Last Thursday I was up before the robins, in order to get Peter ready for a 5:30 a.m. departure for Washington DC with his classmates. After rousing our sleepy boy, I quickly scanned through my inbox. There was a message from my friend Sarah Broom, with the subject In memorium. I hoped to hell it was the title of a new poem but my heart was heavy as I opened the email. It had been sent by Sarah’s husband, Michael. Sarah had died.
As I hurried Peter out the door, I kept the news to myself. Already reeling from the Boston Marathon Patriot Day bombings, I felt an intense need to protect Peter from additional sadness and worry as he went off on what was intended to be a holiday.
After returning home, I crawled back into bed and fell right to sleep. When I awakened several hours later, I immediately recalled a dream: I’d been sitting on the floor of a closet that was not mine. Most of the clothing was gone, but there were some beautiful objects on the shelves, shrine-like in presentation and fashioned from polished brass and ivory colored lace or coral. The door to the closet opened, and a stranger asked me what I was doing there. I gestured to the space around me and said, “I am so lonely, and this reminds me of the forts we built as children.”
For the past few months, I had spent many a night imagining Sarah, Thao and myself running, climbing, jumping, flying. Young and strong again, with scabbed knees and cheeks flushed with pleasure. Invincible.
My special relationship with Sarah began almost five years ago. When I took my initial dose of crizotinib in 2008, I was the fourth person in the world with NSCLC and an ALK mutation to do so. Sarah, who lived in New Zealand, had directly preceded me on trial as number three. Through social media and a common acquaintance (number two in the trial, our friend Kevin), we began a dialogue.
Initially, our communication was infrequent. With time, emails segued into long telephone conversations. A little over a year and a half ago, Sarah came to Boston for treatment, and we were able to spend some actual time together. Although she soon returned home to New Zealand, our sessions over the phone continued with renewed intensity.
Sarah was brilliant; a poet with a doctorate in English from Oxford in addition to a master of arts in English from Leeds University. Hers had been a tough road: Only thirty five years old and pregnant with her third child when diagnosed with lung cancer, Sarah advocated fiercely for the sort of care not readily available in New Zealand. For more than five years she endured the side effects of multiple treatments and a hopelessly aggressive cancer, always with unfailing optimism, courage and devotion to her family.
In our lengthy chats we talked of the things most friends do: love, life, relationships. Books, creativity, our hopes and dreams. But we also discussed our illness and, of course, dying. In a way that was extraordinarily open and free from pretense.
I loved Sarah and felt intensely connected to her. I knew she was dying. In fact, the afternoon before I opened the email from Michael, I felt a certain shift in the universe and was certain that it had to do with Sarah.
I am devastated. However, my loss pales next to that of her family. Also, I know that Sarah had made peace with what was coming and that she is now free from suffering. She will live on in our hearts and in her own words, and although the earth may now be a bit dimmer, the sky is brighter still.
And when I walked out last night
it was cool, the coldest night this winter,
and when the stars asked me to join them
in the ache of their bareness, I let them
take me, and they carried me between them,
clusters of stars all along my body, and I arched right back and pointed my toes and fingertips,
and was as long as ever you could imagine
and they did not let me go.
by Sarah Broom
her poem is beautiful. i am completely saddened by this post. god bless her.
Thank you Gwendolyn.
A powerful tribute to your friend, Sarah. Clearly she was a light in the world, and still is. I am sorry for her loss, and for yours, dear friend.
So sorry about the loss of your friend. This is a cruel disease, but it has enabled us to meet others we never would have encountered and to have learned from them. Thanks for sharing your beautiful tribute.
Roni, you are so right. I have met and shared with the most amazing people. There is nothing good about lung cancer, but there is a way to face (head on and heart open) that enables us to grow and learn, even as we fight the disease itself.
Oh my. Sarah from New Zealand. Her participation in clinical research for ALK-driven cancer has been so very important to all of us taking the same or similar drugs. Her work for her own and our sakes is being cherished every day by thousands, whether or not they realize it. Thank you, Sarah.
Craig, Sarah was a trailblazer in so many ways. She had to work very hard for access to clinical trials, and she did so tirelessly and with great bravery and optimism. I am glad (but not surprised) that you recognize the subtext here and her major contribution.
I am sad to read this Linnea. While I didn’t know Sarah, she sounds like a bright light both here & I am sure wherever she travels. I can’t even imagine what you are feeling right now, but please know that you are surrounded by the love of so many. Sarah’s poetry is beautiful, thank you for sharing her words here. They are actually comforting, as the anniversary of my own sweet boy closes in. Sarah continues to touch others through her words…
Lorraine, you are one of those eyes wide open, head on, and heart open individuals that I referred to in my response to Roni’s comment. Your unflagging dedication to fighting the injustice of cancer and particularly its impact upon young adults is so inspiring. You could have let grief close that heart of yours, but that is not the way you chose.
I also find Sarah’s words comforting. She didn’t want to go, but understood that she must, and her own acceptance gives me a strange comfort and also greater courage to face whatever comes my way. Again, she leads.
I am so sad and my heart is heavy too. Beautiful poem by Sarah. Thank you for sharing her story and opening up your raw emotion. Thank you for your writing this tribute to her. Our prayers and hearts go out to her family…your words as well as hers continue to touch and help others. Thank you Sarah.
Fawn, thank you for your kind words. Sarah’s poems go right to the core of feeling….she had a gift for that and I am glad she shared it with the world.
I’m sad to hear that Sarah has passed. Your tribute was lovely. She must have been special, indeed. xo
Thank you Jessica—she was a shiny one for sure.
linnea, what a loss, but wht a blessing for you to have known her. i am sorry. hedy
Thank you Hedy—I do feel blessed by our friendship. Selfishly, I would have liked more time. However, that is a human construct—looking at a relationship that way. In reality, love is not subject to such constraints—it can last forever, and it shall.
Linnea, I’m so terribly sad and heavy-hearted to hear of Sarah’s passing. Thank you for introducing this lovely soul to us, I carry her poems close to my heart.
Thinking of her family and you,
sending long lasting hugs,
Anja, thank you. You and Sarah would have gotten on beautifully, and she would like knowing that her poems are held close to your heart.
I’m deeply saddened by your loss of yet another beloved friend, and a sister in this cruel fight. Thank you for sharing her words and light with us. Keeping you in my thoughts.
Thank you Jazz. And sister, I know this is not an easy time for you. You are in my thoughts as well—hang on.
It so unreal that I’am reading something that has hit so close to home. I lost my best friend this past Jan 9th 2013 of lung cancer. we were friends for 43 years shared so very many happy times together. some of the names in this story are even the same names of people in our lives. Thank you for sharing this with me, Im keeping you in my thoughts and prayers as to lose a best friend is one of the worse things that can ever happen to a person. I will never forget my best friend Joann Shumpis I love you to the moon and back and to the stars you are now looking down upon us, I know.
Colleen, I am so sorry. Forty three years is a long time to have been friends, and I know your heart is aching. Keep the memories—and the love will always be there.
I am so very sorry for you loss.
Thank you Cheryl.