Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Phantom Pain


A month ago, my best friend died.

In the past few months, I alluded to personal matters in explaining my general absence from the blog world, but I didn't feel comfortable sharing that Katie's cancer had returned. Maybe I didn't want to share because by writing it in black and white -- "my best friend is dying of cancer" -- it would make it more real. The cancer showed up in her lungs, after clear scans in September, on a scan in January. After so many painful bouts of cancer treatment, and knowing that there was no treatment with any real chance of terminating the disease, Katie decided to let the cancer run its course.

The reason I went to California in March was because we knew she was dying. I wanted to spend time with her and I also wanted her to be able to go to one of her favorite places -- she loved California when we drove there on our road trip in September.

I spoke only about my workouts on the California trip because Katie's condition worsened dramatically in the 9 days we were there, and other than eating out we didn't do that much besides lie in the sun. She had coughing fits and breathing was becoming more and more of a struggle. Her pain was bad enough that she needed liquid morphine multiple times a day.

As bad as she was getting on the trip, though, none of us -- not her, not me, not her family -- thought she would be gone so quickly. I waved goodbye as a Southwest employee assisted her to her flight on March 29. She was supposed to go to the Gulf with her family a few weeks later and eat seafood and lie on the beach.

The following Thursday, her brother texted me that I needed to get to Chicago immediately if I wanted to see her before she passed. I arrived at the hospital Friday afternoon and she was unconscious. Shortly after I arrived, her breathing tubes were removed and her family and I gathered around her bedside. She passed away close to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 4.

For the past few weeks, I've been trying not to be angry that my closest friend -- the most amazing person I've ever met -- wasn't able to live the full life she should have. I've been trying to live up to her example by laughing as much as possible, no matter how serious the situation. Some days I'm more successful than others.

I just read this beautiful essay by a doctor whose wife died of breast cancer. I cried reading it, relating to so much of his experience watching someone he loved succomb to a brutal disease. Most of all, I wept at the phantom-limb pain he described. It's pain emanating from nowhere; from the person that used to be but no longer is. It's precisely what I've felt over the past month.

Katie was not my spouse or my sibling, but for the past eight years she was a sister to me. I have a constant sense that something important is missing. When I see something that would make her laugh and I can't send it to her. When something insignificant but somehow exciting happens and I want to share it with her. More than anyone else in my life, I shared the little things with Katie. She was my Person, the one who bore witness to my quirks and oddities, just as I did with her, and who loved me despite them, without romantic love as a binding agent to help overlook the faults.

As deeply private as Katie's loss is to me, her life deserves to be shared and celebrated, which is why I decided to write about this. I simply do not have the ability to put into words the enormous loss of such an incredible person. She was brilliant, funny, caring, beautiful, and she was so, so brave; adjectives just can't capture the vibrant, human person she was.

I hope to continue blogging at some point, although I'm not entirely sure what I'll write about or when I'll start again. I truly appreciate all the sweet comments and the wonderful people I've met in the online running community, and I want to stay a part of that community.

I'm not ready to talk about Katie's death, but I also feel the need to share her passing. I couldn't continue to pretend as if I were the same person I was a month ago when I feel like I'm not quite whole anymore.