GROWING IN LIFE:
Posted to HuffPost on
January 1, 1970http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aimee-liu/growing-in-life_b_40458.html
On my kitchen bulletin board hangs a newspaper article titled "Growing in Life." The clipping features a sunny photograph of my friend Carolyn with her dogs Ola and Jake. The lead sentence describes the carpet of daisies around Carolyn's Santa Fe farmhouse. Not until the end of the paragraph is my friend's disease revealed.
Carolyn has been living with stage four non-Hodgkins lymphoma for nearly
twenty years. "Emphasis on living rather than suffering," she insists. Before, during, and through her rounds of radiation, chemo, and remission, Carolyn has taught me more about the wonder of being alive than anyone else I know.
We met almost forty years ago, in high school art class. I typically fussed and worried about getting my drawing "right" while Carolyn let her Rapidograph dance across the page. Her sketches of roses and collages of friends were not the only evidence of her talent. She turned clothing, the literary magazine and yearbook, even her science notebook into miracles of art. Around her I believed, maybe I, too, could be creative.
I was as restrained as Carolyn was open, as wary as she was compassionate, as rudderless as she was self-directed. Anorexic since junior high, I treated self-denial as my mission in life. It dumbfounded me to watch Carolyn lovingly bake a cake -- and then just as lovingly savor it. Yet as she welcomed me into her world, she never judged me. Instead, she saw me fully. She heard me clearly. And she let me be.
Gradually, I recovered my health. After college I channeled my creativity into writing. I published a memoir in which I tried to express what a blessing Carolyn had been to me, but as we moved apart geographically, we lost touch. Then, in her early thirties, Carolyn was diagnosed. Now it was her illness that drew us together.
I began calling or writing every few weeks. When I visited we would paint mugs and make stamp art at her kitchen table. She proudly showed me the heirloom tomato plants and daffodils blooming in profusion outside her door. She introduced me to her horses and demonstrated how she was training them to follow her using only eye and hand signals -- without a lead or any physical contact. Although Carolyn was not able to have children of her own, she told me all about her three beloved stepchildren. We savored the apple pie that she still made from scratch.
My friend at fifty-three is still teaching me about miracles. Two and a half years ago her doctors ran out of treatment recommendations. Her cancer was spreading. Carolyn briefly took to her bed. Then she took to her horses. She doubled her time in the garden. Though her worn-out lungs required her to carry a small oxygen tank as she planted, or painted, or rode, her cancer began to retreat. Last week, when I called, she tried to explain where she gets her energy. "I feel loved and well and happy-
"And alive!" we finished together.
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Aimee Liu is the author of Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders, as well as three novels and the memoir Solitaire.