Breast Cancer: Fight the Fight – by Lisa Scuderi-Burkimsher

For Breast Cancer Month

breast cancerA dear friend of mine passed away from breast cancer and I’d like to write about her experience and how we became friends.

My husband and I met Maggie and her husband Ray at a neighbor’s barbecue in 2005. We immediately clicked. I don’t know what it was about Maggie, but I found myself confiding in her. Concerned about my horrible experience on September 11, 2001, she understood my fear of driving and not mingling much with people. Twenty-four-years older than me and she offered to do my grocery shopping. Of course, I couldn’t accept. This was truly a kindhearted person. I’m sorry after that barbecue we didn’t speak again until 2011.

I had finally come out of my funk and decided to sell cosmetics from a reputable company. My team leader helped me put together a party and it was up to me to send out invitations. The first person that came to mind was Maggie. I wanted to reconnect with her, and this was the only way I knew how. Once she received my invitation, she called and although she couldn’t make it because they were leaving for their winter break in California, we spoke for an hour. She said she knew I was going through a rough time and wanted to respect my privacy. She hoped one day I would reach out to her. From then on, we continued talking on the phone until she and Ray returned home. She never mentioned her breast cancer at that point.

Maggie one day out of the blue, told me she was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after we met at the barbecue. The doctors wanted her to have treatment, but she didn’t want to suffer through that. She chose to have both breasts removed without chemotherapy or radiation and continued her regular doctor visits and mammograms. I never said it out loud, but I thought it was a mistake not getting treatment. But as long as she was okay, that’s all that mattered.

In 2012 Ray had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and Maggie was his rock. When he felt somewhat better, she invited us over for a barbecue. She had been in good spirits while Ray looked worn down; however, having us over brightened their day. When the medication began to help Ray, they left for California in the fall. Soon after, Maggie’s cancer returned.

I began to worry when I didn’t hear back from Maggie. She would call or e-mail and it wasn’t like her not to respond. Finally, she called. She had been experiencing abdominal pain for over a week and went to her doctor in California. After the tests were taken, it showed the cancer had come back. It had spread this time to her stomach and soon after throughout her body. When she felt as well as could be expected, they came back to New York and there was nothing the doctors could do. She stayed in the hospital for a short time and then transferred to hospice.

I spoke to her briefly on the phone and I could tell she was slipping away. She spoke incoherently and dozed on and off. For a strong woman who had once been a professor, it was difficult to comprehend. I made it a point to go see her, but it was too late. She died the next day nine years after she was first diagnosed. I was heartbroken for Ray and myself. At her wake, relatives and friends came up and shook my hand. They said she had nothing but nice things to say about me; a kind and sweet young woman. In all my life I never met someone who was so thoughtful and generous. I had no idea she felt the same about me.

I worried for Ray, but he was okay. He sold the house in California and stayed in New York permanently. He hired a house cleaner, continued his doctor visits and the medicine seemed to be helping his Parkinson’s. We spoke regularly in the beginning and then life happens. My elderly parents moved near me and my husband, brother and I were busy helping them unpack and settle in, so we lost touch with Ray. We always talked about getting together for dinner and it never happened. Then I tried to get in touch with him and didn’t hear back. Finally, we found out he had passed away in October 2018.

The only consolation is Maggie and Ray are together.

I want everyone to know that it’s so important to take every precaution when it comes to breast cancer or any type of cancer.

Fight the fight.


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