Not A Pink Girl

Friends for life? | May 21, 2008

I heard from my friend Nancy today. She’s single (divorced), works for a Fortune-500 company as an accountant, & found out on her 55th birthday in July 2007 that she has liver cancer. Right now she’s back in the hospital because her white-blood-cell count is too low.

She’s on her second round of chemo. She had surgery a month ago (surgery she had to fight for because her primary-care physician threw up his hands [literally] & said, “I don’t know what you want from me.” He meant that she should just accept that she’s going to die – probably soon – & it would be a waste of his time to refer her to a surgeon). Nancy’s parents – in their mid-70s – are using their savings & retirement to get her treated by a surgeon at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore MD (not too far from where we live).

Nancy is a former smoker. When I met her in 1994, she smoked about a pack a day of Virginia Slims (at one time, my cigarette of choice). She started smoking as a teenager in Seattle & quit when she was 46 (in 1998). She had met a guy (the “toe-curler,” she called him [meaning he made her heart skip a beat, in a good way]) who was a Seventh-Day Adventist & didn’t believe in tobacco use. She cared enough about him to quit. That was about the only good thing she got out of the relationship. He was a controlling jerk, toe-curler or not.

I was surprised when she stopped smoking. She just seemed like a lifelong smoker to me. Nancy has always been slim. When she was in her 20s & 30s, she looked just like Cher (who turns 62 years old today). The resemblance is still striking.I have always been overweight. I know in my heart – although we’ve never discussed it – that Nancy’s had a hard time being friends with someone as “big” as me (her term). I think my size rather overwhelms her. I think she can’t believe anyone would actually walk around in public looking like me.

Yes, I am heavy, but if you met me or if you’ve seen my pictures on facebook, you’d know I’m not going to be featured on Intervention anytime soon.  I’m 5′ 10″ & maybe I can carry extra weight a bit easier than some can. I’m trying to give you an idea of the misperception of weight that some people have. Just as someone can be anorexic & look in the mirror at their 78-pound, 5-foot-7 frame & think, “I am so fat,” so also there is a percentage of the population who look at other people & think that if you have any extra pounds you are just deformed & should probably just become agoraphobic now so you don’t have to burden the general population (& “normal” weight people) with having to be forced to look at your grossness.

When Nancy quit smoking, she gained about 20 pounds. Now I must tell you honestly that Nancy looked great. But she was devastated. She felt huge. “Kathie, I had to buy size 10 denim overalls! Do you realize that I was a 5 when I graduated from high school [in 1970]?! I’ve never been bigger than an 8!” Mind you, this woman just quit smoking. After over three decades, she QUIT SMOKING. How wonderful is that? How positively life-changing is that? But she flippin’ went up a size or two in her jeans. Time to slit her wrists.

Nancy’s never been particularly good at articulating what she’s feeling. What I mean is, she’s hurt my feelings on many occasions. She doesn’t know it though; I always kept it to myself because I know she didn’t mean to maliciously hurt me. Many times, Nancy’s let it slip how awfully overweight she thinks I am.

Once she described a coworker who wanted to join her carpool. Nancy told me, “Kathie, I don’t want her in my car because she is huge [like the woman could damage her shock absorbers or something]. I mean she’s even bigger than YOU.”

Another time Nancy & I were over a mutual friend’s. Our friend had a little wooden chair handmade of chunky wood from Scotland. Our friend wanted me to move closer to her but chairs were at a premium, so she grabbed the little chair & motioned for me to sit in it. I looked at it uncertainly & our friend said, “Don’t worry, I sit in this chair all the time.” (Our friend is overweight too.) Nancy piped up (trying to be helpful & kind), “Kathie, don’t worry; that’s a well-made chair. It could hold an elephant.” Remember, this was said in a room full of about 10 people. Believe me, this elephant will never forget that comment.

We were Christmas shopping this past December. We were at the outlets (life in hell). There was a tweedy boucle duster-length cardigan sweater. I took it off the rack to get a closer look. Nancy passed behind me & said, “That would be great for you. It would hide your fat ass.” Now I’m telling you, she was not joking. She was giving me a fashion tip. I usually let these kinds of Nancy Comments pass; this time I said, “Gosh Nancy, thank a lot.” She just walked away.

So now, here we are. I love Nancy. She’s my friend. This is a friendship I’ve ruminated about for over a decade. Why are we friends? What do we have in common? Am I a glutton (excuse the expression) for punishment? Now she could be dying. This has caused me to ponder our friendship on an even more acute level.

I’ll talk more about Nancy & me in my next post. Will you keep her in your prayers & good thoughts? Thank you so much.

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