It has been one year today since my friend Kris passed away. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that I was talking to her. In others, it seems like an eternity has passed.
It still makes my stomach turn to think about her passing. She was such a wonderful person, and she continues to inspire me to keep fighting. She always believed that I would make it, even when I wasn’t sure. She tried her best to restore my faith, as she herself was so pious, however I continue to struggle in that regard. In her honor, I am reposting my post from that day.
Kris-I think about you every single day. I constantly wonder what its like; if you were at peace; If you can still see your children from wherever you are. I know I will never get these answers, but it would just make me feel better to know. You should know how missed you are, and not just by me. You continue to be missed by all of our coworkers, your family and friends. Your death was very hard on them. Your family loves you so much too. The kids are getting so big–Claire looks so much like you, and she is so sweet like you. I saw your mom, sister-in-law and the kids at the Geauga County fair back in Sept. It was wonderful to see them. I was lucky enough to get some hugs and kisses from the kiddos. I had to swallow the lump that was growing in my throat because I wished so badly that it were you hugging them. I know you do too. It feels so much more real now, given my prognosis. Dying, that is. I can only hope and pray that you still believe in me–in my beating this–and that you continue to watch over me. I promise to keep talking to you daily so that you don’t get lonely. Who else will keep you updated about the VA goings-on?! Who would make completely inappropriate jokes just to make you laugh, if not me?! If you have any pull upstairs, please try to keep me here on earth for a while longer. But if that isn’t in the cards for me, please save me a seat with a good view of my family. The day you died was the coldest day here on record. We threw water in the air, and it immediately turned to ice. It’s not as cold today as it was one year ago, but it continues to feel like it to me.
ONE YEAR AGO….
This is a post that I’ve been dreading for a long time. This post will not be funny, witty or charming. But it will be honest. So here it goes.
Yesterday evening, my friend Kris lost her long, hard, battle with cancer. She passed away with her family and friends at her side, likely just as she would have wanted.
Surreal. That is one thing that I’m feeling. Unfortunately for Kris, the odds were stacked against her from the very beginning. Triple negative breast cancer, if you look it up, is one of the, (if not THE), most aggressive forms of cancer anyone can get. It is very fast moving, and I remember her telling me that it moves so quickly that if/when she had to miss a chemo treatment, (due to low blood counts or what have you), it would immediately spread. And she was right. It seemed that every time she missed a treatment, things would get worse for her. Don’t you worry though–if you talked to her, you never would have known. She has 100% always been more concerned about YOU than anything else. That is just the kind of person that she was. In any case, just a few short weeks ago, Kris and Mark came to visit me in the hospital. We had a nice, long talk about faith, death and dying. They have both been trying to help me find my faith. Kris told me that she wasn’t afraid of death, and that the only thing that bothered her was that Claire (her daughter) may remember her, but Drazen (her younger son), likely wouldn’t, without looking at a picture. Mark asked if we could pray together before they left, and the whole time, they only prayed for ME. We hugged, said our goodbyes, and that was the last time I saw her looking healthy. About a week later, Kris was admitted into a room only a few doors down from me at Seidman. The cancer had spread to her brain. I remember Kris telling me once that ultimately with her type of cancer, it either spreads to your brain or to your lungs (or both in her case), which is how it eventually kills you. Her mom came to tell me she was there. I went to see her. She couldn’t hold food down, and just got finished throwing up again. Her words were slurring slightly. I told her how sorry I was, and that I’m praying for her. Then I told her sternly, “you can do this.” I kissed her on the cheek. I kissed her 3 times like I do with Mack. (I’m not sure what I believe, but I have always done this for 2 reasons. 1. 3 for “I love you”. and 2. a sign of the holy trinity). So to see her in such a dire state after a little less than a week was surreal to say the least. A few days ago, her husband posted what seemed to be a fairly urgent message that anyone who wanted to see Kris/say goodbye should do so. I went with a group of other girls who I work with. When we got there, her room was filled with people. I knew to expect her not to look like herself. I told myself to hold it together. But when I went in there–when I saw her family–when I saw her lying there unconscious, barely breathing–I couldn’t hold it together. I really really lost it. Mark had told me that she said she was tired of fighting. That she was ready to go. I knew that she was suffering, and that it was for the best. But even still, it just isn’t fair. It was a very hard day. I knew then I would lose my coach.
