I lost another life-long friend yesterday. To cancer. Not breast, but a nasty glioblastoma.
She was a very private person, so although I have known since August, 2019 she was sick, I have kept her peace. She asked me to do this, and I honored her request because it was her life and I respected that. This was a hard secret to keep, however.
I received a message at 9 a.m. January 27,2021 from her younger brother, who is also a friend:
📌 Got a call from Pam’s hospice nurse at 12:30 this AM. Went there with my brother and Pam passed with us at her side at 1:34AM. Along with sadness there was grace and peace. Thanks for your prayers.📌
She told me a couple of months after diagnosis and initial treatment or surgeries. You see, she lived in the same apartment building as my mother, a floor below. My mother adored her and she saw my mother and stepfather in the building this one day and they were understandably upset and she wanted me to hear it from her that glioblastoma had taken up residence in her body.
I told her it was an improvement because she never told me she had breast cancer until she was completely finish treatment and we used the same surgeon. Kind of a weird thing to laugh about but we did laugh about it. Because the one thing you know about her is she has always been fiercely independent and very strong.
The day she told me I told her I was loaning my mother to her and she laughed and said “only if I can give her back.”
Glioblastomas are horrible and relentless and she fought this bravely, all in, and with humor, even.
We connected fairly often during these past couple of years of her life when she was able and we shared many laughs over growing up and the adulthood we didn’t reckon for and the fact that I had given her logistical custody of my mother. We used to giggle and she loved my mother as much as my mother loved her.
But Pam was never one that wanted to sit still and have people feel sorry for her so I respected her privacy and quest for independence at this final stage in her life since I found out. She worked as long as she could and then like many others got shut off from life and people due to COVID-19 .
When she told me what was going on we kept making plans for her to come out and spend some time with us, but then it just never happened. It was either radiation or the effects of the chemo or the MRIs. And then COVID-19 happened and we couldn’t see each other.
She’s been very brave and very stoic and I just can’t believe we’re here. I can’t believe I have to talk about her in the past tense. We had some amazing conversations these last almost two years of her life I feel very lucky and blessed that I had the time.
Pam worked until she couldn’t, her career was very important to her.
I always knew she was on borrowed time because I asked my oncologist to be straight with me about her cancer. He shook his head and said she will be fine for a while, and then it will move fast, that it was very aggressive.
We went to junior high and high school together. I came to our prep school for high school before her and I remember when she decided she wanted to try to come to this school as well. I remember I was talking to her on the phone sitting on my mother’s bed in my parent’s bedroom looking up at the canopy on her Chippendale bed.
She came to our prep school and immediately fit in. She had a gift for making people comfortable and she was also so funny at times.
High school was many adventures and many trips to her parents house in Margate, NJ. There was even the time we were driving down a local road and she was driving her dad’s car and we were almost out of gas. I don’t even remember why we were out that night we had originally been hanging out in her family room. And as far as summer highlights she was the one who introduced me to the Anchorage in Somers Point. I still hate beer but I loved the Anchorage.
I will note like most teenage girls and young adults we did argue at times. I never liked it because I loved Pam. I will also note that she had one of my favorite bedrooms when we were growing up. It wasn’t kid-like and it was so feminine and pretty.
When we all went off to college, I don’t think I would’ve made it through freshman year without a lot of late night phone calls to Pam from Ohio where I was, to Geneva, New York where she was. And I remember going to visit her one weekend with another friend… and losing my turnpike ticket out the car window and having to pay the entire stretch of the highway.
Between college and middle-age, there was a stretch of time where we didn’t really see much of each other except for occasionally bumping into each other at a party or a reunion.
But then we reconnected, and stayed in touch and saw each other. She was at my wedding, and she was one of the people we managed to keep the surprise aspect with. So she walked in thinking it was a Christmas party, seeing me in a wedding dress and marched up to me and laughed, wagged a finger at me, and said “I knew it!”
This past summer when there were the riots in Philadelphia, I hadn’t had the news on so I didn’t know until the next morning what happened in Philadelphia that hellish night when I turned my cell phone on and Pam had texted me “is your mom OK?”.
That was May 30, 2020.
She then messaged me that the city was on fire and that the rioters and looters were in their neighborhood but they were OK and she was pretty scared. She’s the one that told me that 17th and Walnut in Philadelphia was basically burned to the ground. She remarked at the time that it started as a basic protest and then turned bad because other people appeared on the scene. She then admitted to me that she was scared although they were safe, and that this whole thing that was happening then in Philadelphia was insane.
What did Pam do next? She went on her walker with her health companion up to my mother’s apartment to make sure my mother and stepfather were ok. That was quintessential Pam.
Why am I telling you all of these things? Because I want everyone to know and remember her for the awesome woman she was. An outstanding professional career and personally one of the best people a lot of us have ever known. She always kept it real and I am grateful to have known her. I will always hold her in my heart, and I will miss her.
Pam loved to travel so I imagine her on a COVID-19 free trip to Paris or some exotic tropical paradise right now.
May her memory be a blessing and may we always hold her in our hearts. But this is a loss that is really hard for me.
We had breast cancer not that far apart from one and other. We had the same surgeon whom we both adored, Dahlia Sataloff at Penn. I have written about her over the years. I was still a patient but out a couple/few years when Pam had her surgery. And she literally didn’t tell me until like a year after she finished treatment and when she did it was in a blasé “oh by the way” manner. But she didn’t want fuss, she just wanted to git r’ done so to speak.
I have cried when no one is watching for a couple of days. I have also been as angry as hell. I wasn’t going to write about this, then decided I should. I need to process this and set it free.
Here comes all of the survivors’ guilt and mixed emotions. Not only have I lost someone who literally knew me before I had my period or even had breasts, we had the same surgeon, did our treatment, and yet a truly horrible cancer came and took her away.
And I am still here. I thank the good lord above and modern medicine, yet this screws with your head. The cancer coward in every survivor is happy to still be standing, yet a tiny voice sometimes wonders why her, why them, why not me?
And I have to push through these feelings and I know I do, but today I am still tired. 2020 was a brutal year for all of us with the COVID-19 of it all, and 2021 seems to be testing us as well.
This will be my second virtual funeral this month. Right at the New Year we said goodbye to another high school friend, Tiger. To kidney cancer. I feel like methuselah and I am 56.
God never gives us more than we can handle, this is very true. But I am over this empty hole inside me that feels like a giant chasm for a couple of days called grief and loss.
I have been going back to my breast cancer treatment days and have spent the past couple of days being completely and utterly selfish and trying to do things for myself. I ordered a couple of things for my garden. In the old days I might’ve gone to get my hair done or get a manicure but it’s COVID-19 and I haven’t had my shot yet.
I hope my friends are in heaven having a glass of wine together. They both knew each other and both loved Paris, so maybe they are in the heavenly Paris. That’s a nice visual in my mind’s eye so I am going to stick with that.
I apologize for being a Debbie Downer with this post, but for almost 10 years now I have kept it real here.
Don’t squander life. Live it and celebrate the everyday joys and moments.