My workout last night was nothing special – it had poured rain all day so I decided “what a good day to cross-train and lift weights!” 🙂 Too bad everyone else had the same bright idea, so my gym was quite crowded. So rather than bore you with those details, I’ll tell you about my friend Cheryl and her battle with cancer a few years ago.

When I first met Cheryl in 2001, she was actually my boss. I liked her instantly – when she called to set up the interview, she saw no point in delaying our meeting, knowing that I was being laid off. She said “how about today” in response to my asking when she wanted to come by. She was the VP of HR for a high-tech company.

My first day of work, she basically came out and said, “I have cancer.” Not knowing yet exactly how to react, I didn’t pry as to exactly what kind, but later found out it was breast cancer. She had a breast removed and started chemo right away, as some of it had already spread to her lymph nodes. She was a morning person, so whenever she had to get chemo, she scheduled it for a Friday, around noon, and then made sure she was in the office by about 4 or 4:30 a.m. (Yes, that’s right, she was already in the office at that time.)

We thought she’d caught it in time. We both ended being laid off in December of that year due to a company reorganization. I must say the company was quite good about her situation, as they made sure her medical insurance would still be covered for at least the following year. For the next nine months, she seemed to be getting healthier, at least on the outside if you didn’t know any better. She worked out A LOT and another former boss of mine, who’s in executive search, had met with her about some job prospects. Over lunch one day, he asked me “Did you say she had cancer? She looked amazing!” That’s how good she looked.

While she was looking better, she was also telling her doctors to check out her neck, as she just felt that something wasn’t right. Turns out she was correct. After about 8 months of testing, and testing, and testing, with nothing showing up, they did some test that showed she had stage 4 liver cancer. I think at that point, they gave her 2 years to live. She was 34 at that point, if my memory serves me correctly.

During the next two years, it seemed to me that her cancer was pretty much spreading everywhere. About 10 months before she died, it had gone to her brain. She tried the pill type of chemo, only to find it made her so nauseous she would throw up for hours until she passed out. The only other alternative that they gave her was to basically put her in the hospital and put her in a type of coma to administer the chemo. Imagine, you have to be put into a coma so that your body can handle its medicine. (I thought of her when I read that Sean Swarner book, Keep Climbing.)

During Cheryl’s last summer, I made an effort to go to most, if not all, of Cheryl’s chemo appointments with her. I would drive down to her house, about 50 miles away, and then take her back to her chemo treatments, then drive her home, hang out with her kids, and then drive home. I spent a lot of time in my car those days. She asked me once why I was doing it, and I just said, “I want to spend time with you” and that was that. Some of her treatments lasted for 4 hours. I couldn’t imagine what it was like to be her, sitting there for that long, just having that stuff pumped into my veins.

Toward the end, Cheryl slept most of the day. One of her friends said that if you put your hand against her neck, you could literally feel the tumors beneath the surface. I couldn’t bring myself to do that – that just sounded creepy to me. The nurses pretty much ground up her morpheine pills (she couldn’t take it through an IV for some reason without it causing problems), and fed them to her, sometimes in her sleep.

Cheryl was 36 when she died. She left behind a beautiful daughter and son. The little girl will have some good memories of her mom, but the little boy was quite young, and I don’t think he’ll have any memories of her when she was not sick.

I know Cheryl didn’t have leukemia, but she did have cancer, and many types. Cancer is a very UGLY disease. I couldn’t help her more when she was alive, so now she’s a big part of the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing now. It’s too bad that more of you couldn’t have met her – she was an awesome, amazing person that I feel very grateful to have had come into my life, even if it was for a short period of time.

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