I want to say this. Kris and I were promoted together at work. When it happened, the timing was such (due to my maternity leave), that it was just the two of us for a while, in a new office. Our cubcicles were right next to eachother, and for the first time in the years prior we had worked together, I really got to know her. Even still, we were not nearly as good of friends as she was with another group of girls who I work with. Kris was so soft spoken and nice to everyone. I swear like a trucker, and am a sarcastic asshole about 95% of the time. Opposites to say the least! We never ate lunch together, or attended outside of work events like she did with others. She was very close to those girls, and my heart aches for their loss. BUT,over this past year and a half, we have developed a very different kind of relationship. Both having stage 4 cancer, and faced with the possibility of death, both going through aggressive treatment, yet still trying to function enough to perform in our jobs…well we had a lot to talk about. I really leaned on her. And for her, I would tell her (as embarrassed as it made her), that she would “beat the shit out of this”, and “fuck cancer”. She coached me through the various stages of chemo and the symptoms, helped me with my diet, (even gave me her old juicer), visited me during infusion, and when I was really feeling down like I couldn’t do this, she convinced me that I could, and helped me gain optimism and a fighting spirit. All the while I would watch her in awe. At least I had a lot of treatment options, I would always think. At least lymphoma, even in late stages, is more treatable than triple neg breast cancer, I would think. Look at how strong she is, I would think. I can do that too, I convinced myself. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, I’d say. Look at Kris!, I’d yell. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. Pick yourself up, I’d convince myself. Get your shit together. Things could ALWAYS be worse. Just look at poor Kris, I would say. Still handling herself with such dignity and grace; still only trying to help me out, and concerned about me finding my faith, and not being afraid anymore. Even though I knew it was a long shot, I guess it was kind of like we were in this together. We would win this together. “Once we both beat this, let’s have a kick ass joint party at Patterson’s” I told her once. She happily agreed to help with planning.
I mentioned to her early on when this all started, my immense fear of death and dying (something that I’ve actually had panic attacks about as far back as high school). And as I’ve mentioned before, I have always been envious of her strong faith. I can’t tell you how much better it makes me feel, knowing that she wasn’t afraid in the end, and that she truly believed she was going to heaven. And I’ll tell you this. If there is a heaven, and I still don’t know what I believe anymore, she would be the first one there. People keep telling me, and so many people believe that God has a plan for all of this. That God chose her to come to heaven. That I have cancer because God knows I’m strong enough to handle it. I can say with 100% truth that I really really really wish that I could believe that. And I really have been trying to get there. But right now, I just can’t. I don’t believe that. I don’t think that Kris should have died. That her poor family should have to suffer that kind of loss. That her kids should have to grow up without their mother. That God would bring my cancer back a second time, and this time make it more aggressive, simply because it is part of some devine plan. And unfortunately, since I don’t believe there is a plan, I don’t know that I believe there is a heaven or a hell, or some great place you go after you die. I pray constantly. I don’t know if its meaningless because technically I’m a doubter. That’s like a major sin, right? I don’t know. But I’ll tell you what I hope: I hope that there is a God. I hope that because Kris believed so whole heartedly in a heaven that she is there right now. I hope that one day, I can get there too. Until then, I’ll just keep trying to regain my faith. My dad told me that one good thing is that now I don’t have to pray FOR Kris, I can pray TO her. And he is right about that. Before she died, I once told her that if she went before me, I would kindly ask that she haunt the shit out of me, so I know for sure there was an after life. She laughed at me, but I kind of hope she remembers that. (Only Kris, please don’t be too scary, because that would suck. Be like a super nice ghost, as I’m sure you probably would be).
Guilt. That’s something else I feel. I know its irrational, and its just the nature of the cards we were each dealt, but I can’t help but feel guilty that I lived, and she died. That SHE was the GOOD one, the pious one, the one with faith, (need I go on?!). And I know for a FACT, that I am not those things. She was a MUCH better person than I am or ever have been. (Now I know my family is going to chime in here to make me feel better, but don’t. I already know this for a fact). So why did SHE have to die? And if she died, being the kind of person she was, then shit, what’s in store for me?! That was such a selfish comment, even. See?! Kris would never think about herself like that. Ugh. I think it’s called survivor’s guilt or something, and I really hope it goes away, but it plagues my mind daily. I can’t sleep. And then I think, am I supposed to do something great with my life to honor her in some way? Like what? It feels like a lot of pressure to keep fighting hard. Like I said, my rational mind knows not to think this way, so hopefully I’ll snap out of it. But that is how I feel currently.
I don’t really know what else to say except this. To Claire and Drazen. I hope that one day someone reads this to you:
When you grow up, and you think about your mommy, and you wonder if she ever did anything great with her life, please know this. She saved mine.
Kris R. Stefanac
Rest in Peace.