Monday, July 02, 2007


My friend Ruby passed away last week. She was 33. Her breast cancer story is one that strikes fear in many of our hearts. Fear, sadness and a whole lot of anger. Ruby was finishing her radiation treatment when I moved to Atlanta and joined the young women's support group at Emory. She was one of the first people I met in my new town. With a smile on her face and a twinkle in her eye, she talked of working out, living healthy, not letting this get in the way of living. A few months ago, she was talking about having a baby. Man or no man. Buying a new townhouse. She was one of the original members of this support group, started only about a year and a half ago.

Then in February, as I celebrated my one year cancerversary, Ruby - just about to finish herceptin - was diagnosed with a recurrence to her bones, liver and lungs. Except it probably wasn't a recurrence. The cancer had probably been there the whole time. She had no symptoms and it was finally found in a scan she pushed for. She asked for the scan for 6 months. So off she went, to start the whole ordeal over again - chemo, clinical trials.... she was only on them for about a month and a half before her body started to shut down and she was too sick for anything. There was nothing else to do. She had gone from a stage IV diagnosis to hospice in 3 months. She passed away in a friend's home, surrounded by family and friends. Members of our support group had visited just the day before, bringing a candle we had lit in her honor at our last meeting.

One of our group reminded us, "If you hang around people with cancer, some of them will die. It is cancer, after all." Doesn't make it any easier. And while I think I was better prepared because of Candy, this is was a different level of involvement. I saw it as my job to make sure the other people in our group were okay. As I mentioned before, I've been pretty active in visiting her and taking the lead in helping the rest of my group... phone calls, updates, daily check-ins. While it came as no surprise and in some ways was a blessing, it still sucks. It still scares the shit out of this small group of strong women who have been made stronger through this battle. There are a few things I've learned from Ruby's life and her death.

- Life is for living. At one point in the hospital, Ruby looked at me - all jaundiced and weak - and smiled, "If I had known this would happen, I would have eaten more cheeseburgers and fried chicken." Not that we should all run out and give ourselves heart disease, but if my time on this earth is limited, I'm going to have a damn good time.

- Some shit just doesn't matter. Ruby had some people who had hurt her in her life. As the end was near, she looked at me and said, "When you're dying, that stuff doesn't matter. Save your energy for what does." Wise woman. You don't have to be dying to live like that.

- Be your own health advocate. If that means pushing a doctor, then by all means, push. If it means you raise hell and bitch to get what you want, then do it. Or get someone else to do it for you. If it doesn't feel right or you're not happy with your care - find someone who will take care of you the way you deserve. You should trust them with your life. Because, in fact, you are.

What is Ruby's legacy? To me, it is the gift of friendship. Our group at Emory went from a small gathering of women with something in common that met every month to a truly close knit group of friends who had more in common than we ever realized. Through Ruby's crisis and her death, we became bonded in a way we never expected - but at least for me, am so grateful for. I not only have some "cancer friends" but real friends. And a group of amazing women who prove themselves up to the challenge - circling the wagons at a moment's notice. And a group to share margaritas with every month after the regular meeting is over. Ruby gave us that. Months from now or even years, we will sit around the table and tell stories of Ruby. She is the first member of our group to pass - watching over those women in that room. Those who join us will hear tales of Ruby and her mango margaritas. Or Ruby declaring she'd walk back into Emory a miracle.

She was. And she still is. We are lucky to have known her. And we will honor her memory but continuing to be there for each other. By still cracking jokes. And cracking skulls. And drinking mango margaritas.

Here's to you, Ruby.


Unknown said...

I'm so sorry about your friend Courtney! hugs, Dana

Sally said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sally said...

Courtney - I understand your pain all to well. My heart goes out to you & all of Ruby's friends & family. I always look forward to reading your blog,and really dread seeing a post about a loss. I hope you are well, and remaining to be the strong person I have come to know through your posts only.


David J. Hahn said...

Hey Courtney - sorry about Ruby.

Anonymous said...

Hey Courtney. I'm so sorry to hear about your friend. It's hard when you have lots of friends who are survivors...some recur...some die, but I know that we are better for having those relationships. I love all of my survivor friends and gain strength from their strength, but the loss is so hard, so real and so personal. I'm so sorry.

Jenna (from the NBCC conference)

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for this Courtney. It made me cry and reminded me how lucky many of us are to have survived cancer and should remind all of us how great friendship is. I will lift a class to Ruby's memory this weekend and to your spirit.