Tuesday, October 28, 2008

We Laugh


It all started with a mammogram and then lunch. Francyne and I had been critique partners for over ten years. Nita belonged to our chapter and was helping with the chapter’s writing contest so we asked her to join us for lunch for a couple of weeks to discuss contest business. We laughed, we talked business, laughed, critiqued a bit, and laughed. We ate, oh, and then we laughed. Laughing was big on our lunches.

On this day, Nita told us she had just gotten a call that the doctor wanted her to have a biopsy on a rash that had been noted on her report by her x-ray technician during her mammogram. A silly little rash around her left nipple. I mean, who’d ever heard of a nipple rash. We laughed and teased her that it was just a hickey.

The next week, when Nita met us, she dropped the bomb. It wasn’t just a rash or a hickey. She’d been diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC)—one of the hardest breast cancers to survive. The odds were not in her favor. We were stunned. And of course the first thing out of Francyne’s and my mouth were, “What can we do?”

Nita didn’t hesitate, “Let me meet with you every week. I need . . . to laugh.”

I swallowed a bit of fear down my throat, the seriousness of the mood weighed on my chest. But I’d learned at an early age about the power of laughter. So I looked at Francyne, then back at Nita. “Man, I knew people wanted to join our critique group, but I didn’t know they’d go so far as to get cancer just to get in.”

We all laughed.

That started our weekly laughing-through-cancer lunches. We laughed through Chemo, more biopsies, and we laughed through hair loss.

“I’m sorry, guys.” Nita tossed off her hat during one of our lunches. “I can’t stand to wear a wig . . . or a hat.” We inspected her shiny, bald head. She had a perfect shaped head, and more courage than any woman I’d ever met.

“No problem,” I told her. “Just wear big earrings so people won’t think we’re having lunch with Mr. Clean.”

We laughed.

We arranged our meeting days so it didn’t hit on throw-up days. Nothing ruins a good lunch like that.

The extreme Chemo caused numbness in her hands and feet. During one weekly lunch, Nita kept dropping her food, when about the sixth piece of shrimp hit her blouse she threw down her fork with a clatter.

You would know that at that moment the restaurant went silent. Every eye in the room shifted to Nita, the bald lady with big earrings, having a well-deserved mini meltdown. I saw frustration in her eyes as she bellowed, “Look at me! I’m a mess. I can hardly walk. I’m wearing my lunch. I can’t even feed myself!”

And in the silent restaurant, I bellowed back, “Don’t forget you’re bald, too!”

Nita’s frustration dissolved to laugher. Even several of the restaurant patrons joined in laughing.

Weeks later, the treatment and cancer were taking its toll. Nita, wanting to have her ducks in row, started planning her funeral. She was searching for someone to give her eulogy and getting frustrated because she couldn’t find anyone she liked. During lunch, after hearing her fret, I’d had enough, “Quit this,” I snapped. “If you die, I’ll give your damn eulogy.”

Her eyes widened. “Christie, that’s a wonderful idea. Will you really?”

My throat tightened. Jeepers, what had I gotten myself into, but I couldn’t tell her no. “I’ll tell the mattress story and have everyone laughing,” I said. “Now quit worrying. You’re not gonna die.”

After Nita’s mastectomy, Francyne and I went with her to a specialty store to pick out her fake boob. We all piled into the tiny dressing room and started checking out shapes and sizes for Nita’s boob. Some were too pointed, some were too round, some too perky, some not perky enough. Francyne and I were checking out our own shapes. It was a real boob-analyzing party. And in that tiny dressing room, three friends, one still facing the fight of her life, we did what we did best . . . we laughed.

We laughed so hard that the sales clerk came back to check on us. “I’ve never heard anyone laughing in here like that,” she said.

Nita, wearing the too-perky boob, poked her head out of the curtain. “That’s what we do,” she said. “We laugh.”

That was nine years ago. Today, while you read this, I have an appointment to keep. It’s a celebration of a life. While we still meet once a week, today is special, it’s Nita’s birthday. I’ll tell her what I tell her every year since she’s been cancer free. “You know, the only reason we let you join us was because we thought you were dying.”

And she’ll tell me just like she always does, “Tough titty.” In truth, Nita is an amazing woman, her courage--her non-whining attitude--is an inspiration to us all.

The mammogram where the rash on Nita’s breast was noticed is what saved her life. I just went last week for my annual smooshing-of-the-boobs celebration. Have you had your mammogram this year? If not, go do it. And tell a friend to have hers. Oh, and if someone you know gets a bad diagnosis, remember to laugh. Laugher really is the best medicine.

Happy Birthday, Nita!

