July 19, 2020

My Friend has Cancer—This is How she Teaches me to (Truly) Live.

My phone rang. 

It was Christina. I held my breath because hard news comes from phone calls and not texts.

“Hi, what’s up?”

“Can you keep a secret?” she whispered.

“Yes? Maybe. Tell me, and then I’ll tell you.”

“I’m at the ocean.”

A nervous giggle.

“You’re at…what ocean?”

We’d been texting from our socially distanced, Colorado living rooms precisely three hours before. We were bemoaning the Wellness Warriors on Facebook whose life mission has become to undo medical experts’ urgings about wearing masks.

“The Pacific Ocean. It’s sunset. Here, look.” 

She switches over to FaceTime so I can see.

“What?! We were just texting at noon. When did you fly to Los Angeles?”

“Shortly after. I just needed to clear my head, and I needed a sunset at the ocean. So I booked a flight and went to the airport, and then straight to the beach, and here I am. My mom thinks I’m in Boulder. My boyfriend thinks I’m at home.”

“…But you’re in California. At the ocean, for the sunset.”


She was waiting for my reaction. She knew she shouldn’t be doing this. The virus is everywhere, and she’s not entirely strong. She’s at the top of the high-risk group. 

What if something happened?

But she was already there.

The giggles swelled out of our throats into our chests.

It was a “What is life?” kind of laughter, an “Anything is possible” laughter.

The kind of laughter that we hadn’t known since being school girls at sleepovers—you try not to wake your parents who think you are asleep.

It was “If this is all there is, it’s enough” laughter.

“Isn’t it beautiful?”

She spanned the phone along the horizon. Waves were crashing, seagulls preaching, and a family walked by.

It struck me to wonder what they’d see:

An impossibly thin, 31-year-old beauty on her phone (kids these days); layered in gold gypsy necklaces; wearing an angelic, long, white dress (too thin for decency); hair whipping through sand-salt-sea; and laughing wildly with no remorse—not crying reverently about COVID-19.

They’d never know about the cancer that grew from this laughing chest, imposing through her bones,

and lymph,

and liver,

and lungs.

So I’ll write this here, and they’ll finish their evening stroll there, and they’ll never know anything else about the girl FaceTiming from the beach.

The girl who is clearly from out of town—who decided, every morning, more clearly than the rest of us, to live.

We caught our breaths—the heaven essence seeped back into the sand, into the grit of the cells which allow it to exist in the first place.

“It’s beautiful.”

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