Polly + Ann

In theory we should have been sisters. From the time we met in 4th grade, until we were geographically separated in 9th grade in the wake of my mother's divorce, we were inseparable. We wore each other's clothes. We both adored animals — all animals. We wore our hair the same, and oh how I wanted my light brown/blonde locks to be red like hers. We liked the same boys. We were both cheerleaders. I was student body president in 8th grade, she was my vice president. She reminded me of a sunflower. She was a bright light. She was sunny. She was a goofball. Her smile took over the entire room. She was passionate. She was kind. In short, she was my best friend.

When my mother told me we had to move from that little central California town, my world turned upside down. It hit me so deeply that I still feel the loss today — the loss of good friends, my animals, a great school, a wonderful life. But it was the separation from Polly that would be the worst.

Her wonderful family, knowing how much we meant to each other, and understanding how devastated I was by the impending move, offered to let me live with them for half of my freshman year. Her father was my 9th grade math teacher. And her mother treated me as one of her own. Her amazing brothers and sisters took me under their collective wings. Polly and I tried to not talk about me leaving but it hung over us like a heavy, gray fog. We lived every minute to the fullest though. We went to every football game, every party, every event. We would oftentimes stay up half the night talking about what would become of us. Because we were, quite simply, one.

The fateful day arrived. I don't remember much about it now. Too painful to keep that memory alive, but I do remember the tears and her mom trying to pry us apart. And then life happened.

I moved to Colorado. I was unhappy. Polly came out to see me once, but it was difficult in those days to get together. We wrote incessantly. But life went on, life became more complicated, and we began to lose touch. We grew up, we had children. Each of us had our ups and downs in our separate lives, and our communication dwindled down to nothing. My heart hurt when I thought about her and my life there. The pain of leaving was too much for me sometimes.

We were so much alike, so tuned in, so connected on every level. And then we even got the same disease. In 2003, just a few months after my first cancer diagnosis, I learned that Polly had died from breast cancer. My world fell apart again. She and I fought the same disease at the same time and we never even knew it. But somehow I always knew she was out there. I knew that we could, in theory, pick up the phone and be connected again and go on as if I had never left. I knew I could get on a plane and go see her. But now she was gone.

I have connected with her family through FaceBook and learned that her beautiful daughter was recently married. I see Polly in spirit, in those wedding photos posted online. I see her wide smile and beauty reflected in her daughter. It brought the loss back to me, all over again, but it also prompted me to honor her here.

She'd be proud of me and PLUS. She'd be happy that I made something good out of something terrible. Through PLUS I honor Polly and all those we love who have been affected by cancer. Polly, you will always be with me. And the thoughts of you riding my horses and weaving dandelions into their bridles, playing with the guinea pigs and pretending they talked, bobbing for apples at our Halloween party, playing dodgeball and skinning our knees on the asphalt, practicing our cheers, and swinging like monkeys on the bars at recess, will always keep me afloat when times are tough.

Here's to you, my friend. I think of you all the time.