I found myself at Whole Foods with Big Lou to kill some time before picking Marshall up from pre-school today. Literally the only thing I could think of that I needed was rolled oats because I’d been wanting to make some granola. (I walked out with oats, a large pre-made cheese pizza for dinner, peanut butter and a Kind Bar) Good job Whole Foods, you win.
While we were there, we ran into Tess, who is one of the Team Film girls. (You’ve heard me talk about Team Film right? A group of ladies, I met a year and a half ago that I’m basically obsessed with) There is whole other blog post that needs to be dedicated to them, so I’ll save it for a rainy day.
Right as we walked in, I saw her, looking beautiful with her green headband thing covering her bald head. I don’t know what she was shopping for, I don’t know how she was truly feeling before I walked up. What might have been going through her mind. She looked calm and content though, from the outside looking in.
Tess found out she had breast cancer earlier this year and just finished the first step of a long process she will be going through. Her first round of chemo. She is going to have surgery in a month or so and after that still has a long road ahead with radiation and I’m not even sure what else.
When Leann told me about Tess a few months ago, my heart sunk. I specifically remember standing outside just staring thinking, what the fuck. This sucks. This isn’t fair. Why Tess. This makes me feel sick to my stomach. I’ve thought about breast cancer quite a bit in the last few years, and I can honestly say that I’ve thought about the Film girls. Most of the founders are early 40s. I think there are 12 of them. It’s a weird thought I know, but I’ve thought, at some point it will surely hit one of them. Statistics man. And there I stood as Leann told me it was Tess.
I immediately thought back to the BrewMile she ran (and won) nearly a month ago. It was her birthday and all the Film girls were going out to celebrate after. My friends and I saw their crew hours later and she was waiting out her husband to get home so she didn’t have to be the one to deal with the babysitter. I remember thinking- I hope I’m that much fun on my 44th birthday. And so looking back to that day I have often wondered, did she already know? Was she waiting a biopsy result? Was she living joyfully, even though she was probably a little scared of what results might tell her? I want to live like that. I’m pretty sure the below picture was taken fairly soon after she found out. (second girl from the right.)
So I’ve watched her fight from afar. I’ve seen pictures of her at her treatments. I’ve seen this group of women rally behind their girl. I know a handful of them have been going to treatments with her. Going to doctor appointments with her. And as I heard them talk about it I would think how special it is to have friends like that. When your friends are family.
The first time I saw Tess after I heard about her diagnosis, I was a little nervous. Not nervous because of who she was, but nervous about what to say. I feel like that must be how a lot of us feel. What do you say? Do you ask how she’s feeling? Give a hug? What? Do you bring it up? Maybe she doesn’t want to talk about it. Maybe she just hopes you don’t feel weird. One who has never been through this wouldn’t know what someone would want. Everyone is different, I’m sure. My initial thought is to look someone straight in the eye and sincerely ask how are you doing. Not expecting to know what the answer might be.
So today, I found myself in a discussion with Tess about her upcoming surgery and reconstruction (something I know a little but not a lot about; things were much simpler for me since my surgeries were purely preventative). At one point when we were getting into it all, I felt a rush of sadness about not being able to breastfeed Louis and then immediately felt a rush of selfishness that that was my biggest problem at the time. (Feelings are real though and you can’t stop them from happening) She shook her head and sympathized with my petty problem.
She said she’s thought about me and wishes she had known- she found out after diagnosis that she was BRCA 1 positive. Tess is 44. I was 29 when I found out I was BRCA 2 and 30 when I had my preventative mastectomy. I walked away feeling like she was cheated in that regard. I got to know and I got to make proactive decisions before. It’s like I dogded a bullet.
I’m in the place where I do proactive surveillance on my ovaries every six months and it’s something that’s on my mind quite a bit. Sometimes I still get the pit of my stomach feeling that I’m a ticking time bomb. (My plan is to have a hysterectomy as soon as we are done having kids.) I refuse to let the fear dictate my decisions about that. My Grandma would be happy about that.
But this isn’t about me. This is about the beautiful woman I saw standing in the aisle at Whole Foods who is doing it. She’s going through it. She is walking through what I can only imagine is probably the scariest, most empowering, hardest thing she’s ever done.
At some point in our conversation, I felt tears coming. Then she felt tears coming. I hugged her, because I didn’t know what else to do. Then we talked about common things like my stupid foot, what I was buying and how good Lou was being just hanging out. Things that don’t really matter because that’s easier than crying at Whole Foods.
But I haven’t stopped thinking about her since 1:50pm today. And honestly, I’ve thought about her nearly everyday since Leann told me what was going on. I admire her. I’m on her side. And damn it I’m mad at myself because while I’ve thought about it a lot, I haven’t even sent a card or a pizza or cookies, or anything. I’ve just sat here and thought about it. It’s a good reminder to not get so caught up in your own life that you don’t take the time to just do something simple for someone going through so much. And it’s never about time, you can make time. And really, sending a card takes all of 2 minutes.
Much love to you Tess. You are strong. You are courageous. You are a fighter. I’m proud to know you. And that wig you wore to the Annex summer party is amazing.