Saturday, September 29, 2012

Letting Go to the Universe

Since Malea and Jason moved back to Virginia, I have been a steady constant in her life. There were times that I wasn't there when she needed me. But I like to think that when she truly did need me, I was there for her.

There is no time I would rather be there for her than right now, as she goes into hospice care this weekend. I am frightened and overwhelmed with emotion right now and can't go an hour without bursting into tears. Malea is more of a sister to me than any I might have had by blood relation.

And honestly, I can't understand a God who would allow a 38 year old mother of four and new grandmother to die. Why do the good people get the worst breaks and the wretched, nasty, criminal people never do. Cancer should not be something a 38 year old woman should be fighting.

Malea has fought to live harder than anyone I have ever known. She has fought every battle since she was diagnosed in April of 2009 and gone through more pain and more ugly treatments and surgeries than I could begin to list here. (Most of her history is on the tab up above if you want to see what she's been through.)

Her family is gathering around her to support her at this horrendous, tragic time. She and Jason have a very large, extended family and they are all here now. Which means that I am having to let her go before I was ready and before the end comes. This is not an easy thing to do and I am really in agony right now. Her not being here and healthy is already taking its toll, as there is a huge hole inside of me where Malea belongs. No one will ever take her place, although I know I have a lot of people who support me and will be there for me while this everlasting grieving takes place.

I like to think of all of the happy times we shared. Of when we met at the bus stop when Jamie and Dallas were going off to kindergarten 10 years ago. The times we spent, every single day, at each other's homes, scrapbooking and me teaching her to cross stitch. I have a very special cross stitch that she made for me that I will be taking to have framed when I can find the time. It's beautiful and has so much meaning, so I am going to share it with you.

It is layered in meaning for both of us and I am so grateful that she made this for me. It will have a special place on my wall.

I am trying to think of happier times, which really weren't so long ago.

This picture was taken at the last fundraiser. I managed to go (with Justin driving), even though this is one of the biggest anxiety problems for me - a crowd of people and loud music. It was well worth it just to get this probably last picture of the two of us. Because damned if I didn't forget to have someone take our picture together when I was at the hospital snapping away on Wednesday.

I am hoping to start a new blog shortly with all of Malea's story, pictures, and information on metastatic breast cancer. If and when that happens, I will be sure to link you.

For now, I am trying to get through this as best I can, leaning on my family and my friends.  My facebook friends have been amazing and I thank all of them for continuing to listen to me cry on their shoulders. Justin is my rock and always here to help me get through this to the other side.

Malea is a one of a kind, beautiful spirit. I am heartbroken that her life is ending at the age of 38. Her life hasn't been an easy one, but she has faced every challenge with a grace I can only hope to achieve some day.

Letting go is never easy. Letting go of Malea is agony. Knowing that we will never get the red dress shoot, never get together for a day of lunch and shopping, that I can't text her whenever I want to and just shoot the breeze or bitch about life...well, that is one of the worst feelings in the world.

I am a better person for having known and loved her. I am so grateful for the ten years we have had as best friends. I know that people come into your life and people leave your life. I just wasn't ready to let her go yet.


Friday, September 28, 2012

Red Dress Canceled Due to Cancer

Yes, you read that right.

I talked to Malea on Monday and she sounded very good and very excited about our photo shoot on Tuesday. I had everything all set to go and was doing this and that to prepare throughout the day. I didn't hear from here again, but I had texted her a couple of times.

Around dinnertime, I finally got a text from her saying that she was unable to breathe and had been taken by ambulance to the hospital. They had her on oxygen and she was going to be admitted. The first thing she said was how sorry she was about having to cancel the photo shoot. Even in a time when her life is in extreme danger, she is thinking about others. That is who she is.

