Monday, March 29, 2010

A letter to a friend

We met M.A. after she was hired by my Mom' s company. New to Seattle after graduate school in DC, she impressed my Mom as a young woman, both beautiful and brilliant, with a calm and engaging demeanor who always seemed to know exactly the best way to say, wear, and do anything. I was only eleven years old and as soon as I met her, she was everything I wanted to be. The perfect combination to me of mentor, sensei, and the big sister I did not have. M.A. and my Mom became great friends over the years and in addition to the guidance she gave me, we also watched her career and life in Seattle grow to greatness. 

She always spoke to me like I was a wise and mature young woman even though we know I was often neither of those things especially during the time of my life when age brackets ended in the word "teen." But she was a fun compatriot too and as I got older, went to college, turned 21, some of the best memories in my life were trips back home and "girls night out" with my Mom, MA, and their other best friend, Suz. And we have hundreds of pictures of the four of us together (some more flattering than others. And by "not flattering" I mean a few pics that captured us in honkytonks with long neck bottles and shots.)

And as I got older, MA remained a sounding board for a variety of topics ranging from Presidential debates, travel, the best restaurant in DC, and career advice (including how to persuasively lobby my HR department to overturn their hideous "no open toe shoes" policy.) And I remember placing a very tearful call to her in college when I knew I was days away from my first and most serious heartbreak.

And over the years since I was an eleven year old know-it-all with feathered bangs and Vuarnet sunglasses there has been not a single important moment in my life that M.A. has not been present. This spans the glossy vignettes of my personal highlights from back in the day like my high school prom to the grown up endeavors like promotions, my wedding, and the birth of our son. I was once told that is is critical for all young people to have an adult they can trust and talk to outside of the family. I know exactly why it is important and I  am blessed and lucky to have several non-family member guides in my life with M.A. at the helm. 

Years ago, the ever-thoughtful M.A. sent me a giant box. Inside was a bottle of Perrier Jouet and six gorgeous champagne flutes as a way to toast an achievement. Two of the glasses were broken and I immediately set about to find superglue to fix them. JohnnyMac watched in disbelief. Host etiquette being quite important to me, surely I was not going to superglue crystal champagne flutes back together.

I would, but could not find the superglue. I searched and searched and then began to tear the office apart. JohnnyMac's disbelief turned into a bit of WTF is happening because he had never seen me act like this. Our evening plans slightly derailed as I spent 30 minutes searching. Finally, he suggested that perhaps he simply drive to the store and buy some OR better yet, we throw out the broken stemware. 

And then I began to cry. To which he took a momentary pause. I then explained to him I wanted these specific glasses she had selected. Not because I really wanted to serve broken stemware but because I wanted this exact gift, exactly as she intended to give it. And because I had found out days before M.A. was diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer.

When my Mom told me, I was sick. We had such limited experience with cancer and no one wants to know cancer personally.  The initial diagnosis was so advanced and serious, that we, like many other families and friends who receive such news about someone they love, went straight from being scared to asking what we could do to help.  But fear remained active just below my peel which is why suddenly, it seemed foremost, necessary to piece these fragmented glasses back together.

At this time in her life, M.A. was married with two young children. Cancer, in its typical custom, came in uninvited. Not seeping in like smoke but pounding on the front door, both bold and brash. And as qualmish as I was over the news, I also thought, Oh, poor dumb cancer. You certainly won't prevail here.

And while M.A. began what I would consider aggressive treatment she never lost vigor, or panache, or that perfect eye contact that would greet you the same way you were used to and really said, oh, let's not even worry. I am fine. Now, tell me what is going on with you.

I have been impressed by so many amazing people I have in my life but I have never been affected which such breadth and depth as I was watching M.A. handle cancer. And yes, she handled it. Cancer did NOT handle her. 

The first time I saw her after her hair had fallen out because of chemo, she could even make bald look chic. And it is because her soul shines in everything she does.  We walked as a family and a group of friends at Race for the Cure Seattle with her as the center of our aura. Her Mom, also a breast cancer survivor and also a bad ass, flew in to join.  And watching them walk arm in arm, I recognized even then, at an event that is all about an experience honoring life and survivors, she would still take a backseat and spend her time asking about you. 

