Fighter

I remember when I received the news. Cancer.

My vibrant, young, faith-filled, precocious friend, Cristina. Cancer.

It was late in October, after my birthday, just before Halloween. She was only a sophomore in high school. She inspired faith and hope in all the girls that gathered in my living room to talk of life and boys and school and Jesus every Sunday evening. She often stayed late, I am sure to her mom’s chagrin, processing and asking questions and challenging me in ways she never knew to live more deeply, more fully, more honestly…

And I remember that night, reading and rereading the message from her mom.

I wept, I prayed, I stared.

And then I watched. I watched as a high school rallied around her; messages and invitations spread like wildfire across Facebook {this was before “adults” had taken it over, thus pushing high schoolers to largely vacate that coveted social space} and the next day the school was awash with blue, everyone donning the color that demonstrated support of their dear friend, ASB officer, cancer fighter.

Blue Day

I watched as she began fighting… chemo, hospital visits, hospital stays, losing hair, sweet puffy face. I was often preoccupied with a 2 year old and a newborn and more middle school and high school girls in my living room than I knew what to do with, and I regret to say that I often watched from afar.  My young co-leaders that helped facilitate our Sunday night small group showed up at the hospital, snuggled with her in bed and watched movies and brought magazines. I can’t say that I showed up in those moments. I regret to say that I never made it to the hospital.  I look back and know better now how to ask for help and babysitters and go and snuggle bedside, but in that season, I didn’t know yet how to ask for help for myself so that I could just show up. I am so saddened by that fact.

But over time, I was able to show up in other ways. I prayed like crazy; sometimes I got mad. I monitored her caring bridge, and visited her at home when she was no longer in school and scared and not sure if her blood counts would ever make it back to normal. Hand sanitizer flowed like honey in her house and I remember when she began to get well, beginning to host small group at her house Sunday nights and a host of high school girls showed up to share life and encourage and be encouraged… and we laughed and cried and learned how to navigate this life where death seemed so much closer, scarier and real in a season when we typically feel invincible.

The weeks swelled to months and her hair began to grow back and her weight fluctuation was crazy due to all the drugs and such.  She was resilient and wise and hilarious and had wisdom and faith beyond her years and yet still was anxious about whether any boys would think she was beautiful with a pixie cut.

And then she beat it. There is so much more to the story, so many more ups and downs, little victories, and momentary losses. But she beat it. Cancer free. Cancer survivor.

She rocked the best turbans and had the cutest pixie, and still fought with the fear of the cancer returning. But she beat it. She went back to school, ultimately became President of ASB her Senior year, played a significant role in her school’s cancer walk, Relay for Life. She wasn’t able to come with me to Malibu the summer after her sophomore year but came years later as a camper and I will never forget that long weekend with her in my most favorite place in the world marinating in the truth that God brings us from death to life.

Malibu Discipleship

My friend is now in college, experiencing the ups and downs of solidifying her faith and identity, admittedly making great and hard choices, drifting and being rescued by the God that will never quit on her. Her story is so far from finished. And I could not be more thankful for the fact that, even when I may not have shown up, she never stopped fighting. And I pray she never will.

Happy Birthday, Cristina. You are SO loved.

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