Posted by: Rob | November 5, 2009

Passages

I received word today that a dear friend has died.

Of the many things I have learned and come to realize about the wider world – and beyond – around us, recognizing – and accepting – gifts is chief among them.

Shelley and I were seeking treatment for her Stage IV melanoma at the IMAQ (now called CIPAG) Clinic in Tijuana, Mexico in March 2006 when we met Tee and Dee.  It was in the clinic’s treatment room, where the IV treatments are done.  I don’t recall exactly, but we weren’t very many days into the 21 day treatment program.  It may have even been that first day.

Tee was in a very emotional state when she came in to start her treatment and took a chair near Shelley’s.  When you are in the grips of a life-threatening disease, the niceties and social decorums are significantly shortened, and it doesn’t take long before you are sharing intimate details of your disease progression with virtual strangers, just like foxhole buddies under fire.

Tee’s condition was an aggressive form of inflammatory breast cancer.  Traditional treatments of surgery, chemo and radiation had been offered to her back home, but the prognosis was poor and she had turned it down.  She described being met with frustration and anger from the health providers as a result of her refusal to “get with the program”.  Instead she elected to try alternative treatments at one of the myriad clinics operating in the Tijuana area of Mexico.

When we met, Tee and Dee had just finished a week’s worth of treatment at another clinic.  The doctor there, after extracting an exorbitant sum in treatment costs, had pronounced Tee incurable and suggested she go home and attend to her affairs.  They were staying in one of the American hotels in San Ysidro on the US side.  These hotels essentially cater to Mexican clinic patrons and operate a shuttle service to and from the clinics daily.  As they rode the shuttle back, Tee was in tears.  A fellow shuttle passenger inquired after the reasons for Tee’s distress and, upon hearing what had happened, recommended that she try Dr. Castillo and the IMAQ clinic.

That, in a nutshell, was the story we heard the day we met.

We saw them again each day and Shelley and Tee would visit for the whole time they were getting the IV treatments.  Life stories were exchanged and a bond formed between the two women.  Dee and I would visit as well, discussing all manner of things, I suspect, in order to keep our minds off the reason we where there with our respective wives.  While we would all sit together at times in the treatment room, often it would be full of patients and those of us not receiving treatments would have to sit in the building lobby or out on the front patio.

As we were staying in a vacation rental and had a rental car, we offered to host Tee and Dee on outings now and then.  While the hotel offers shuttle service to grocers, restaurants and malls to provide relief from being cooped up in the rooms, I think it was with relief that they accepted the offer of dinner out or a walk on the beach.  One of the last day’s at the clinic, after treatments, we walked a few blocks south to a flea market together.

Shelley and Tee’s treatment programs ended around the same time, but their flight home was a day before ours.  It was a late flight and they had several hours between hotel check out and check in at the airport.  We offered to pick them up from their hotel, go to lunch and bring them up to our place while waiting to leave.

I remember walking out on Ocean Beach that day, a beautiful April day in southern California.  Feeling the breeze.  Tee had never seen the Pacific Ocean before.  Despite all that had happened and was happening to her, she viewed the world around her with an almost child like wonder.  At the airport curbside, our goodbyes to our new found dear friends took long enough that airport security had to come over and hurry us up.  With promises to keep in touch on the air, we watched them enter the terminal as we drove off.  It was the last time that Shelley and Tee would see each other.

A couple of letters would be exchanged and a couple of phone conversations before metastatic melanoma took Shelley in August of that year.  Tee wrote a heartfelt letter to Shelley at her old e-mail address after I had let them know of her passing.  They shared a kind of friendship that develops over years for most.

I continued to keep in touch with Tee in the weeks and months after Shelley died.  At a particularly low point in my grieving, Tee sent me a marvelous note that means a great deal to me.  As I made my way northward after my epic road trip, I made a stop at Dee and Tee’s in Idaho in December ’06.  I had left phone messages to let them know I was coming, but they weren’t home when I arrived.  I debated with myself: Should I leave a note and go on?  Should I wait a while?

And then something moved me to call their son.  I knew from our time in Mexico that their youngest son lived just down the road from them.  I called their house and learned that they were on their way home from Idaho Falls and would be home very soon.  So I waited, and spent most of the afternoon and early evening visiting.  I’m glad I did.

At one point, Tee shared a story with me about a widower they knew.  After his wife died, he didn’t think he would ever remarry.  But Tee told him, “You know, your wife needed you.  You just might meet someone else who needs you too.  You should remain open to the possibility.”  And later, this widower did meet someone.  And he did remarry.

Those words stayed with me and I kept Tee abreast of the progress I was making in my grief journey and, when I met someone new, I wanted Tee to meet her as well.

The trip to Idaho Falls in 2007 was the last time I saw Tee.  I continued to correspond with her but, over time, her e-mails declined in frequency.  Her e-mails became mostly chain mail forwards and the odd time that she did write a note, she admitted that she was in a lot of pain.

I thought of Tee from time to time, wondering how she and Dee were doing.  If she was still with us.  And today I received word that I need wonder no longer.  Tee passed away on October 20th.  Dee sent me a link to her obituary.  As I read it, I realized that there was a lot I had learned about her during our brief times together, but there was a lot I did not know.  I do know, though, that she was a very special person.  She was gifted in a number of ways.  She will be missed by all those whose lives she has touched.  I will miss her.  I hope she is at peace now.  Free of pain.  And re-united with her friend.

TandS2006

Tee and Shelley at Tijuana Flea Market, April 2006

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Responses

  1. sorry to hear of the loss of your friend. seems she was a remarkable person, and was important for Shelley along the way…

    although my encounter with cancer wasn’t in the same realm, i found the intimacy you mention. next weekend, i’m off to spend time with my two ‘breast cancer grannies’ – the gals who went through it with me, with wine and humor and brutal honesty.

  2. They’re catching up, I’m sure of it.

  3. I’m sorry to hear that, pal. Would it help if I raised a glass tonight in memorial?

  4. This is a very nice story Rob. I am glad that Tee and Shelley met, and that they enjoyed that bond.

    It is funny, the people that touched Andy’s life at the end also remain special to me. He met one via ICQ chat, and the man and his wife would email Andy daily and call occasionally to keep his spirits up. I lost contact when their email changed, but I still often think of them.

  5. sorry to hear about your friend (i’m about to hoark up a similar post).

    it’s amazing, in retrospect, how much we remember of the last times we see each other. keep her in your heart as the smiling friend.

  6. I had a very dear friend who died from breast cancer on my birthday 8 years ago. At that stage she was an emaciated shell of the person we knew and loved. When I picture her now, I see her as she was pre-cancer: young at heart, vibrant, beautiful, with a head of long, shimmering red hair. I hope Tee’s out there with her, somewhere, both of them smiling. I’m sorry for your loss x

  7. So sorry you have yet another loss to deal with. do you think it was the treatment at the clinic that gave Tee so much more time than was predicted?

  8. Sorry, to hear that. I lost a friend on the 5th. 2009 keeps distinguishing itself.

  9. Sehr geEhrter Roberto

    Thank you for sharing with us – and best wishes for you all

    Your obedient servant etc

    G E

  10. Thank you all for reading and commenting.


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