Friday, March 29, 2013 at 9:20AM
When my dear friend, Annette, passed away in late December of last year, I was crushed. She was an incredible human being and the toughest cancer warrior I knew. Our friendship was truly special – we were more than just two people going through a similar situation together with similar attitudes. We were real friends. And within our friendship grew a sanctuary for each other. I felt safe when I was talking to or spending time with Annette, and I think I did the same for her. We were two soldiers in the trenches with each other, surrounded by loving family and friends but especially bonded by our battles with cancer. In my mind, there is no one who understood the whole cancer experience more than she did. There is no one who connected with me more on the “we’re fighting cancer and doing our best to survive” level than she did. Losing her was a great, great loss for me. It was as if I was alone, in the wild, foraging for myself in a world that was unknown to me. Never mind that I was over two years into treatment, extremely close with my medical team, and bonded as ever with my family and friends and colleagues. The truth is, when I found out that Annette had passed away, I felt as lonely as I ever have. It was one of the darkest moments in my life. Grieving for Annette has been a long process. There was no punctuated breakdown or day where I couldn’t get out of bed. Instead, it was as if there was a little sad cloud over me at all times, no matter how great my day was. I couldn’t shake the persistent sadness over my friend, and I didn’t want to shake it, either. Holding on to that feeling of loss was still holding on to my friend, so I didn’t mind that even the most fun days were curbed by a tinge of sadness. That was ok for me, and I lived like that for months. Maybe I’m still living like that. Ever since her death, I wrote Annette’s initials on the inside of my left wrist. It was instinctual, really. I hadn’t planned on doing it or keeping it up, but every day when I woke up, I scrawled “a.c.” on my wrist and went about my day. When something went well, I’d smile at it. When I grinding through a chemo week, I’d look at it and feel stronger. When I was playing basketball and made a shot, I’d kiss it. This was a physical representation of my friend, and it gave me some peace. And it made me feel close to Annette. Yesterday, I made it permanent. I went to my favorite vegan tattoo artist, James Spooner (wonderful guy), and inked her initials on my wrist forever. I chose to do it in lower case, since that was how Annette wrote all of her personal emails. I also chose the font that she’d always use, Courier New. I had some of my crew with me for the tattoo, including my parents and my buddies Stoney and Jordan. My mom asked James if the wrist was a particularly sensitive spot and if the tattoo was going to hurt. James responded: “Yeah, it’s probably going to suck.” I just smiled. First off, there’s no way it could be tougher than getting “Wunder” tattooed on my ribs, and I had already been there and done that. Secondly, I welcomed the moment when I was binding my body with the memory of Annette. I didn’t care how badly it hurt. I didn’t care if it bled. This tattoo was for my girl, and I embraced whatever came with getting it. The moment the needle hit my arm, I felt the rush of pain, but it wasn’t too bad. My crew was impressed that, throughout the whole tattoo process (which only took a few minutes), I never flinched or grimaced. Instead of letting the pain affect me, I thought of Annette. I thought of the good times we shared, our phone conversations, our bonding time at Norris, and when my Foundation gave her an award last June. I thought of the stories she told me about traveling with her family and thought about how much she loved her family and friends. I thought of how hard she fought the disease, and all she went through to survive. I thought of that last time we spent together at Norris, and how we held hands tightly and spoke about hope and peace. I thought about the exquisite beauty that was Annette, and that IS Annette. And I felt happy. Very happy. Then, the tattoo was done. I think it’s beautiful. Actually, I think that tattoo is perfect. The initials “a.c.” are a part of my physical body forever, and just the way Annette wrote them. I was honored to be her friend, and now I’m honored to have her initials on my wrist as a physical reminder to keep fighting, to take care of myself, and to embrace life with open arms and a heart filled with love – just how Annette did.