I'm not sure if everything really does happen for a reason, but I do know that there are people that are meant to be in your life.
I first met Annie Goodman at camp (where all Jews on Long Island go) when we were about 9 years old. Fast-forward 20 years and, in 2012, at 30 years old, we were both diagnosed with breast cancer one day apart. Both of us diagnosed with rare types, me with inflammatory breast cancer, Annie with triple negative. We lived in different states (Annie in New York, me in Connecticut) but we talked in some form nearly every single day for the next, almost three years.
We shared tips about our respective treatments, since she had her mastectomy first, and I started chemo first. We started our own little insomnia club and watched bad TV "together" at two in the morning. And there was a lot of talk... about poop. When she was feeling well she came to visit me, and when I was feeling well I visited her. Even though we talked so often, being physically together brought a whole other kind of comfort. We were like two old ladies that could just sit for hours side by side and not say a word. We were together. That was enough.
In early 2013, after we had both finished our treatments, we had a party. Sort of a fuck you, cancer, we kicked your ass to the curb and don't come back, party. Annie, a self-described diva, got a dress from one of her favorite places (Rent the Runway) and had her makeup professionally done. I showed up in jeans, my typical mismatched socks, and a headband keeping my newly grown in hair tamed. Annie wouldn't have any of it, took me in to the bathroom, threw my headband away, gave me some lipstick (and put it on me herself) took a step back, sighed, and said, we'll just drink a lot. What a night.
Two weeks later I found out my cancer had spread to my bones. Of course Annie was the first person I told and, though I didn't think I was up for it, insisted on coming to see me. And of course, she helped me tremendously just by being there. I started a new treatment and she checked in constantly, while she went back to living her life in the crazy, in your face, way that only Annie could.
Then, in late 2013, a tearful Annie called to tell me that her cancer had come back. We were now both stage IV, metastatic, a word we both dreaded. It had spread to her ovary, and then her lungs.
On New Year's Eve, we were not physically together, but texting, mostly about Billy Joel, who was playing on TV at the time. We planned to see him in 2014. When Annie said that our bodies like to grow things, our close friend Jackie had told us that we need to start growing gardens, not tumors. Annie texted me "Happy New Year to my fav cancer mutated freak," to which I replied, "Back atcha. Here's to growing more gardens and less cancer in 2014."
Three days later Annie texted me from the hospital that they found lesions on her brain. She asked me to come see her. I ended up staying in the hospital with her the night before and the night of her brain surgery. Crazy as it sounds, we had fun. Of course, most of it was because of the drugs Annie was on, but still. After two nights of running back and forth to the nurses station, sleeping in a weird, half-reclining, half-torture device chair, and being forced to eat Cheez-Its (that she loved, I didn't, but I ate them, while she laughed), she told me I earned my Billy Joel ticket.
In June 2014 we finally made it to see Billy Joel. It was an amazing night, an incredible weekend, and the last time I saw Annie in person.
Two months later, my cancer had progressed even more and I started another new treatment -- this time an oral chemo. The side effects were and are sometimes brutal, and worse, made it nearly impossible for me to get to the city to see Annie, whose cancer was also progressing. We still talked almost every day and then, devastation. Annie had a stroke, more progression, more brain surgery. She was transferred to a rehab facility and asked me to come see her.
I was determined to go in and said I would see her that weekend. Then I got sick and wasn't able to go in. The following week, after she was released from rehab, she moved to Michigan to be with her family. She told me to come see her and I was trying to work it out, when the unthinkable happened. Annie was gone. Just one week after the last time we texted.
I can't describe it, but the morning she died I felt her go. I knew what was happening even before I got the call. But I didn't want to believe it. She couldn't be gone. I felt like someone had ripped my heart out. I kept reaching for the phone to text her, or expecting every text I received to be from her, complaining about something stupid someone posted online, or telling me to turn on the TV and watch some ridiculous show.
Annie's memorial was beautiful. Friends were there wearing pink nail polish, stiletto heels, all done up, just the way Annie would have been. I even wore the lipstick she gave me. But it was all so surreal. How did we get there? How can we be saying goodbye to Annie? As some of us were standing by her gravesite, sharing memories, the gray clouds that had covered the sky suddenly parted and a ray of sunshine beamed down on us. We joked that that had to be Annie, telling us to wrap up the chitchat and get going so we could binge on Shiva food.
So we left. And will return to our lives as Annie would do.
But life as I know it is forever changed.
My heart will come back a little stronger every day, but it will never be the same. There will always be the spot that Annie carved out, in my heart, and in my life. I couldn't have gotten through these last almost three years without her, and am scared to go on without her. But she'll never be truly gone. Someone as special as Annie can never truly be gone for good. I will always have a place for Annie. Until we meet again.