Today was gift. I dropped Mara off at my mom and dad's and I had a long ( 2 hour) lunch with an old friend, Jen (Arnold) Smith. Jen and I were friends in Highschool ( she's a year older) but more just aquaintances. We had mutual friends and were always nice to each other when we saw each other. Summer after her senior year, we went to a few of the same parties but that was the extent of it.
Through one of my best friends from HS, I learned Jen was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at 30, when she had an 8 month old little boy. A year later, the breast cancer had spread to her bones and she was given a terminal Stage IV diagnosis. Since then, she's been fighting...and living.
I had only heard of her journey. Through friends. When I joined facebook in June, I searched for her and saw she had privacy setting- no snooping on her life. I longed to learn about her life and check on her but didn't feel comfortable "friending" her. And then in August, a friend request FROM HER came through on my fb page. I accepted quickly and spent hours looking at each of her pictures and devouring all the information of her life, her treatments, her journey...and her most recent trip to MEET Taylor Swift! Her smile was contagious and I couldn't seem to pull myself away from her.
Then she messaged me. She'd heard the news. Of my cancer diagnosis. She felt my pain. She knew how scared I was. She offered support ( I found out later, my HS friend that told me about her, was telling her about me). And our FRIENDSHIP really began.
We've messaged back and forth dozens and dozens of times. She has been so supportive. So loving. So caring. She's given advice and made me feel normal when others made me feel uncomfortable. I was connected. And this woman I hadn't seen once in 17 years.
She asked if I would speak with her on a cancer panel in April at the local community college. After some convincing, I agreed. She checked my blog and responded. I checked her carepage and offered support.
She confiding in me about a secret mission for her family and best friends she's been working on for months. I kept her secret.
And when her newest health update brought bad news but her spirit and hope remained, I knew I needed to see her. I knew I needed to physically connect with this amazing woman who I had grown in only a few short months to adore and admire. I asked her to lunch.
We sat at Panera and just chatted. Freely. About our kids and how amazing they are. About our loves. About cancer. About her secret ( don't worry...only a few more days and I'll tell ya), about her wishes. It was wonderful.
She set a goal for March 2012 as "35 and I'm ALIVE" She turns 35 this month and instead of giving the celebration only one day- she's celebrating all month. Brian and I wanted to do something too. FLowers? A book? A journal? A restaurant giftcard? We brainstormed.
Then Brian said- "A Vacation!" Something for just her and Corbin to do. So- we are sending her and her sweet 5- year old to GrandbearLodge Indoor Water Park at Starved Rock. We gave her enough of a giftcard for two nights of stay and some extras! What she wants and needs is time with her little boy. What we needed was to feel part of her journey and to say thanks for the love and support she's given me on mine. It felt great to do. 35 and still ALIVE- a miracle and something to spend each moment celebrating!
We left with hugs and promises of talking soon and seeing each other again. We text a few times throughout the night as she began to reveal her secret and I cried as I read the texts, feeling so honored to be her friend and to be part of it all.
Jennifer Arnold is an amazing person- I've never met anyone as strong as her. She's not comfortable with people making a stink of her because she's just that kind of person... but its hard not to- she changes lives just by being who she is and I'm so lucky to have been one of those people and to now be one of her friends!