Now, here’s what I want from you guys. Tell me about an amazing woman/friend in your life. Hey…us girls gotta stick together.

Crime Scene Christie

18 comments:

Jana DeLeon said...

What a wonderful story! I am so glad your friend is still around to try and keep you in line. :)

Unfortunately, I am due for my book-smashing. (sigh) Must make appointment.

Christie Craig said...

Thanks Jana!

And Nita does her best to make me behave when she's not the one helping me get into trouble.

Today's lunch will be fun.

CC

Jenyfer Matthews said...

Everyone should have a friend like you! I've never saved anyone's life, but I sure have laughed a lot with my best friends. Have a great time at lunch and wish Nita a happy birthday!

Christie Craig said...

Thanks Jenyfer.

And everyone should have a friend like Nita and Francyne, and all my other hangout buddies. Life is too serious, we all need someone who helps us see the lighter side of issues and keeps up laughing even the during tough times. Friends who give purple "funny" gifts, who'll get lost with you, who'll go around the block with you, who'll share a bottle of wine with you, who'll nudge you when you need nudging, and who'll hug you when you need hugging. A friend who sings your praises to the point that she's called your publisist.

Ahh...good friends.

Thanks for posting.

CC

RK said...

Oh My God, Christie! You made me laugh and cry with this post. Everyone should have wonderful friends like you all.

Please wish a Happy Birthday to Nita from me. Enjoy your lunch. Laugh a lot.

And keep inspiring others.

Rashda

Linda C said...

Christie,
You had me both laughing and crying reading Nita's story. In my case having lost my brother, father-in and a couple cousins to cancer it's hard to realize that cancer can be beat. I have several friends who are breast cancer surviors.

My husband has a couple that are friends whose wife survived breast cancer. She has always been a slender girl and when she went to have reconstructive surgery they had to take skin from the inside of her thigh. She said she always wondered why she didn't opt for a double D instead of her normal B cup. Always make me smile.

Happy birthday to Nita. Went for my Mamogram last week and no news is good news.

Linda C

Gemma Halliday said...

Happy Birthday, Nita!

"Tough titties"

All things considered, I love that line. :)

~Gemma

terrio said...

What a fantastic story. Friendship is the greatest gift. I'm so glad you ladies are here to give me my much needed laugh everyday.

My mom is a breast cancer survivor. She's likely the only person in history who managed to do two full rounds of chemo and never lose a pound. She lost lots of hair, but no weight at all. Then she did 35 radiation treatments on her lunch hour. My mother wouldn't know how to take it easy if someone paid her. LOL!

Here's to all the women who have beaten this disease. And all those who haven't. God bless them all!

Keri Ford said...

What a great story and great friends you all are together.

Laughing is the only way to get through something like that. You got have something light to balance out away from the dark.

Tori Lennox said...

What a great story! Happy birthday, Nita!!!

Christie Craig said...

Rashda,

Thank you. We did laugh alot. It was a blast.

Francyne said, "You know, the reason I like meeting with you guys is because you two are as flawed as I am."

Nita's comeback was quick. "Oh, heck no. The reason I like meeting with you two is because I feel superior."

Then they brought us a brownie and ice cream, with three spoons, for Nita's birthday, and she wouldn't even share. :-)

Thanks for stopping in.

CC

Christie Craig said...

Linda C.

You know that's the thing, Cancer is no longer a death sentence, but it sure as heck can feel like it.

And believe me, your friend was smart to stick to the "B" game!!!

Thanks for stopping in.

CC

Christie Craig said...

Gemma,

Both Nita and Francyne are fabulous at those one liners that we love.

CC

Christie Craig said...

Terrio,

You are so right. Friendship is a gift. A big one you give yourself. And girl, hug your mom for me. She sounds amazing.

Francyne and I both say that Nita ruined being sick for us. We will never be able to whine about something because she practically did no whining dealing with the big C.

Thanks for sharing your mom's story. I think more people need to share the survival stories, so just the word Cancer doesn't cause panic.

CC

Christie Craig said...

Keri,

Yup, we need the balance. Life can bite, we just have to bite back and laugh.

Thanks for stopping in.

CC

Christie Craig said...

Tori,

Thanks for stopping in. Nita was thrilled at all the Happy Birthdays she got.

CC

RM Kahn said...

What a great story. Laughter really is the best medicine. My Mother, is my hero. She has fibromyalgia and every day is a trial of pain for her but she still manages to "Kick ass and take names!" This attitude is the way she has always lived and she will do no less now.

Christie Craig said...

rm Kahn,

Give you mom a big hug, girl. We all need heroes.

Thanks for sharing.

CC