I have this enduring image of Candice in my head. It’s not real, it’s imaginary, but there’s truth in it. She’s wearing a white Grecian gown and angel wings. No, not actual angel wings – these she crafted, right there in my imagination. She whipped up these wings from 14-gauge wire, feathers, a bolt of vintage white and gold Hollywood Regency fabric, and her emergency glitter supply. They’re fabulous. So was she.
It’s her posture that really grabs my attention: a shrug, with her shoulders and hands slightly elevated. And with that shrug, she says “Hey, I’m not one to judge. Whatevs. But it seems like going out and doing something fun would be a better way to remember me than just sitting there on the couch.”
So I went to a party.
Ok, so it was a gathering of her friends with breast cancer, but she would have understood and approved.
We tried to wrap our heads around the fact that this bright light in our circle of friends was gone. We all wrestled with our own mortality. We talked about how difficult it is to describe Candice, and have people really understand just how awesome she was, or how deeply her absence is felt, about the urge to insist, “But you don’t understand! This was CANDICE!” Of course people didn’t understand, unless they’d met her. You only had to meet her once to really get it.
I mean, this is the girl who responded to the diagnosis of Stage IV cancer by learning to play the ukulele.
She really lived. She had a short life, 31 years, but she lived the full breadth of it.
The first time I met her she walked in bald and bold and lit up the room with her megawatt smile. This was a support group for young women with breast cancer (Young Survival Coalition), and most of us showed up the first time not just bald, but feeling exposed, raw, and terrified – of both the cancer and the prospect of group therapy. I remember tucking my feet up under me on the couch, and trying to hide behind a throw pillow, as if that was possible. Not Candice. She walked in with a kind of confidence that made everyone take notice. She was even a bit giddy, asking so many questions, and even stopping to apologize for taking over the conversation. But glancing around the room, I could see the other girls were just as thrilled as I was with this new energizing personality in our group. We all leaned forward when she spoke.
She had this big, generous spirit, ready to help out, lift spirits, or whatever was needed. But she didn’t take shit. She would call your shit out in a heart beat. I loved her for that. too. We often discussed the bullshit that surrounds cancer, the stupid Facebook games where people pretend to be pregnant and that’s some how supposed to be supportive of people with breast cancer or spread breast cancer awareness… I could never figure out how anyone thought that would help. It just pissed Candice off. The way people tell us, “Oh, you’ll be fine, you’ve got a great attitude.” As if cancer paid any attention whatsoever to my attitude, or anyone else’s. Candice did have a great attitude; can we just retire that particular turn of phrase?
Candice and I had this knack for getting hospitalized at the same time. She spent much more time in the hospital, but it seemed each time I went in, she was already there or showed up shortly thereafter. This would be a bit more fun if we were roommates, or even showing up at the same hospital. But no, she went to Swedish and I went to UWMC, and then we’d sit up with our phones and laptops and text from one bed to another, laughing at the absurdity that so often accompanies cancer.
One afternoon after she was admitted to her room (I was at home) and we were chatting online when I had a medical situation come up. I called my nurse and they decided I should head straight in to the ER. Unfortunately, I was 20 miles away, and my car was in the shop. I was still online with Candice, and she sent her husband to pick me up and take me to my hospital. Again with the absurdity as he left his wife’s side at one hospital to retrieve me and drop me off at another hospital before returning back to her.
There were so many stories like this we shared at our cancer girls party to remember Candice. We laughed. A lot. And then we got out those wild wigs that Candice rocked, and in a move we’re sure she would have loved, we each donned a wig (there were exactly enough wigs for our party) and toasted the memory of our dear friend.
I’ve been sitting on this post for nearly 3 weeks now. Partly just processing, trying to come to terms with losing my friend. But part of it is also the perfectionist in me. I don’t want to end this post right here because there are so many things I haven’t said yet – things I haven’t figured out how to say, funny stories, photos locked away in a cantankerous hard drive that I still need to retrieve, and I’m sure I could rework a few of those paragraphs a couple dozen times . . . But I’ve got to let it go. I’ve got to get this posted, because in some odd way, withholding this post is keeping me from saying goodbye. And as hard as it is for me to say this, it’s time for me to start saying goodbye to my friend.
So I will leave you with this video of Candice Bailey and her ukulele and a friend singing “Sunshine through the Rain.”