Someone I work with in my new job recently offered to introduce me to a fellow breast-cancer veteran.
I'm so accustomed to having seniority in this realm that I just assumed I'd be the one offering advice and counsel, that my experience would be the more intense and complex of the two.
I just don't meet that many people who've had breast cancer twice, or who've had it young—let alone both—and I usually find myself occupying the role of instant mentor in these encounters.
Things were different when I was in active treatment—then I'd meet plenty of women with more tortured histories than mine. But they were usually hooked up to an IV bag at the time, or marking time in a doctor's waiting room, not out and about and looking like a million bucks, which this woman was.
We exchanged small talk for a few minutes before moving onto medical histories. I gave the short version of mine, then waited to hear hers.
When she said "Stage IV," I felt my mind turn back on itself, as if I'd calculated how much change I should get back from a twenty-dollar bill and then heard the cashier announce an entirely different figure. Wait
, my brain said to itself. Go back. This can't be right.
But it was.
This lovely, vivacious woman had Stage IV breast cancer.
And she was as matter-of-fact as could be about the whole thing.
Not to mention smart, funny, beautiful, energetic, enthusiastic, kind, and generous.
So now I have a new friend.
And a whole new picture of what Stage IV breast cancer looks like.
It's a life sentence, yes, but it doesn't have to be a death sentence.
And what a life it can be.