Now a lot of you don’t know me personally, which is okay. But a lot of you do. Today is a pretty important day for me as it marks the 4 year anniversary of losing my best friend after her own battle with cancer.
I have been wanting to write this post for a long time now, but chose to wait as it’s a way I can celebrate her and also thank her. I’ll give you a short synopsis here about her story.
Back in the summer of 2012, Crystal was diagnosed with osteosarcoma-bone cancer. However, her journey to get this diagnosis was a tough one and very similar to what I have faced and I’m sure many of you had faced.
Initially, she had complained of a pain in her shoulder. Seeking advice from her family doctor, it was for the most part brushed off and told that it was most likely something like frozen shoulder, which could have resulted from the nature of her job as a cashier. She was prescribed to do physio and carry on with life. Gradually though, the pain did increase and so did the physical size of her shoulder. At one point I even remember it looking so swollen and bruised and thought how could handling groceries cause that much physical swelling? Crystal kept trying to tell the world that something was wrong and there had to be more, but no one medically seemed to want to take her seriously. And I think we were all a little naive at that point and just accepted what doctors say, because in our minds they knew best. They study this for a living. Scans were booked, but not until months later. She would have to wait for answers.
Finally the tipping point came and she was rushed to emerg and it was here that everything came to light. She went from being told that whatever it was, was not a big deal to now being told that it was serious and had spread a lot. When I look back now I almost wonder if there was ever the possibility that if just one person had listened to her, maybe the outcomes would have been different. Maybe instead of catching it too late, they could have caught it just on time?
Without dwelling on too many details, it was very serious. She immediately started heavy doses of treatments and would spend most of her time from that point on in a hospital room. Keep in mind that we are all around the ages of 18 and 19, a lot of us just starting our lives. The cancer unfortunately was too aggressive and surgery had to be performed to remove her left arm. We were all so mixed with emotions at that time. We were scared and hopeful, worried but optimistic. Once the surgery was done she was able to come home for awhile and we thought we had gotten through the biggest hurdle of her journey.
But we were wrong. It came back a few months later, and this time had spread to her lymph nodes. Her body just couldn’t fight it anymore and the cancer began to consume her. She was now told that there were no further treatment options they could provide. She could look into clinical trials, but there was no guarantee.
Death essentially was now knocking on her door. I couldn’t imagine at that age being faced with the possibility of dying. But she never gave up hope in all of this. She still had hope that there was something for her, so we tried. We raised money in hopes of sending her off for clinical trials, but the disease was rapidly advancing and she was in worse shape. So plans changed and reality set in. Because of her age, she didn’t qualify for charities like Make a Wish Foundation, but realistically at 19 and 20, you still are a kid in a lot of ways. I’m 23 and don’t always consider myself fully an “adult”. But she deserved to have at least one last wish granted, so part of the money raised was used to make that happen for her.
On October 3rd, 2013 I said goodbye to my best friend.
As I go through my own journey, a lot of people question where I have gained my insight and strength from. I think I owe a big thank you to Crystal for some of this.
She was the first person in my life who brought light to the idea that doctors were human who made mistakes and that at the end of the day we knew our bodies the best because we deal with it everyday. She taught me how to advocate for myself and has been a huge reminder and push in my own advocacy.
In addition to this, her strength was undeniable. Faced with everything she had been, her strength and courage barely ever faltered. Of course there were highs and lows in her journey, as there should have been. The big first moments like losing her hair, when she really felt physically ill, and I’m sure so many other moments she didn’t always tell us about. Again, we were at an age where life was really happening. Most of us were in university, dating, going out to bars, and trying new things while she was stuck in a hospital room. In the few moments where my illness has inhibited me from participating in life, it freaking sucks watching it all go by. But again, for the most part she would strive to stay positive.
Her courage came in many forms. My favorite was her “I don’t give a shit” attitude. She was a bald 19 year old girl who had one arm. People of course would stare. Sometimes she would be nice and other times she would simply just say “If you want to ask what happened, just ask.” There were times at the bar where she would just rip off her prosthetic arm because it was too itchy or hot, or just whip off her wig because it made her uncomfortable. It astounded me. Here I am literally weeks ago complaining about losing clumps of hair while she had lost all her hair and would confidently rock it while taking a shot at the bar.
I miss her. I miss her laugh, I miss her smile, I miss singing off tune to Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez, I miss obsessing over donairs, I miss her weird phrases like “oh my lanta”, making animal noises at inappropriate times, there’s just so much. I always cherish our memories together and the time we had together, even if it was a short time. And though it was a short time, we had gone through so much together.
I do believe people come into your lives for a reason. I genuinely believe that she has helped me in her own ways, even if it was unintentional, through my own journey now and for that I am eternally grateful because it has gotten me this far and continues to help push me. I hope paradise has treated you well so far angel and I hope you know how loved and missed you are. I hope you know how much you have inspired people and still continue to inspire people.
Thank you and I love you Chester.