So, today I celebrate M.A. because she is alive, and healthy. Still every bit as beautiful and brilliant and still completely capable of facing cancer and delivering the smackdown. And we celebrate the miracle that cancer did not prevail.

And I didn't keep the two broken glasses but use the other four frequently.

Happy Birthday to a wonderful woman. Everyone whose life you touch is lucky. And for the 25+ years I have known you, you are still the perfect embodiment of mentor, sensei and big sister I could ever ask for in one person. 

Here is to another year of amazing things in store for you. And to more pictures of great moments. As you celebrate, know we are celebrating too, and you are certainly your best work so far.

76 comments:

Vodka Logic said...

How lucky you are to have someone so special. I am glad to hear she has survived.

Did you ever fix the glasses?

ajm said...

Awwww, I did not expect to be sniffling at this time of day! That was sweet and beautiful. Happy birthday to MA!

A Year on the Grill said...

A beautiful well written tribute!

Pam said...

Beautiful!

Matthew said...

Such a beautiful and heartfelt tribute... an absolute pleasure to read.

Dual Mom said...

What a great role model this lady must be for you!

It's a lovely tribute, really.

blueviolet said...

Beautiful and inspirational on a Monday morning!

Slamdunk said...

Having a mentor like that is priceless. Thanks for sharing her courageous story.

mo.stoneskin said...

Lovely little tribute, made me sad to read of the whole thing and so glad she has fought on to survive it.

So to this day you drink out of super-glued champagne flutes?

Emma said...

What a sweet testimony to an obviously wonderful woman. Great writing!

My name is PJ. said...

You made me cry, JMac!

I love MA for being 'that person' for you and you for recognizing that she is 'that person.'

She has inspired me at a time when I'm watching life being robbed bit at a time from my mom.

MA kicked cancer's ass!!! Woot! Woot! Happy Birthday, MA!!

mbkatc230 said...

Such a glorious tribute to an obviously fantastic woman. I'm so glad that I don't wear mascara to work - it would be running :) Beautifully written JennyMac, I hope she sees this. Kathy

Molly said...

beautiful post. I hate cancer. I wrote a post this weekend about a virtual 10k I ran for Race for the Cure, my MIL has breast cancer. Sucks.

Too Many Hats said...

Happy birthday to M.A.! You sound like one amazing woman!!!

The Boob Nazi said...

I totally understand what you mean about wanting to keep the broken stemware right after you found out about the cancer. I still have my last birthday card from my grandpa and the coins he gave us last Christmas.

Tumbleweed said...

She is, indeed - THE SHIT!! Remember the little stabbing incident in Baltimore about 1988?? Who came and picked me up from the hospital...having never even MET her previously?? THAT's RIGHT...MA!!! An amazingly fantastic woman by all accounts!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MA!!!!

Richard @ The Bewildered Brit said...

Beautiful tribute! I can't tell you how happy I am she survived cancer.

Babes Mami said...

So pretty and lovingly written. I teared up a bit because it must be amazing to have someone like this in your life!

Jenn@ You know... that blog? said...

Ah JM, that was wonderful, wonderful wonderful. For a moment I was sure it was a heartbreaker post, but I'm so very glad you still have her in your life, and that she's healthy.

*hugs*

Cara Smith said...

That was wonderful and spoke directly to the heart!

Not only are you lucky to have her, but she is also lucky to have you!

Jules said...

What a beautiful tribute!!!!!!

Joann Mannix said...

What a heartfelt and inspiring tribute. A toast to you and your lovely MA, Here's to kicking cancer's ass! And many, many happy birthdays to come.

WannabeVirginia W. said...

That was a great post. It is great to have someone like M.A. in life.

Aging Mommy said...

Oh you've done it again, brought a tear to my eye in writing such a wonderful post about your friend and mentor. Lovely post, so heartfelt and soul warming. Enjoy the celebrations with your friend today.

Tracy said...

Such a wonderful tribute to someone who means so much to you. I've known a few breast cancer survivors, too, and they are my heroes.

Linda said...

What a wonderful and amazing woman. You are lucky to have her in your life. She is lucky to have you in hers!

Cathi said...