I waited to hear where she would be admitted and what the test results would show. On Tuesday, instead of doing our photo shoot, Misty and I went to Arlington to the hospital where Malea had been admitted. When I walked into her room, she told me that the cancer has now spread to her bones and her other lung. This was just horrible news. Of course, the more it spreads, the worse it is. And this explains why she had been having so much pain. Even the strong drugs weren't cutting it. I hate seeing her suffer this way. Nobody should have to suffer this way. I wouldn't wish this fate on my worst enemy and yet, here are my best friend and my mother both terminally ill with cancer. I'm so afraid and so overwhelmed with emotion that I can't seem to sit still or know what to do with myself.

I talked to Malea on Tuesday at the hospital and told her I wanted to help her get her son, Justyn, and his new infant daughter (her first granddaughter) out here from Seattle as soon as possible. Little did I know that Justyn had the same idea, because he called me after I got home on Tuesday night and told me that he had tickets for Wednesday for himself, his girlfriend, and their baby daughter, Amaryana. He wanted to know if I could come and pick them up at the airport and bring them to the hospital to surprise his mom. Of course I could. (It was Baltimore and I am in Winchester. The hospital is in Arlington. I won't lie and tell you this wasn't an extreme trip for me.)

I managed not to give the secret away and got myself to Baltimore with relative ease. I picked them up and we started on a GPS driven trip that got us lost in Southeast, D.C. in a very bad neighborhood, where I would not have wanted to stop to ask for directions. Streets were closed and the GPS kept wanting to take us up 13th street, which was closed and under construction. After a very stressful half hour, in which my Justin and I yelled at each other over the Blue Link because I was so scared and he was frustrated that he couldn't just come get us out of there, we managed to make it back to the highway and got to the hospital.

When we went in, we stopped for a restroom break. (I had been in the car for four and a half hours at that point and there was no choice. We were stopping.) While we were in the bathroom and Shakesha was changing Amaryana's diaper, I got a text from Malea, asking if I was still willing to help get Justyn his ticket to get him here. I texted back, "Absolutely! Just let me check some flights." We giggled and got on the elevator.

The reunion was amazing and Malea got to meet her granddaughter for the first time.

Photo by Chelle Newton, Editing by Misty Higgins

There were tears and an unbelievable amount of emotion, not to mention a huge uproar over the surprise of the whole thing. Malea and Justin both were overwhelmed and Justyn got the chance to hug his mom in person. The baby was passed around and I even took a turn.

This was not our red dress photo shoot and Malea and I were bitterly disappointed about the fact that every time we plan something, cancer seems to laugh at us and say, "Really? You thought I was going to let you do that?"

At some point, Malea let me know that they were going to be sending her home either today or tomorrow with hospice care. They can only try to keep her comfortable at this point. She will have a hospital bed, a wheelchair, and be on oxygen from here on.

Malea and Jason have a very large family. There are numerous siblings, children, and grandchildren scattered all around the country, as both came to their marriage with children already. I am hoping to raise money by spreading the information on Malea's website (soon to be updated) about her paypal donation button. With so many people here from all over the United States, there are going to be lots and lots of expenses. If you would like to help, please go to Save Malea and click on the Paypal button. Even $10 can make a difference.

Around 8:00 that evening, I decided I really needed to get home to Winchester, a two hour drive from the hospital. I was starting to feel the fatigue setting in and Malea needed the visitors to leave so she could rest. I was flying along when a police cruiser pulled out behind me and indicated I should pull over. At this point, I was pretty resigned to the fact that I had bought myself a speeding ticket, but after explaining to the very nice deputy where I had been and what I had been doing all day and why I was just trying to get home, he decided to write the ticket for the fact that I had my lights off only. (Why did I have my lights off? Because I thought they were automatic and I have never driven my new car at night before. No wonder all those people were flashing their lights at me.) If I had been in a better emotional state, I would have figured it out, but I'm glad they were off, because that gave my deputy something he could write me up on that wouldn't add points to my license. It could have been a reckless driving charge, but the man took pity on me and my overflowing tears.

I have been extremely emotional this week and it promises only to get more intense in the weeks to come. One thing that is helping is watching this video.

