, we had fun. Each week in chemo we’d keep entertained, at times with a competitive game of Boggle. I was privileged to be able to finally get her to Montreal. Katherine was always a peace and social justice advocate. I had done my share of protesting but she reawakened that in me. She walked the walk in a way few do.
In May, Katherine took a break from chemo because of side effects. The next scans showed the cancer had spread extensively. We were both devastated. Continue reading