“If One Falls Down, A Friend Can Help Him Up” By Catherine Lewallen

Murphys, CA..Early on in my battle against cancer, friends in my community urged me to reach out to another local cancer survivor. I didn’t. It felt silly, and perhaps a little rude. I mean, who wants to call someone just because they have cancer too? But I was wrong. When Stacy instead reached out to me, I gained enormous comfort and a bond that will remain unmatched and unbroken though I remain here on earth, feeling a little alone, and she has gained her ultimate healing in heaven.

As I write this, the tears are already falling. The impact Stacy had on my life is enormous and I doubt that I will be able to honor these feelings with my meager words. I remember being in my bedroom with the door shut talking to her for the first time. We have a child in the same class, so I had seen her, but we had never really talked. God moved her to call me and I am so grateful for that. I was instantly put at ease by her warmth and her candor. I, too, have no desire to censor myself or my disease for others. Both Stacy and I had also chosen to be completely frank with our children. But her family had been fighting for 5 years and was much further along in the process. I was still muddling through and felt like a rookie in comparison.

But never did she condescend to me. She was empathetic and supportive. One of the first things I realized was that she was saying things and referring to feelings that I had only thought so far. Cancer can be so lonely, despite having a ton of friends or a wonderful family. There are feelings that are inexplicable. There are worries that are too scary to even say out loud. Stacy said them all. It was like listening to my own brain and heart opened up.

My greatest fear was one she had already overcome. It was so incredibly inspiring and gave me such a hope to think that perhaps I too would attain that confidence one day. That fear is that my child would not be “okay” in my absence. All the family, all the faith, all the money in the world cannot replace the presence of a mother. But Stacy had found a way to trust God and her friends and family to raise her children. She also trusted her children to carry on. And maybe what amazed and impressed me the most was that she trusted herself, and rightfully so. She knew in her heart that she had done the job she needed to do to prepare her children for life, with or without her.

Over the months, Stacy and I would continually run into each other at Stanford. It was almost eerie. Our appointments would end up on the same day, at the same time, in the same clinic. We would always laugh about it. No matter what PET cycle we were on (6 weeks, 8 weeks, 12 weeks, etc.) we would end up back on track to where we were there together. Seeing her would make me literally sigh in relief. There is nothing as comforting as being understood.

I would sometimes wonder if she read my writing. She did. I would often worry that I sounded dumb or naïve. Not to Stacy. She would not only reassure me and support the way I was allowing others into my journey, but she would express that I was actually inspiring her! That was probably the greatest thing I ever heard. To inspire your own inspiration seems impossible. But my words reminded her of how she felt early on in her own battle, and reminded her of blind hope and relentless optimism. Not that she seemed to need any reminder, but she shared with me that she loved it nonetheless.

So, now what? What do I do now that I am left here to battle by myself? And how am I so self-centered to even ask that question? In the midst of rejoicing in the news that she is with our Heavenly Father, happy and healthy and beautiful, I wonder how I will live without her. While her husband and children grieve for her, I sit here feeling sorry for myself that I am left without my one friend who understood what I am going through.

But of course, here are the facts that I know to be true. First, I am not without her. None of us are. The things she taught us, or the ways she inspired us, will be with us forever. This world and these bodies are temporary. This is one of the main themes of my writing. It sure is easy to forget when someone leaves this world though. It still hurts.

Second, the person she helped create in me is here to stay. Stacy changed me. That evolution will not go away. I will continue to laugh at my misfortune or weaknesses. I will keep on telling my son how I feel about him, relentlessly, every day. I will prepare him for life, whether that will be with or without me. I will not stop fighting, whether that is with physical strength, emotional strength, or spiritual strength. I will keep raising money and taking a stand for a cure. I will not become cynical or bitter. I will remain grateful and joyful. I will believe in love and in the ability of others to love me in spite of this disease.

My endurance relies on many things. First and foremost is my belief that God has a plan for me. He desires my worship and my ministry. This will be my mission every day of my life. Of course, I also live for my son and my parents and all those who love me and who are not ready to lose me yet. Stacy has inspired me so fully that I also live on with the hope that I will bring some comfort to another survivor. This may be a cancer survivor, but not necessarily. I believe it is possible that my reliance on God may bring hope to anyone in need of healing.

And now I live for Stacy. I will continue to be the fighter and the mother and the woman of God that she modeled and that she expects of me. I want to keep making her proud. I want to carry myself with the grace of God and with complete submission to His will. And most importantly, I will continue to live according to His Word, so that one day I may hold her again.

Editors Note…Catherine’s fight with cancer and the manner in which she has fought it publicly has been an inspiration to many. If you would like some context and a more personal look at her battle you can find it on the Caring Bridge Website Here! We would like to welcome Catherine as one of our contributors and we hope her story can help you along your journey in life.