The young man with cancer in the video came up with the idea to do a lip sync at Seattle Children's Hospital to go with Kelly Clarkson's Stronger. If you ever wanted to know who a true warrior is, just watch this. Or watch someone you love fight cancer just to stay alive.

The red dress shoot is on hold indefinitely and most likely canceled. Cancer won again. It truly sickens me how much cancer gets to win.

Today, my cause is breast cancer. Get your yearly mammograms and do your self-checks every month. It can be the difference between life and a life sentence.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Our Own Red Dress Moment!

Jenny Lawson's Traveling Red Dress
It's been awhile since I've posted. Life kind of got in the way and my writing mojo (as I have mentioned several times) seems to have disappeared under the avalanche of the negative.

But recently, a very positive has happened and I felt the need to share with everyone.

If you haven't read about Jenny Lawson's Traveling Red Dress, please click on the link and go read what started this amazing phenomenon. Also here. And then it was covered in a  Katie Couric Appearance and also by Forbes and The Washington Post.

The traveling red dress project is something amazing that Jenny (The Bloggess) Lawson started to empower herself during a time when she was dealing with depression and a major anxiety disorder. Although it was a difficult thing for her to come out to her audience with her mental illnesses, the reaction she got was astounding, as thousands of people responded by telling her of their own emotional problems and mental illnesses. She says on the Katic Couric Show that she keeps a folder of people who were on the verge of suicide and decided to get help because of the response she got from people also suffering in silence. It was a mass coming out of the mental illness closet.

So, what does this have to do with me?

I wanted a red dress moment for myself and Malea. With Malea getting sicker and sicker and the chemo not doing its job, I so wanted to make ourselves a "moment" when she feels beautiful and normal again.

I had been looking around for a photographer to take a family photo (I think 12 years since the last one constitutes now as being a good time to take another one) and my hairdresser suggested Misty Higgins of Moments by Misty Photography here in Winchester. I met with Misty about the family photo and that branched out into a much more intensive meeting about doing a photo shoot with me and Malea. I explained the Traveling Red Dress Project and Misty understood immediately what I was trying to do.

After I met with Misty and we settled on a date and time for both shoots, Misty got to work behind the scenes. She contacted the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley and they agreed to waive their fee of $100 and open up their gardens (please click the link and see where we will be shooting on Tuesday!) to us for the photo shoot. She then got in touch with Judith Platz of Refinements of Shepherdstown, a vintage clothing consignment shop in West Virginia, who graciously opened up her shop and allowed Misty to bring back dresses, button bouquets, jewelry, and accessories for me and Malea to choose from for our photos. Thanks to Judith and Misty and the Museum, we will be able to have a gorgeous moment in the beautiful gardens and it will be commemorated in pictures.

Oh. I forgot the best part. I contacted the local paper to see if they would be interested in doing a story about our red dress moment and how the Winchester community has rallied to give us the best photo shoot possible and they are sending their own photographer out on Tuesday to take pictures and then I will be interviewed by a reporter. They will be running the story of our incredible 10 year friendship and how it has been affected by Malea's cancer, and how the community came together to help us. I will be sure to post up a link to the story as soon as it comes out.

I can't express how grateful I am to everyone who has made this possible for us. Malea is more like my sister than my best friend (although I guess she can be both!) and I want to give her the world right now.

Life is too short not to have your own red dress moment. Please check out all the links (I especially like the story by Katie Couric) and try to have your own red dress moment. You can also check out The Traveling Red Dress Facebook Community if you are on Facebook. I also understand that it is all over Twitter and that red dresses are flying around the globe.

So, if you need help having your moment, all you need to do is reach out. It's amazing what people are willing to do.


Bella Bridal of Winchester has offered any dresses we would like from their bridesmaid collection, along with any accessories on loan for no charge. I am so proud that my community is so incredibly generous. Misty went over yesterday and picked out some gowns to set aside and I am getting ready to go choose the gowns we will wear for the photo shoot. If you have a chance, please check out Bella Bridal on Facebook. They have a beautiful selection of both wedding and bridesmaids gowns.