Jennifer and Doug in Kumamoto, Japan, 1990
"If you see me in a fight with a bear, pray for the bear." -- Kobe Bryant
Jennifer writes: In 1990, I went to Kumamoto, Japan, where I taught English for two years. It was there that I met Doug Lavanchy, who has been one of my closest friends ever since. I asked Doug to share his perspective on being a friend to a friend who is sick. Here are his thoughts.
When Jennifer called to tell me she had lung cancer, I was both shocked and upset. I had testicular cancer myself when I was younger, and I know from experience how hard it is to deal with something like this. We've gone through so much together over the years, I thought surely we can get through this. I offered to help her in any way that I could. In true Jen form, she was project manager extraordinaire, creating lists and spreadsheets. She reached out to her local, "urban family," telling us how we could help.
We signed up in shifts to drive her to chemo and radiation. I signed up for a few of the shifts, and although I wish the circumstances were different, it was great fun hanging out with Jen, laughing and joking around just as we have been doing for more than 20 years. The difference this time is that she had an IV in her arm.
Jen said she wanted company for exercise. I hope no one takes this the wrong way, but I didn't think it would be too strenuous to exercise with someone who has advanced lung cancer. I was wrong. Many of Jennifer's local friends had the experience of huffing and puffing up the hills near her house, struggling to keep up with her on what we started to call a "Jen Glass Cancer March."
One day when Jen was getting a radiation treatment that I had driven her to, a woman who was waiting for her own appointment asked me with a perplexed look on her face if I was Jen's husband. I responded no, that I was an old friend. She asked about the man who brought Jen the day before, and I said that was also a friend, and that her husband had brought her the day before that. The woman gave me a big smile and said that Jen sure has a lot of wonderful friends. I think that's because she's been such a good friend to so many of us.
Many people reached out to Jen when she was first diagnosed, and one thing I am afraid of is that over time people won't be contacting her as much. As a friend it's important to stay in touch for the long haul. Some people are afraid that they will be bothering Jen if they contact her but she has told me many times how much it means to her when she hears from people, even if it's just a quick email.
Anyone who knows Jennifer -- or me -- knows that we are not big sports fans. But when I saw the Kobe Bryant quote above I immediately thought of Jen. In all of our years of friendship I have never seen her back away from a challenge. Even against incredible odds, somehow she always manages to turn adversity into opportunity, or at least into a funny story. Cancer is more than a bear, it's a monster. But in this fight or any other, I'm putting my money on Jen.
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