It was close to midnight on New Year’s eve when my phone rang. Zenita, the name of my good friend flashed across the screen. I excitedly answered and in surprise realized that the voice on the other end was not one I knew.
The caller identified themselves as her sister and stated she was sorry to tell me that my friend had lost her battle with cancer earlier that day.
Just as my phone rang my then six-month-old baby had suddenly cried out very loudly, seemingly for no reason I couth fathom.
I was immediately overcome with sadness … my friend had died. She had lost her battle with cancer.
I met the woman who would become my friend in college. We were working our way through nursing school. Both of us were adults with families at this time.
I would later find out that she was stricken with cancer and had been going through this process for some time. She had had bilateral mastectomies and breast reconstruction and a few other forms of treatments by the time we met.
If one was not made aware of her illness, she appeared to be the picture of health.
She would start her coursework, become ill, and be forced to hit the pause button. She would then gain some respite, return to school only to have to leave again. Through it all, she remained steadfast.
Zenita was a soft-spoken and beautiful human being. I would often parallel park her car. She was a good driver though parallel parking proved to be her undoing. So each time we had classes together I would park her car.
Our friendship continued through the years. I went on ahead as she took time out for another round with cancer.
Time marched on and we stayed in touch. I graduated nursing school and began working while my friend continued to fight in between bouts of schooling.
Sometime later we met for breakfast and I told her of my plans to move. She put me in contact with her sister’s friend through whom I could make inquiries about employment.
Even though her life was complicated, she still took time out to care about mine and offer her assistance. My friend had been in the fight for her life for years. I never heard her complain about her circumstances.
She fought a good fight.
Life continued. We spoke regularly and by this time, cancer had given her some reprieve. She had finally graduated from nursing school and was planning to move my way as well.
She flew down for our mutual friend’s wedding and she looked well and healthy.
If you met her and did not know her history, one would never guess at the battle raging beneath.
She remained hopeful.
She looked healthy and beautiful and we had a blast at the wedding reception. We partied and danced the night away. Though for some reason we did not take a picture together. I have never had a picture of her, though I still see her so clearly and hear her voice.
We said our goodbyes and anticipated the promised relocation a few months later.
Soon it was in November, Thanksgiving Day. I received a call from Zenita, but I was at work. We chatted for a short while, then she told me that her family was visiting and asked me to call her later. I promised I would call her on my way home from work.
I did not make the call!
Soon Christmas came around and life was hectic. I had given birth in June of that year and found myself juggling many balls in the air.
Next came the eve of the New Year and a phone call showing the name Zenita across the screen. At the same time, my baby yelped out loudly for no reason I could identify.
I answered happily and the voice on the line informed me my friend had suddenly taken a turn for the worse earlier that day and had passed away.
I was shocked and saddened and when I hung up the phone I knew an invaluable jewel had been stolen from us.
My friend had succumbed to a final jab from the evil known as cancer.
Cancer — How I hate that word!
My friend epitomized the meanings of grace, determination, beauty, and hope throughout.
No doubt a journey fraught with pain, fear, and at times despair.
I never heard her complain with bitterness or anger, she remained stalwart. I do know that one of her greatest regrets was that she may not be around for her children.
I will forever regret the call I did not make.
I think of her often and if I listen keenly, I can still hear her gentle tone saying my name.
She was truly a lovely person. And I miss her every day.