Yesterday the world lost Michele.
I weep. Not because she and I were close friends. I barely knew her. I weep because I understand. I’ve been there, more or less, on both sides of cancer.
We met, a dozen or so years ago, when our sons started soccer. Nothing memorable, just parents showing up at practices and games, sometimes chatting while the boys kicked around the ball. I remember liking Michele, but not so much her husband—a little too hard core ‘Daddy Coach’ for me. I instinctively knew not to distract him (and by extension, his wife) from focusing on the game.
A few years later, I remember further disliking him. I was soccer registrar and he insisted I bump his star soccer player son up a year or two to play on a team worthy of his son’s skills. Ugh! The boys were all of 8 or 9 years old. It wasn’t going to happen. Still, he argued and gave me a hard time on the phone. I don’t know if he ever knew I was the registrar that day or not. Didn’t matter, I avoided him like the plague thereafter.
About 10 years ago, I saw him and Michele at a game, and remember hoping he wasn’t a complete jerk and treated his wife better than volunteer soccer board members. Why? Because Michele showed up at our boys’ games that season wearing the ubiquitous head scarf of chemotherapy. I didn’t ask about her illness. We weren’t friends and I didn’t want to pry. But I do remember being pleased to see her around over the following years, sporting a head of curls and looking healthy.
8 years ago it was my turn. I got off lucky. Just surgery and radiation—no chemo scarf, and no sympathetic onlookers.
Michele’s son did become a varsity soccer star in high school. My son played JV a couple years. We didn’t attend the same games. The boys weren’t really friends until late in high school. Crossing paths at graduation, I remember Michele looked well and I was pleased. (My opinion of her husband had softened somewhat.)
Over the last couple of years, our sons have become very close. Michele’s cancer returned and her son said she was doing well with treatment. He didn’t talk much about it. I didn’t press. Though saddened, I was optimistic about new treatment options and the years they could buy.
Treatment didn’t buy enough.
And I weep. For her sons, because I know how it is to watch your mother die of cancer. For her husband, because he was powerless to make her better. For Michele 10 years ago, because I know how scary it is to have cancer. Because I know that the first time Michele was diagnosed, her biggest fear was for her boys—of leaving them motherless too young, too soon. For Michele 5 years ago, because I know how she felt over time watching for cancer’s not unlikely return. And that maybe, just maybe, she wouldn’t have the same fight in her again. For Michele last week, because she’d miss her sons’ weddings, and babies, and so much more.
And I weep for the win. Michele won 10 years. She won with time to grow up her boys. She won with her death—at her home, surrounded by loved ones and under hospice care. She won with the relative swiftness of her decline.
And she won with her husband. Because, by all accounts, the guy loved her. And did right by her. And their sons.
Ed, you’re a good guy. I’m sorry I thought otherwise. And I’m truly sorry for your loss.