A woman sitting watching the sunset with dragonflies overhead

My Wingman

Living with cancer. We talk about how to manage it, how to work around it, and how to be happy in spite of it. Recently a friend of mine did her best to do all this.

A late diagnosis of esophageal cancer had led to five surgeries, radiation, seemingly endless IV chemotherapy sessions, and a quickly deteriorating quality of life. Tanya was brave, adventurous, strong, and never a quitter. She did everything she was told to do and more. Esophageal cancer is insidious.

A change in conversation

One day our conversations changed. I was at her bedside. She asked me, “have you ever thought about stopping treatment?”

No one had ever asked me this before. I was reaching my 10th year of CML. After a long shameful pause, I admitted to taking ‘unscheduled” chemo breaks. She nodded.

She asked me, “What would you think of someone who stopped their treatment?” We weren’t talking about how to live with this anymore.

I did not want to say goodbye. I came up with all the reasons I could think of that makes life worth living. She let me snuggle her and I could hear the strain in each and every breath she took. How could I be so selfish?

Finally, I said, “I think that I would love you no matter what.”

She wanted to be free

Tanya pointed to a binder and asked me to take a look. It was the MAID Program, Medical Assistance in Dying. “It’s taken so much from me. This I take back.”

Tanya loved her family and she had an entire community of friends. She had a career she enjoyed and a lovely, inviting home. She had known heartache and gave back by donating bone marrow in the memory of her child who had passed. Her life was full. She had so much more to contribute if it wasn’t for cancer.

She said that she wasn’t doing this to hurt anyone. It was the opposite. She wanted to end the pain not only for herself but for the people she appreciated the most in life. She said she wanted to be free. For everyone else to be free of it too. She was 52 years old.

Look for answers and trust yourself

Tanya wanted me to write about her experience. She asked me to tell you to listen to your body, to not let anyone convince you that you are ok when your body tells you that you are not. When an issue isn’t resolved in a timely manner, ask for further tests. Insist. Look for answers, trust yourself. Help those who help us by being our own best advocate. A late diagnosis has consequences. Be assertive.

Tanya refused to let me hold her hand through this. She thought it would be insensitive to my situation. That’s how good a friend she was. Tanya promised that she would be waiting for me. She said that she would hold my hand then. She said that she would be my wingman. Always.

Tanya told me to remain fierce. To look for her in the dragonflies and to remember her. She asked that I take the time to think of her when the time came. To send my love to her.

In my backyard, I watched for the dragonflies with my sister, and together we said a prayer.

My beautiful friend passed away on Wednesday, May 12, 2021, at 2:00 pm.

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