Conversation has always come easy to us no matter how long we have gone without talking. But, on this particular day, it takes a little longer. We are both scared and it is difficult because we are not used to being so scared. "How are you feeling?" I ask. "Hungry," she replies to my surprise. Seriously? I, on the other hand, am so nauseous and dizzy I can barely talk. Then, she tells me somebody has brought her a snack. I don't tell her, but I'm starting to feel a cold sweat work its way from my head to my toes and, when the needle finally comes out of the vein, I get sick. I can't remember the last time I got sick like this. Chemo sucks. The strange thing is, it is my friend having her first chemo treatment while I virtually hold her hand through it from 6,000 miles away. She is eating through it while I'm the one getting sick.
That episode occurred last summer, shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She told me while still in shock right after getting the news and we both cried together. Maria Rosa is my best friend, the one who got me through home ec class because I couldn't sew if my life depended on it, the one who talked me through my first crush, the one who cried the most when, at 16, I moved from Southern Spain to California. She was always the strong one and the brave one. And, now, she is fighting the greatest battle of her life and I don't know what to do.
One day, as I'm driving to a meeting and listening to my favorite Country music station, I'm thinking about her and I get a sudden urge to change the station. I do and the song that is playing was a favorite of ours when we were 15. I completely fall apart and have to get off the freeway. Is she trying to tell me something? How can a bond be so strong?
Fast forward a few months to today. I call her while having my morning coffee and we talk about Wednesday. Her last chemo treatment is on Wednesday and, then, a MRI will reveal whether it was effective in shrinking the tumor enough for surgery. She tells me how scared and tired she is, how long and difficult this battle is. I tell her each day brings her a day closer to the day the cancer is completely gone. She has never been to California and vows to come visit me if she beats this. I tell her she will come WHEN she beats this and I will take her on a healing trip. I picture us driving along Pacific Coast Highway and inland through beautiful rolling hills, visiting the majestic redwoods of the northern coast, the vineyards of the wine country and the most beautiful missions.
But, the truth is, I think that healing trip has already started and Maria Rosa is the one taking me on it. She has talked to me about what is really important. She is teaching me to look at my life through a different lens, to let go of that which no longer serves a purpose in my world. To step away from those who have caused me hurt. To give my time to those who make me lose track of it. To be courageous and lean into discomfort in order to do great things, like putting my writing out there despite the fear of what critics might think or say.
Author Paulo Coelho writes in one of his works, "When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back. A week is more than enough time for us to decide whether or not to accept our destiny."
Maria Rosa and I have decided. We were never afraid of a challenge as long as we had one another. We have held each other's hands through disappointments, break-ups, losses and many sleepless nights. We will take it from here and write our own destinies.