Tribute to a friend

I was asked to give a speech for the Luminaria Ceremony at WJ Relay for life. I sat down to write something about my friend and realized that what I'd said a few weeks ago said it best so I didn't change anything.

Barbara Jacobs asked me to say a few words, fifteen to twenty minutes worth, about being a caregiver. Here it is almost midnight the day before the Relay and I’m just sitting down to think of something to say. What is a caregiver? I Googled the word—remember the day when we’d look things up in the dictionary? Anyway, Wikipedia has a bucket load of information. I copied and pasted it to my word doc, and then read it over. No one wants to hear the formal terms. Besides, I think we all know what a care giver is. So I deleted it.

I’ll tell you what it means to me.

First, let me tell you a bit about me and how I originally joined Relay for Life. I’d already lost my father-in-law to cancer, and my husband had lost one of his dearest friends to the wicked disease, yet still I had not heard of this amazing organization.  Then a few years later, I believe it’s been five or six years ago now.  I reconnected with someone who went to the same high school. We hadn’t been friends in school, I was a year older and knew her brother. But when we met at a mutual friends Halloween party we got to chatting and we became friends. Then one day I received an email. She had been diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer.

I was very upset, so I asked what we could do to help.

That’s when I was introduced to Relay for Life. She asked me to join her team. And we’ve tried to participate since. It’s such a wonderful organization. Many research dollars have been raised through caring and loving friends and families who have loved ones or have lost loved ones to cancer. However, you are all here tonight to help in the worthwhile cause, but you all know about Relay.

So let me continue on my journey of what I believe a caregiver is.  I’ll probably ramble a bit. So bear with me—remember I’m supposed to stretch this 15 to 20 minutes. I’ll do my best Barbara!

As my friend slowly slipped away from us, her family and friends gathered and gave her strength and also to each other. It reminded me a lot of the time when my father in law was sick and we set up a schedule so my mother-in-law had help at all times. Hospice came in to instruct us on medication, and feeding, etc.

It pulled the family together.

Is a caregiver someone who comes from Home Health Care or Hospice? Yes. They are considered a caregiver. But do any of you really want to hear about them? I didn’t think so.

Let me tell you a story.

I have a friend, a very dear friend whom I’ve kept in touch with since 7th grade, yes the year of the dinosaur. (Don’t let her hear me say that, she’ll kill me) Anyway growing up, Denise and I had many adventures. I’ll share a couple. We’d take the car and tool around in it—Sorry, I forgot to mention, not only were we not sixteen, I was supposed to be tending my niece. We put my niece in the back seat, where she’d stand on that hump cars used to have and hang over the front and off we went. I lost count of how many times we did this on my parents bowling night. Mom never caught on, she found out after I had my first child. Remember this, when you’re caught doing something you’re not supposed to and your mom says, “There will be pay back when you have children of your own.” She’s right, you will!

As the years passed, if I was doing something I shouldn’t I was usually with Denise. Don’t think too poorly of us, we were good kids. I remember one time though when I left her stranded. She talked me into a blind date, with a friend of a guy who’d asked her out. Neither one of us could go out unless it was a ‘double’ date. The boys pulled up in a topless jeep and took us to an R rated movie, Boxcar Bertha. Well Denise may have liked her date, but the guy she pawned off on me, left a lot to be desired. Luckily, I had my trusty penny loafers on with my supply of dimes.

I told you it was a long time ago. Anyway, I told her I had to go to the ladies room, but instead went to the snack bar and called mom. “Mom, you need to have dad come get me. They brought me to a drive in.” I wasn’t allowed to go to drive ins. “And it’s an R rated movie.” I don’t think I need to tell you I wasn’t allowed to go to those either. Double wammy.

And my dad came to fetch me. Man, my parents thought I was such a good girl. I never went back to the jeep to tell them. For years, I stressed about how Denise must have worried. And when I’d think about it I could never remember—and still don’t what she said to me the next day. I don’t remember any big fight or anything. Anyway a few years ago I told her how bad I’ve always felt about not letting her know I’d left. She didn’t even remember. All that energy wasted.

I think you get a picture of our friendship. Denise is that one friend. You know the one who you can never picture your life without. That one person who will always be there. Even though there may be a few years here and there, where life gets in the way and you lose touch. You know she’s just a phone call away.  

It’s been a long time since we went through one of those ‘life gets in the way’ times.

Anyway, Denise had been having a few problems off and on the past couple of years and finally last summer the doctors decided it was time to do a bit more testing and concluded she would need to have a hysterectomy to get rid of her fibroids.

