by Shirley Pierson

  Webster's dictionary says that a friend is an intimate associate, a person on the same side of a struggle. Proverbs tells us that a friend loves at all times. These words best describe my friendship with Patty.
Patty and I met as young wives and mothers back in the early sixties in San Jose, California. We were both "stay at home" mom's and I had recently moved to CA from western New York with my husband and two sons ages two and six. I was very lonely and praying for a friend.
Most mornings as I looked out my kitchen window I would see a pretty young woman with a little girl walking along the sidewalk outside our rented duplex. The little girl appeared to be about the same age as my younger son and I knew he missed not having a playmate as much as I missed not having a friend in this new environment. One day holding my son by the hand we went outside and I introduced myself. The woman smiled a warm and friendly greeting while her eyes sparkled with good humor. She said her name was Patty and we chatted briefly about our children and the fact that I had just moved into the neighborhood. We hit it off right away. I felt like I had known her all my life and that she was the answer to my prayer. Little did I know that our friendship would last for over thirty years.
Patty and I became inseparable and in spite of the fact that she was nearly 10 years younger than I was, she became my confidant and the sister I never had. Patty's personality was perfectly suited to mine. Where I would overreact to situations and find myself stewing over nothing, Patty was calm, even tempered, stable with a beautiful smile and an infectious laugh I still remember. Patty was good for me and fun to be with. Her strongest expression was "yeah right" as though she knew it was all a joke.
In 1965 my husband was called back to his head office in western New York and so with tears flowing and hugs and kisses we promised to stay friends forever. In 1977 we moved west again this time to Utah. Letters and phone calls became more frequent and we made several car trips to San Jose to visit our old friends. By this time Patty's family had increased by a second daughter and a son.
As the years went by we began to make vacation and travel plans for the future when we had more time and less responsibility. Patty and I were now grandmothers and exchanged photo's and bragging rights. Then suddenly and without warning we received the shocking news that Patty had been diagnosed with breast cancer...I was in stunned. Patty was so young, only in her forties. She neither smoked nor drank. She was so full of life and glowed with health. There must be some mistake.
Patty soon started radiation treatments at a clinic in Palo Alto. My life was such that I was able to make a number of visits with her as she went through with her treatment. Three days a week we would drive to the clinic listening to Christian music acting as if there wasn't a dark cloud on the horizon. I was overjoyed when she recovered from the radiation treatment and remained cancer free for five years. During that time my husband retired and we moved to Tennessee. Patty and her husband came to visit us one Thanksgiving and we enjoyed a good time together. We also talked about going on a cruise or maybe a visit to England together someday.
Returning home, Patti made a routine check up with her doctor and a lump was discovered in her other breast. The news was not good and after many consultations and tests the doctors advised that she have a radical mastectomy followed by chemotherapy. Patti suffered greatly from her treatments but never complained. She shared with me how terrible she looked now that her hair had fallen out but refused to wear a wig to cover her baldness because she said it was too hot. I followed her progress closely and was elated to learn that over the months she was growing stronger gaining back some of the weight she lost and feeling so well that she went back to work part time. I was overjoyed and thankful that she was feeling well enough to move forward with her life.
We shared our plans for Christmas 1996. We complained over the phone about the crowded stores and how hard it was trying to buy gifts for our husbands and bemoaned the fact that the true meaning of Christmas was lost in all the commercialism. Patty laughed and told me about all the weight she had gained over the last few months. She said she looked eight months pregnant. We both laughed at such an absurd idea. We didn't realize that her weight gain was attributable to a reoccurrence of her cancer.
The first few months in 1997 we failed to keep in touch. I was having physical problems and did not want to bother her with my struggle with depression. I can't remember when I next contacted her but she began to use e-mail and her first message arrived in April and we began a correspondence that lasted nearly 18 months.
In late summer and fall of 1998 Patty became too sick to use the computer so I began to call her on Sunday afternoons. There were times when she was sleeping or too just to sick to come to the phone. Then at other times she would gain strength and we'd talk. Many times she would say to me. "I want to be well again." We all wanted her well.
Patty's son was to be married in the spring of 1999. Patty wanted so much to share in that special occasion but in her heart she knew she never would. So instead she asked if she could go with his fiancée when she bought her wedding dress. In late November she was strong enough to make her wish come true. In our next phone conversation she sounded so proud as she described the dress to me. It was Patty's last time to leave home.
I'm humbled by the trust she had in me to share the most painful and intimate details of her final battle with cancer. It was not always easy. There were times when I could find little of comfort to give her and avoided the obvious. Then there were other times when we prayed and the peace of God was evident. Patty granted me a rare gift of friendship that few people can ever know and I miss her very much. I take solace in the fact that she is with our Lord, free from pain and the miseries of the disease that overcame her. I will see her again one day and we will enjoy our friendship and love of Jesus at his feet.