I just found out that a friend of mine died Tuesday night, after a ten-year struggle with breast cancer. I want to write a little memorial for her here.
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"Battle with cancer" is a tired cliche, but this woman did battle with everything she had, trying every treatment, both conventional and alternative, and exploring other forms of healing, such as Chinese medicine, meditation and other spiritual practices.
Regina was not one my closest friends, nor someone in my immediate circle whose absence I will feel daily. But over the years our casual friendship deepened, and she came to confide in me. We developed a warm bond based on mutual respect and admiration, and some common interests - especially our love of dogs.
Regina was a paralegal at the New York City law firm where I worked on the weekends. Chronically disorganized and scattered, she usually came in on Sundays to catch up. It was on those Sundays that we became friends.
She was a great Rennaissance person, with a profound appreciation for opera, theatre (especially Shakespeare), wine and good food, but also a soft spot for baseball and the Rolling Stones.
Everyone associated Regina with her dog, a wire-haired fox terrier named Sam, who was the light of her life. Sam died a few years ago of cancer, not long after Regina had lost both her aged parents. Since Sam's death, Regina co-parented two fox terriers named Albert and Einstein. We talked about our dogs all the time.
Regina's political worldview was somewhat like mine, although she purposely didn't keep up with the news, feeling it was too stressful for her compromised immune system. She was sporadically informed, and often suddenly passionate about something, a bit out of context. Her heart was always in the right place.
When she retired from the law firm, Regina had a lot of plans of how she'd spend her time. I think she mostly just enjoyed New York, some weekends in the country with her good friends (both human and canine), went to the theatre, and focused on her health.
We saw each other once before I left New York, at a dinner with Allan and Charlie, another mutual friend from work. Regina very much wanted to get together before I left the City, but I was just too busy and too stressed. I made it a point to see her on my first visit back. I knew it would likely be the last time I would.
The last time I spoke to Regina, she was in the hospital with pneumonia. She was weak and frustrated. She needed more chemotherapy, but her body couldn't tolerate any more. Shortly after that, she decided to go home, stop all treatment, and receive hospice care.
Knowing she wasn't up to speaking, I mailed her a note. I'm grateful it reached her before she died. She left a message on my voice mail, saying, "I think of you often. I want to send you something, can you leave your home address on my voice mail? Bye. Oh, I'm still here. Bye. Not for long, but for now. Bye. But I'm fine, it's fine. I'm good. Bye."
I listened to it a few times. I just deleted it yesterday.