My heart sank when I read it. 24. Full of vibrant life and joy. Gone. Cancer.
Amanda and I were in the Nutritional Therapy Practitioner program together. There were four of us driving up to Los Angeles together for our first workshop weekend. I had never met Amanda. We’d only texted. We picked her up in the most random, sketchy parking lot in Mission Bay. She had a huge smile on her face and we hugged immediately upon meeting. I was about eight months post-chemo and she admired my buzz cut.
“You’re rocking it! It didn’t look that good on me!”
“Oh, you’ve had a shaved head? What inspired you to shave it?” I asked so naively.
“I had cancer, too!!” she squealed. I never would have known! Her long, blonde hair cascaded over her shoulders in that surfer girl, SoCal kind of way.
We immediately bonded over cancer-related things. She went through chemo when she was 18. I went through when I was 28. There were so many similarities, though. And yet, there she was--a picture of health. Fit, energetic, excited about life. She represented healing to me--the hope of full recovery as I was still in the nearly-new throes of chemo recovery. If she could do it, I could, too! Chemo had ended five years ago for her and she celebrated her cancer-free life with anticipation and joy. According to modern medicine, Amanda was “cured.” That’s what they tell you when you’ve had clear scans for five years. Amanda wanted to work with kids that had cancer like she did.
We got to our AirBnB--four strangers turned friends. Our excitement was palpable. We paraded around the studio apartment scrambling to finish our assignment for the following day. We all put our healthy, NTP-to-be food in the fridge. These were my people. My kind of weirdos.
I loved listening to Amanda talk. She had so much energy that she could barely contain it. She talked a mile a minute--with a biochemistry background! Hardly anyone could keep up. I know I couldn’t!
The first two workshops came and went. The course was flying by. At the end of the second workshop, I made sure to approach Amanda immediately about being my final exam partner for the Functional Evaluation. During the third term, though, we didn’t hear much from her. We didn’t hear from her at all. I figured she was probably out living life--too busy to worry much about final exams.
One afternoon as I was practicing the Functional Evaluation with another friend, she said, “I think Amanda has cancer again.” “No way!” I couldn’t believe it. I looked up a GoFundMe on Amanda and found it. Her cancer had come back. I was devastated for her. She had a gigantic tumor pressing on her lungs and spine. Breathing had become difficult for her. She had so much nausea and pain. She was in the hospital all drugged up. They couldn’t start her on chemo until they got her off of pain meds and got her strong enough to eat and take the chemo. I don’t even know if that ever happened. I found a new exam partner and the final workshop weekend went by, but I felt Amanda’s absence. It was heavy on my heart--even if I only knew a fraction of what she was going through. I was terrified for her. But she was a fighter. If anyone could beat it, it was Amanda.
With cancer, no news is NOT good news. Until yesterday, I hadn’t heard any updates since that weekend in June. Every Sunday, I would think of her as I was singing in church and would desperately plead for her healing. “Jesus, Jesus, you make the darkness tremble.” The darkness was cancer.
Yesterday, I finally decided to reach out to her boyfriend. As I was writing the email, I remembered her GoFundMe and looked it up. That’s when I saw it.
“Amanda passed away on September 18 from cancer.”
No!! This could not be happening. I immediately began sobbing. Gasping for air, desperately hoping it wasn’t true, but knowing that it was. Mike immediately bolted into the room. Through sobs, I said, “Amanda died.” He hugged me and we grieved together as I kept saying, “This is so unfair!” I looked up at him and saw that he was crying, too. He had never met Amanda, but it didn’t matter. She had lost the battle--the battle that he had seen me fight. A different battle, but a similar battle.
How could someone so full of life, so full of joy be gone? I regretted not reaching out to her boyfriend sooner...when a person’s loved one is dealing with cancer, the last thing they often want to do is be updating a bunch of different people and saying the same thing over and over again. I kept my distance. Because of that, I didn’t find out she had passed away until over a month after it happened. I missed her service. I would have loved to have been there to celebrate her beautiful life...to grieve alongside all the people that knew and loved her. It must’ve been a packed house. She was that kind of person.
The reason I’m writing this is to tell you that it’s not all rainbows and remission. There are people that die from this disease every day. We aren’t God. We can do everything in our power to be healthy, but we will never be immune. No one will. While there are many days of thankfulness and deep awe that I am still on this earth, now is a time to grieve. It’s a time to pray for Amanda’s family, to fight back survivor’s guilt, to do everything in my power to help my clients through life-changing diagnoses and help them thrive. At the same time, we need to surrender the control we think we have and remind ourselves that we are not in charge. And I don’t know why God lets things like this happen, but I know we’re living in a broken world and we can’t fix it with the perfect diet or with all the rebounding imaginable. I know that life is short. My challenge to you is that you reach out to someone that you’ve been thinking about for a while. It doesn’t matter how long it’s been. Reach out. Say hi. Tell them you care about them. As cliche as it may sound, we never know how much time we have on this blessed earth. Use it well.