We're talking on the phone about nothing in particular, news of our days and thoughts about the upcoming weekend, when B.K. interrupts with this: "You know, it's been two years."
It takes me a moment. Two years? Something in her flat tone and the abruptness of the announcement tells me this is important. Two years, I realize, since she was diagnosed with breast cancer. "They say it's the first milestone," she says.
"Well, wow!" I say. "We should celebrate!"
"I don't know."
"You don't know? Of course we should celebrate. What would you like to do?" I suggest a girls' night out, a trip to the spa, a shopping spree, fancy martinis.
"Oh, I don't know," she says.
This, I think, is annoying. How can she not know? What's not to know? What's not to celebrate? I make the point that our group of friends is always quick to rally when something bad happens (such as when B.K. was diagnosed), but when good things happen, we don't seem to bother to acknowledge them. "It's not right," I say. "We should take the time to pause, reflect, toast."
"You're right," she says. "I know you're right." We talk about cancer survivors who run marathons to literally mark milestones, survivors who go on exotic trips, sky-dive, climb mountains. "I should want to do something like that, shouldn't I?" she says, "Yeah," I say, only half-kidding. "But, hey, it's your survival story."
She asks me, then, if I think it's possible that she's not doing survival right. I remember similar questions she had when she underwent chemo. She wanted to be brave, like Melissa Etheridge at the Grammys that year, a rock star with breast cancer bursting onto the stage with her bald head, rocking out. A symbol of courage. By comparison, B.K. said, she felt like a failure. A scared chicken fleeing to my house every weekend, hiding upstairs in our tiny yellow guest room with the low bead-board ceiling, just hiding there. I remember, back then, B.K. saying that she wanted to be Melissa Etheridge, to do
cancer the Melissa Etheridge way. And I remember, back then, asking her to please shut up about the whole rock star image. Suffering was hard enough on its own. Suffering over the fact that you're not suffering properly could only lead to madness.
She managed to come around to that realization. And when the chemo was over, she threw herself a party. We all commented on how much B.K. seemed to have grown since her cancer, how much more at peace she was with herself, how accepting. When her hair grew back in, it was curly, and the super-short look was fabulous. "Cancer," she joked, "has been good for me!" She wasn't completely kidding.