For those of you who missed the spoiler alert on Facebook, Kris (Carr, in case you just landed from Mars) and I are now BFF’s.
I want you to close your eyes right now, and think about whom you admire the most; who you watch from afar, perhaps, and find inspiration from and know in your heart of hearts that if you had the chance, you could prove to this person that you two are meant to be lifelong friends.
Now tap into how you feel when you think about this person. Listen to your heart. Got it?
Kris is that person for me. If you had the chance to speak with whoever you’re thinking of, hug them even, you’d probably be giddy with joy and excitement, right? Your mouth would go dry, your heart would start beating faster, and your mind would go blank. Get the picture?
Never in my wildest dreams could I have ever imagined that I would get to tell Kris all of the things that I had dreamed of telling her over the last two years. Despite the fact that there was a room full of (300) people at the Chopra Center’s “Journey Into Healing” workshop, I stood up in front of everybody and my heart spilled over with the love and grief and fear and joy that I have felt over the last two years; such complicated and beautiful emotions that come with having a daily reminder of just how precious life is.
Kris spoke for about an hour and a half. We were so close to her that I could see her eyes which twinkled and her lips which spread with warmth when she spoke. Of all things you may expect me to say you may not see this coming, but she is so.darn.funny. (She was an actress, after all, so she tells a good story). She even told a narrative that I had heard her tell at the I Can Do It Conference in D.C. two years ago, and yet I was still on the edge of my seat. “And then what happened?!” I wanted to yell out, even though of course I knew what had happened. I soaked up every word that filled the room with laughter and for the first ten minutes of her talk I just sat there with tears streaming down my face. I could feel M next to me trying to hold back her tears and I felt, not for the first time, that my cancer doesn’t just affect me, but my loved ones as well.
As Kris was ending her speech I got the guts to decide that I was going to ask her a question. I knew that two lines would form on opposite sides of the room, and that there was only going to be time for so many questions, so I ran to one side of the room. The person on the other side of the room asked her a question first, which gave me just enough time to realize that my heart was pounding so loudly in my ears it sounded like waves pounding on the shore.
I couldn’t even begin to try to pretend that I know what Kris and this other person talked about. And then all of a sudden, all eyes were on me. My voice shook. I didn’t know exactly what I was going to say, I just knew that I wanted– needed– to connect with Kris.
I began by letting her know that I had met her two years earlier at the I Can Do It Conference in D.C., after I had just been diagnosed with a stage IV cancer. I heard the audience gasp. I lost it. Tears just started streaming out of my eyes (again) and there was nothing that I was going to be able to do to hold them in. I let Kris know that when I had met her in D.C., she told me that the next time that we saw each other, my tears would be happy.
“And are they?” she asked.
“Well, I’m still here,” I replied. The audience erupted into applause. I think I was doing that crazy thing where you laugh and cry at the same time.
And then, organically, I just began pouring my heart out to Kris, forgetting that there were 300 other people in the room listening to us.
I told her that I feel like I have the power and the courage to fight this cancer every day because of her. There aren’t that many young women living with a stage IV cancer, I said, who can show other people what it’s like to not just live with cancer, but to live a beautiful, healthy, vibrant and happy life. I explained that I look at her Facebook page, Instagram pictures, and her blog every day, and it helps me to remember that not just living with cancer, but living an amazing life with cancer is possible. I told her that I’ve lost weight and have started juicing since I met her. More applause.
“I can’t have a family,” I blurted out. That’s how comfortable she made me feel, that I could forget where we were, who was listening, and just feel like it was her and I sitting across the table from each other drinking a cup of green tea and pouring our hearts out to each other.
“I can’t either,” she said. “But just because life doesn’t look like what we thought it was going to look like, doesn’t mean that it can’t be wonderful.”
“You see yourself in me,” she said gently, “but I see myself in you. YOU’RE doing this. You’re the one who is fighting to be here.”
Let’s just let that sink in for a moment.
I finally remembered that the real reason why I was standing there was because I was supposed to ask her a question. I had so many! I thought about all of the pressure that I’ve placed upon myself to live a completely different life than b.c. (before cancer) and then quickly decided to ask her a concrete question about sugar. I mentioned that I put apples in my juices and drink soy milk in my coffee a few days a week, and wondered if this kind of sugar on occasion is going to hurt me, since it seems that cancer feeds on sugar. And Kris being lovable, funny, quick-on-her-feet Kris, said:
“So, you’re basically asking my permission to keep doing what you’re doing?” Laughter like crazy from the audience. “Yup, pretty much!’ I responded, also laughing.
“You’re putting fruit in your juices and you’re drinking soy milk in your coffee a few days a week?” she reiterated. I nodded.
She looked at me so kindly. “I think that you’re OK,” she said, and it was as if a balloon filled with weight and gravity and pressure and demands and expectations and perfectionism suddenly let go of all of its extra air and I wasn’t deflated, I was released.
I turned to head back to my seat when I noticed people wiping the tears away from their eyes. A staff member came up to me with a box of tissues and a hug and whispered in my ear, “I’m so glad that you’re here.” For the rest of the conference strangers approached me, hugging me, asking if they could pray for me, and thanking me for telling my story. One young woman who I had never seen before in my life handed me a shopping bag with books in it from the Chopra bookstore. “I just wanted to give you a little something for being brave enough to tell your story,” she said. (More tears. You lose faith in humanity and just attend a Chopra Center conference). People came up to me during the breakout groups and at lunch and in the bathroom, and waved to me as I headed down the hill and into yoga class in the mornings. I didn’t quite understand it, but it was as if I had opened up the floodgates for not just myself to heal, but perhaps others as well, no matter their life circumstances. Another stage IV (breast cancer) young woman introduced herself, and we spent much of the rest of the conference eating meals together and talking and exchanging information. During one evening session where we went to hear the integrative oncologist speak we both heard the hope in his voice and without a word we reached out to grasp each other’s hands.
Later, at the book signing, the ocean waves began to pound again in my ears and I wanted to immerse myself in this moment and truly recognize that this was a life-changing day for me. Kris recognized me from our conversation and stood up to give me a hug. I whispered to her, “You are such a blessing to me.” I told her that “thank you” just didn’t seem like enough; “But it is,” she assured me. As if the universe was hugging me, I had grabbed my Crazy Sexy Cancer Survivor book from my shelf at home to have her sign. I told her that I talk about her all the time, not even using her last name anymore, as all of my friends and family know who I mean when I say “Kris.” She looked at M kindly and said, “That must be really annoying.” (I told you she’s funny!). “You’re basically my best friend,” I said, “You just don’t know it.” Thank g-d she has a good sense of humor! She signed my book “Sam: My BFF” and I played it cool (or did I?) but inside wanted to jump for joy.
(M captured this moments after it happened. Could I be smiling any bigger?).
And then she said, “We’re going to see each other in another two years, and your tears will be happy again. We’re both going to have lots of adventures along the way, and we’re going to do this together.”
You never know who will see themselves in you. I used to think that I “should” tell my story because it would help others. Now I’m realizing that by authentically speaking and writing I am healing myself, and helping others is just an amazing side-effect of staying true to who I really am.
The more I open up to the raw truth, the more that I share the glorious and the painful but very real pieces of myself, the closer that I feel to Kris, to humanity, and to all of you. xo.