What a beautiful post, JennyMac...you have me crying early in the morning here..(and I am not a crying person) I have just faced cancer too many times with friends and family - some that have survived and some that haven't. M.A. sounds like such a wonderful friend! Here's to kicking cancer in the butt once and for all and celebrating the lives of everyone affected by it! xxoo :)

Liza said...

A loving tribute. Happy birthday MA

obladi oblada said...

Beautiful tribute. What a survivor. I had an MA once when I was a teenager...she too got cancer but it won its battle against her, and oh how I would have scrambled to find superglue too!

obladi oblada said...

Beautiful tribute. I had an MA too when I was a teenager. She too got cancer, only she lost the battle. Oh how I would have scrambled for super glue too!

Leiah said...

It's posts like this that make me want to quit my job. I have another blog called hatsofhope.blogspot.com that I started because a friend of mine has Stage IV metastatic breast cancer and was going to be needing hats, scarves, etc. My dream is to take my little blog about paying things forward and helping out someone fighting a vicious monster and make it my job to acquire enough hats/scarves/headcoverings for anyone who needs them and provide them at no charge.
Happy Birthday to your friend with wishes for several, several more to come.

Ed said...

She sounds like a wonderful women. Happy Birthday to her.

Thank God she made it. If she hadn't, I would have kicked your ass for making me read sappy shit and cry.

Lucky for you, she's a fighter.

Teddy Started It said...

What an awesome tribute to a fantastic lady. Thanks for sharing the inspiration.

Colleen said...

That is an amazing and wonderful story. I know exactly how you felt about the flutes. I just recently lost a very good friend to cancer, and I am so happy to hear that MA beat it!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Such a wonderful story. I made my four year mark as a breast cancer survivor this month. I hope that I am even a fraction as influential in someone's life as MA is to you.

Khak said...

Second time you have made me cry in a week. Beautiful words. Happy Birthday to MA!

NotJustAnotherJen said...

It's beautiful women like MA that I'm doing the San Diego 3-day this year. Because I can. Thank you for the lovely tribute.

Kristina P. said...

What an amazing thing to celebrate.

Bossy Betty said...

A beautiful tribute to a great woman!

foxy said...

What a wonderful letter and terrific tribute. Just beautiful. She sounds like quite the mentor!

T!nK said...

amazing!!

Eva Gallant said...

What a beautiful tribute to your friend. I'm glad she is strong and well.

SpiritPhoenix said...

I'm so relieved to find out that she beat it! All too often, the cancer wins. This is the exact reason we walk. To not only raise funds to keep this from happening in the future. But to also keep the awareness alive.

Are you doing the Race for the Cure again? I'm so excited to be doing the 3-Day this year, for the first time! Let me know if you are. I'd love to dontate.

Tsquared417 said...

I am so glad she beat it!!! What a wonderful birthday gift to a great friend.

I'm Jane said...

Thank you for this post. I read it and immediately called my mom, who is a breast cancer survivor, just to say hi and tell her I love her.

BlueRidgeLady said...

What a lovely tribute to MA! So glad she has beaten it and doing well. She sure sounds like the kind of woman all of us wish we had in our lives. Mom is a breast cancer survivor, so this post was especially special to read. Thanks for sharing.

Pricilla said...

Thank you

Herding Cats said...

I hope she gets to read this - because she sounds like a really special person. You are so lucky to have had a friend like her in your life. My best thoughts are with you and her as she battles cancer and continues to touch lives.

The Blonde Duck said...

What a wonderful woman! She sounds like a great woman.

Michele R said...

I think I held my breath the whole time I read this. So awesome she is in your life and vice versa!

undomestic chica said...

You're so lucky to have such a close friend like her. Every year when my radio station works Race for the Cure, I cry listening to so many wonderful stories, I'm glad hers turned out a happy ending.

Intense Guy said...

M.A. is a lovely woman... much like this touching tribute you wrote.

I hate cancer and what it does to people with a passion... I've lost too many - that were so very close - and rarely let anyone get that close again... because of it.

It a thrill to hear a success story.

Myya said...

What a beautiful relationship you have. I'm sure that she was so very touched at the celebratory words about her. May she have many many many more years being the amazing woman you described!

Mighty M said...

I so enjoy reading your posts! You are so lucky to have a lady like MA in your life! :)

JenJen said...

