College was an amazing time. Cliche as it may sound, I found myself, my husband, and amazing friends during those four years.  I went to UCONN and after graduation, my now-husband and I ended up finding jobs in Hartford so we stayed in CT. Our friends stayed too. Many were from Fairfield county and moved back to that area to work.  Post-college we all worked and continued to hang out most weekends-crashing at either our apartment in Hartford or our friend’s place in Stamford. For some holidays and birthdays, the extended group of friends would all come together. We had a great time, living up our 20’s, doing our thing, enjoying our friendship.

In 2009, my husband and I claimed another first of the group. First to get married, and now the first to have a baby. Our partying came to a halt with that pregnancy and after Don came, my husband decided he would throw me a fabulous 28th birthday party in March 2010 with the entire extended crew from college, significant others and new friends. We had a ball, celebrating and enjoying each other.

One month after that party, my friend Shannon was diagnosed with cancer. She was 25 at the time. I got a call that my beautiful, funny, clever, smart, amazing friend Shannon had been in a car accident on 95 because she had a seizure while driving. That was scary enough. Then I learned that her MRI revealed a tumor. By the time my husband and I dropped off our son with my parents and made the trip to Stamford that Friday after work, Shannon‘s tumor had been diagnosed anaplastic astrocytoma grade 3. She had brain cancer.

My friends and I were scheduled to run a 5K that Sunday after Shannon was diagnosed to support the local Sexual Assault Crisis Center.  This photo of me and my friend Whitney, reminds me of a night of crying, terrified and unsure of what any of it all really meant.  This photo is also symbolic to me, of how desperately you want the world to slow down when things like this are happening and how life just keeps on moving.

As we ran that morning, I repeated the name of Shannon’s cancer over and over again in my head for the entire 3.1 miles. I wanted to be sure I could say it so that I could learn all that I could learn in order to fix it. That was our reaction (me and my friends) to finding out that Shannon had brain cancer. We must take action and do all that we can do to fix it.

Shannon saw the best doctors, had 99% of the tumor removed in a highly successful surgery, and she ended up making the news for taking on the insurance companies and giving the healthcare debate a face and a voice.  Most recently, she became active in financial aid reform after discovering that brain cancer wasn’t a good enough reason to have her loans deferred. We held fundraisers and ran in races.  Shannon’s battle was successful and after radiation and a year of chemo, Shannon was cancer free.

As her friend, life went somewhat back to normal. As normal as life can be once someone you love randomly gets brain cancer.  My son was two by that point and I soon got pregnant with baby number two. Work was hectic for everyone and life continued to click by.  Shannon also continued to be cancer free, and before I knew it, Edith had arrived. When Shannon was first diagnosed, my friends and I googled her type of brain cancer, so we knew that it was aggressive, but maybe she was one of the “lucky” ones. Maybe she would stay cancer free until they found a cure? Might as well enjoy life while she’s healthy, and so enjoy life we did.

This past August, Shannon came up to Hartford for an afternoon of mani/pedis and lunch, a much-needed afternoon away from the kids and husband. We talked guys and gossip, social justice and politics, the past and the future, enjoying our friendship as we always have. One month later, Shannon’s cancer came back. And this time, the cancer isn’t going away and this time, the chemo isn’t working.  Now it feels as though time if flying by, like I am on an out of control train racing toward some crazy destination.

I don’t understand cancer…but then again, I don’t understand any of it.  I wake up each day and try to work hard, do good by others, laugh and enjoy.  And I find that I ‘get by with a little help from my friends’. I think that’s why this experience is so painful. Shannon is an amazing person, who makes life way more fun and always entertaining.  It hurts to have her dealing with cancer and it hurts to think that she might not be around to continue celebrating life the way we always have together.

Cancer is brutal and deceiving–I send love and strength to all who have experienced it.  You can say life isn’t fair or you can keep on busting your ass trying to make any sort of sense of it all. I choose the latter. I don’t think cancer is fair, and for that reason and a huge reason named Shannon, I would like to see greater public discussion on research about what is known to cause cancer. I want this discussion to move from talk to action and for the collective us to stop using things that are killing us.  I’m happy to see healthcare reform moving us in the right direction and would like to see financial aid follow suit. I want a cancer free world for my kids and for people like my charismatic and intelligent friend Shannon to live long and prosperous lives.

Shannon continues to kick cancer’s ass…let’s do the same!

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