I’d like to say a few words about a friend of mine. Her name was Samantha Pritchett, and she had the heart of a giant and that rare form of courage which allowed her to kid herself and her opponent–cancer.
She had a mental attitude which makes me proud to have had a friend who spelled out “courage,” 24 hours a day, every day of her life.
Sam died a few weeks short of her 41st birthday. “I lost my mother in 1976 to breast cancer,” Sam wrote. “She was 30, I was six. She was a beautiful, strong woman. I lost my grandmother in 1993 to breast cancer. My stepmother is a seven-year survivor. My goal is to be the first in the family to beat this.”
Sam was triple negative and had the BRCA1 mutation. “I survived dose dense 4 AC 4 Taxol and a shot of neulasta after each,” she wrote. ” I had a left mastectomy in July followed by 33 rads. Dxed w/ mets to the internal mammary node, supraclavular nodes and axillary nodes on 3/15/10. Did 6 cycles of Gemzar/Carbo.( started 3/23/10 finished7/6/10..inpart to platelet problems).scan after 3rd cycle showed no progression:))) After the 6 cycles continued on w/ Gemzar every other week as a ‘maintenance’ Started Gemzar as a single 8/10/10 due to platelet problems…PET/CT scan 10/27/10 show[ed] progression in 3 new areas: supraclavicular,subcarinal and left hilar nodes..other areas reamin stable.”
Sam was a single mom to two boys, aged 12 and 14 and one big bouncy golden retriever. She named the dog “Payton,” a tribute to the Chicago Bears’ legendary running back, Walter Payton.
“I LOVE being a Mom and my goal is to be able to be one for many, many years,” she wrote. “When I am not reading or posting I am running my guys to and from school, practices helping w/ homework etc..I am a big basketball fan and am thrilled both boys play…winners eat cake in this house.”
Sam loved to watch NFL games with her boys–provided they followed her protocol. “No phone calls, no texts and everyone must remain seated until after the play, you can’t just walk into the room and we talk only during commercials,” she wrote. ” Of course we talk, but nothing major. Just normal stuff like, ‘This guys is an idiot,’ or our new favorite ‘COME ON MAN’!!! Before my boys started sports we went to 11am Mass on Sundays and than raced home to watch the Bears. If they were having a bad game, I would ask who didn’t pray hard enough for my Bears in church? Also if it started to snow during Mass I would say you know what this means? Bear weather!! I don’t ever watch Bears games in a bar or at someone house. ”
I never met Sam in person. I knew her from an online message board for women with metastatic breast cancer. I didn’t post on the board for a couple of weeks because I was on a business trip. Sam sent me a private message to see if I was okay. We were both wary of weirdos from the Internet. Some months earlier, another woman from the board, Diane, had reached out to Sam. Although Diane and Sam were very different people, they enjoyed talking to each other. That experience encouraged Sam to contact me.
I don’t remember how we fell in the habit of PM’ing each other. We typically talked about the weather, the Bears, what I would be having for lunch–just very ordinary things. I think Sam, who came from a small family, was interested in hearing about my many siblings and their families.
She had a good sense of humor. “I worked at a hair salon with huge floor to ceiling windows where during slow moments we would people watch,” she recalled. “One day, about five years ago, I was bored. I decided to go across the street and super glue a quarter to the sidewalk. We laughed for many weeks as we watched people look and wonder if they should pick that up…or when they went to grab it and it was stuck.”
Sam was honest. “Feeling better today,” she wrote. “Stronger..braver…you have to put yourself there mentally. that’s what gets me thru…I may say I want to quit or whine and B about things but I do what I got to do. Sometimes it takes me a minute to wrap myself around things mentally. Like killing a spider…I NEVER want to do it but if I don’t who is going to?”
Like all cancer patients, Sam endured some truly moronic questions. I admired her patience and unfailing courtesy.
“I had an older woman stop me as I was walking yesterday,” Sam wrote. ” She asked if I was still on chemo..yes..yes I am..I will be forever.”
HER: Do you have a port?
ME: Yes..I am on my second one.
HER: I lost my sister to breast cancer she only lived 18 months..My husband dropped dead on the kitchen floor he had cancer but the chemo gave him a heart attack..My brother inlaw has 3 lumps in his stomach all cancer, he has a port and finished chemo now they will take the port out..where is your port?
ME: Right here..[pointing to my chest]
HER; Do they take the port out when you die?
ME: I don’t know..but I will ask my oncologist..
“This is all part of my ‘hiding’ Katherine…nobody ‘gets’ it,” Sam wrote. “I feel like getting a shirt that says YES I will be on chemo forever and yes I am f..ing dying. Oh and just last night I was asked how do you get chemo and get to keep your hair? I am sorry…I am in such a yucky place when I slow down. Nobody wants to hear the truth and to be honest I am scared to say it out loud. My platelets were at 109,000 last tx…I have scans tomorrow..Damn platelets…i can’t get into a loterry for the PARPS bc of the platelets..have to wait for them to be released..buzzing for January.”
Things started getting worse in February. Sam had excruciating back pain. She was hospitalized briefly and came home on oxygen. Payton was afraid of the oxygen tank but refused to leave Sam’s side. The gaps grew longer between Sam’s messages.
So sorry…I started vomiting the 16th of April was admitted to the hospital and given a CT of the brain,” she wrote. ” You know the drill..I am getting 15 zaps that’s all I know. I don’t want to know much more. I have power of attorney in place, funeral arrangements( not planning of using those for awhile but I chose lots of Irish Blessings and shamrocks. A friend of mine, Susan, who comes from a big Irish family has been helping me. She seemed surprised about the shamrocks but those are for you Katherine and me too bc I am a wanna be!!!
The boys have been staying w/ their Dad and their stepmom brings them by. Payton is there too.
I have been flooded with visitors..maybe we can try to txt each other and find a time to talk or at least txt. It’s hard as I sleep but coffee has started to taste better so maybe radiaton has its benefits, lol.
Shawn’s football coach was here to see me..the DRIVE YOUR LEGS! guy. He promised to look after those boys for me no matter what. Makes me feel so much better.
I think of you everyday and wish you the very best.
We didn’t talk, but we did exchange some texts. In one of her last PMs, Sam told me she had read some of this blog. “Great job,” she wrote. “Maybe I could shoot some ideas your way maybe from a TNBC BRCA1 gal. We could spin it anyway you see fit, just a thought. Also if any of my ramblings make sense to you feel free to use them anyway you see fit. You have a gift and if I could help just let me know.”
Thanks, Sam, for your help and continued inspiration.
This is the traditional Catholic prayer:
- Eternal rest, grant unto her, O Lord,
- and let perpetual light shine upon her.
- May she rest in peace.
To which I would like to add a heartfelt “COME ON MAN!!!”