How very sweet, JM...Nicely written. I wonder what people would say about me if given the chance? or the inclination...

Ellen said...

Such a sweet tribute! Cancer has touched my family, so I can certainly relate. This is a nice reminder that I need to be thankful for all of my blessings, including my health.

http://www.firednfabulous.blogspot.com/

Dumblond said...

What a wonderful story.
Cancer sucks. I've had friends and family that have succumbed to this horrible disease. So I love hearing survivor stories.

Rowe said...

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, M.A. !!
JMac - I think there was something symbolic about those broken glasses. You are blessed to have M.A. a significant part of your life.

Kitten said...

What a touching story about such a brave friend. Everyone should have an M.A. in their lives.

Tropical Mum said...

Thank you for the inspiring story. I was so prepared for the worst ending, but was so glad to hear your friend is a survivor.

Many happy returns M.A.!

Shelly

Janet said...

What a brilliant post! She typed through tears...

She sounds like an amazing woman, and I hope she has an amazing birthday!

Fragrant Liar said...

Indeed, you are very lucky to have MA in your life, then and now. My mother's best friend died from throat cancer at a young age, back in about '91. Thankfully, medicine has improved since then. I am STILL saddened when I think of her and how much life she had left in her and how much she made us all laugh at her constant jokes and how much I miss her. I called her Aunt Celia, though we weren't really blood. She was more family to me, though, than my biological aunts. So I toast your MA and my Aunt Celia with this post.

Leah Rubin said...

Beautifully said, as always... My heart is with you and your mom and M.A. My mom had two mastectomies (ages 60 and 68), and her mom died of breast cancer at age 49. Needless to say, I'm on the 'high risk', agressive program of early detection.

So glad she came into your life and was so good to you, all along the way! Cheers to M.A. and all the other M.A.s out there!

Salt said...

Cheers! Happy birthday to your friend and many, many more! She sounds like such a strong and beautiful individual. :)

M-Cat said...

I lost a best friend two years ago to the effing breast cancer. Your post brought tears to my eyes again. Sad, yet at the same time, glad that I made sure to take the time to spend with her during her last few days. I will treasure those. And when the Race for the Cure comes to Ut on Mother's day weekend, I will be there once again running for her.

Great post Jennymac, and good thoughts and wishes to M.A.

sharonheg said...

WHEW, I'm so glad the end of the entry was as happy as it was! You had me worried there for a minute.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, M.A.!

Little Ms Blogger said...

She sounds like an amazing woman and you'd be amazed at how strong a person can be when faced with a terrible circumstance.

Humor and optimism gets you through laugh.

If you let something own you, you're not living.

HalfAsstic.com said...

What a spectacular tribute to your own personal real, live, legend. How wonderful that you have someone as strong and beautiful as her to enrich your life the way she has, does, and will. You are, indeed, fortunate.
Thank you for telling us all about her!

Erin said...

Another powerful and moving tribute, JM. I hope MA will read this if she hasn't already? I wasn't sure where this was going to end up and got all tense as I was reading it, but felt so relieved to know that she "handled it." Perfect phrase. She sounds like an incredible woman and I'm glad she's still such a huge part of your life. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MA!

I am wondering...are you in that pic? With the shirt that says " I love John?" Assuming it's just coincidence since you don't make a habit of posting photos of yourself, but I have no idea what you look like....

carma said...

wow! I am so happy this post had a happy ending :-)

Simone said...

This was beautiful...and so lovely that it had a happy ending :)

How lucky you are to have her....I absolutely agree about having an adult friend outside of your family to talk to....I have someone like that and it is such a gift.

:)

shortmama said...

So beautiful. I am so glad that she is still a part of your life!

Sniff said...

This was such a beautifully written tribute to a friend! I'm so glad she beat breast cancer.

Jennifer said...

Wow, what a wonderful tribute to someone who is clearly a wonderful woman. Your writing is beautiful and the emotions you shared in this post are so heartfelt. I was so happy that the story had a happy ending in spite of the evil cancer. Thank you for sharing.

J.J. said...

Yay, M.A.!!! : )

Happy birthday!!!

The Absence of Alternatives said...

What an wonderfully written and lovingly remembered tribute to your lifelong mentor and friend. I raise a glass to both of you beautiful, strong ladies!