September 29th 2009 she had her surgery. I gave her a day to rest and then went to see her. Picked up a couple of fun things to give her, walked in her room and stopped. This was not the simple laparoscopic surgery patient I’d expected to see. After all, I’d had the same surgery a few years earlier and was up running—okay maybe walking—around the next day.

But her parents told me she’d been in surgery over seven hours. I knew without being told this was not good. She was too tired to talk to me that day, so I gave her a hug and left.

October 4th, it was a Sunday and I’d made a big breakfast like I do sometimes and was in the process of cleaning up when the phone rang. It was Denise. She said, “Mary, I have ovarian cancer.”

That’s the moment my life changed.

She was optimistic, they’d told her they had found it all. She had eight chemo sessions to go through and with luck she’d be back to work before the holiday’s. Since then I’ve been her chemo buddy. I’ve taken her to many a doctor appointment, sat with her at the hospital, and the list goes on. And she’s still not back at work.

I don’t need to tell any of you what the process is for a cancer patient. Unfortunately, if you’re here at Relay for Life, then you’ve already been taught those lessons.

Maybe what some of you don’t know though is how important a caregiver is. I’m not talking about a person who cleans someone’s home when they’re too ill to do it themselves. Or pick up prescriptions. Although, they would be considered as one, and both of those tasks need to be done, and are appreciated.

I’m talking about the stranger in the waiting room at Huntsman who sees another patient check in at the desk. She overhears this new patient is on the same treatment. She stands up and introduces herself and says “Hey your on the same diet as I am.” And after a minute, she realizes the new patient is having a hard day and then holds out her arms. “Here, you need a hug.”

Or the person who stops in the middle of Costco when they see a person who has lost their hair because of Chemo and gives them encouragement because they are a survivor themselves.

These people care. To me that makes them caregivers. Everyone who has an opportunity to help in any small way with a loved one, a friend and acquaintance; is a caregiver. The small things add up and eventually they become a mountain of love and support.

A caregiver is the person who rushes to a friend’s side when their fever tops 104 and takes them to clinic. A person who is there with a handy shoulder for her friend to cry on, when the news is overwhelming.

When Barbara emailed me to ask if I would be willing to speak about my experiences as a caretaker. I said sure. But I really didn’t know what to say, because I’ve never consider myself in that capacity. Especially when it comes to Denise.

She’s just my friend. I’m just doing what anyone does for their friend. And I’m doing what she’d do for me. Sure, she gets mad at me, sometimes she even tells me to ‘shut up’ when she’s listening to the doctor and I interrupt with a question of my own. I just shrug, that’s the kind of friends we are. We’ve known each other forever. I bully her and tell her she’s being unreasonable. She hangs up on me. Relationships are messy, and those that mean the most usually hurt the most.

Sometimes I get so frustrated with her because she wants to keep everything private. Good grief the woman has a gazillion friends who all love and care about her. She can’t protect them. Then they all bombard me with emails. So I complain to my poor husband. But she’s Denise and as much as she makes me angry she’s my friend. I’m sure it shocks you to hear me say that about someone struggling as my dear friend is, but don’t you laugh, cry and argue with the ones you love?

If Denise were to call at 3:00 am to say I need to go to the hospital, I’d hop in the car and take her. Because at the end of the day, I want to have spent every minute I can with her.

Does that sound like a caregiver to you?

Well it is. Because no matter what Wikipedia or Webster’s has to say; my definition of caregiver is—Friend.

For the past month Denise's health has deteriorated, then last Friday evening she took a tumble when she decided to climb the stairs. She had a compression fracture of the spine. Since then it's been a rapid decline until yesterday at approx. 10:30 am 7/21/10 I lost my dear friend. She is out of pain and I will miss her greatly.

I love you, Denise.


Cassy Pickard said…
Mary: So well said, my dear. You have earned your angel wings- not because of what you have done, but because of who you are.
Mary Martinez said…
Thanks Cassy. She was easy to take care of. I'm glad she has a large family. They will be able to embrace each other.
Lindsay said…
Angel isn't strong enough a word to describe you.
Liz Lipperman said…
Mary, you truly know the meaning of friendship and commitment.And now you have a forever angel watching over you.

Rest in peace, Denise.
Mary Martinez said…
Thanks everyone. I'm not sure Denise nor I could ever be called angels! Maybe little devils. I have such precious memories of her. I will treasure them always.

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