For the better part of my life, my “friends” were people that I met within the vicinity of where I lived. They were people that I met through common interests; people that I saw at the grocery store, the mailbox, the park or even at the doctor’s office. Today, much of that has changed; because of the internet, I have made many friends, with common interests, all around the world.
As luck would have it, some of my dearest friends have become so, by sharing a very rare cancer; chronic myelogenous leukemia. For those of us who have found each other in various groups, this blood cancer doesn't seem all that rare, because all of us have it. Truth be told, there are only approximately 75,000 people in the United States, living with CML; when you compare that to the approximate population in the US of 313.9 million people, we really are a drop in the bucket.
That being said, it is not uncommon for those of us in CML “groups” to experience the death of a friend. The past few months have been particularly brutal in that department; we all have lost quite a few blood buddies. Right now, my focus is on my friend, Cheryl Hay. I “met” Cheryl almost two years ago, and was immediately drawn to her wit, her sense of humor and her tenacity; this coupled with the fact that she lives in Australia and has a most fabulous accent, made her extra special, in my book and we quickly became “friends.”
Unfortunately, Cheryl’s CML journey has not been an easy one; her CML quickly progressed into Blast Crisis, and a bone marrow transplant was her only option for survival. I shall not delve into her medical details, except to say that Cheryl did indeed receive a bone marrow transplant; but unfortunately, despite her optimistic spirit, her valiant fight and tenacity, she has lost this war.
She never gave up, yet Cheryl is dying; and in typical Cheryl fashion, she has accepted her fate with grace and strength. She is at peace with her prognosis and even states in jest, that eventually there will be “no more suffering for Cheryl.” She said that she was glad that she “travelled the world when she did and went bungee jumping, sky diving, etc.”
Where does this leave us?
Vulnerable, sad and a bit lost.
Vulnerable, sad and a bit lost.
It leaves us with aching hearts, and that is OK. It is alright to feel sad, it is alright to be angry that Cheryl has traveled an extremely bumpy road, and did not reach the crest of the hilltop. It is ok to feel these things; it is normal, so allow the tears to fall, allow yourself to feel sad, but don’t forget to add laughter to your tears, because believe me, that is what Cheryl would want.
And while we are on the subject of aching hearts, my heart not only aches for Cheryl, but aches even deeper for her parents. Her parents are the warriors that will be left behind; they are the warriors that are standing by their daughter’s side; helpless, unable to do anything except comfort her, be there for her and pray that her suffering is minimal, and ends quickly. I cannot imagine their pain and I wish that there was some way, to ease their sadness and devastation.
Cheryl’s dying leaves those of us living with CML, with another hole in our heart; another taken too soon from this disease. We all have so many questions, fears and concerns; but those can wait. Right now all we can do is hold Cheryl close in our hearts and pray that she is pain-free, and able to complete her bucket list, which mostly seems to consist of visiting with family and friends, and saying Good Bye; Cheryl is one amazing woman, let’s pray that she will be well enough to do so!
Now, to help many of you that are struggling with Cheryl’s dying, and her self-professed peace, I am going to tell you a story: it is a personal story that allows me a snippet of a glimpse, of how I believe that Cheryl may now be feeling.
A decade-ish ago, I had surgery to remove ovarian tumors; I was forewarned that the recovery was going to be brutal, and it was. I developed an infection several days post-op and was near death; the hospital staff even had a student nurse in my room around the clock, monitoring my every breath and encouraging me to fight. What I remember from this time was being so sick, that all I wanted was to be left in my own little world; I did not wish to return to the real world.
I know that this may be difficult to comprehend, as sometimes it is hard for me to even look back and remember, but I truly believe that those of us that will knowingly face our own deaths’ will have nothing to fear. We will be able to face death with faith, courage, strength and grace that our dear friend is currently, and graciously allowing us to witness.
Cheryl Hay is a warrior that has allowed us to share her journey; the good, the bad and the ugly and I am honored to have been a witness to this incredible, beautiful woman’s life.
Thank you, Cheryl, for the laughs, the love and the strength which you have shared; I shall carry your grace and faith with me, all of my days; May God Bless you and hold you close during your final journey.
You rocked it, sister! I am proud to be your friend!
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