Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

August 30, 2013

Friendship lasting through distance and hardship

Carrie Stambaugh
The Independent

ASHLAND — On Sunday, I dipped my toes into the cool waters of the Atlantic from the beach at Coney Island. A few feet away, my best friend’s 19-month-old son, Noah, stood nervously at the edge of the breaking waves.

He quickly decided rather than the water, he preferred playing in the sand. Soon burying shoes turned into unearthing hidden treasures, including the Cherri O's he had dropped near the edge of our beach blanket earlier in the afternoon.

Each time he found one, Noah would giggle as he tried to get the gritty treat into his mouth before one of the four adults present could stop him. It was the kind of game kids love and adults can’t help but see the humor in. Our easy laughter sailed away on the steady breeze.

It was the kind of glorious sunny summer day meant to be shared with the people you love, and mine were there — my husband, Carl, my friend, Marissa, her husband, Matt, and their little Noah.

Behind us the boardwalk bustled. There were families eating Nathan’s Famous frankfurters while thier children begged for tickets to amusement rides. Loud pop music blared and teenagers skateboarded by.

It was the type of day the details of which just naturally impresses themselves into memories. It’s a day I know I will always remember.

I make a trip to New York City almost every year to see Marissa, who has lived there nearly a decade. We met in middle school but became close in high school.

As a teenager, she dreamed of moving away to the big city to work in fashion. That is exactly what she did.

Our lives now are worlds apart, but we have remained the best of friends. We simply have a bond that is stronger than distance or differences in lifestyle.

No matter how long it has been since we were last together, we always just seem to be able to pick up right where we left off. We are lucky that our husbands — who have met a total of six times —  genuinely enjoy each other’s company too. Even little Noah seems to get it.

This meeting was no exception, but it was different all the same.

In May, Marissa called me to say she had just been diagnosed with cancer. I could hear the shock in her voice as a wave of it broke over me.

My first impulse was to drive to New York just to get my arms around her. I didn’t because I couldn’t.

For four months, I’ve watched from 600 miles away as she's fought the scariest of diseases. I’ve been helpless to do anything but send her my love through calls, cards, texts and little gifts and prayer.

Last Friday I finally got to hug her. Her curly black hair is gone, but she is the same beautiful, joyous Marissa that she has always been.

Over the next three days, she proved to me that she always will be. Marissa has harnessed the same unwavering grace and confidence that she has always possessed to stare down cancer.

Her fight isn’t over, but I know she will win.

By Sunday, I knew that someday we will be able look back at that beautiful day and her cancer will be just another detail of it.