November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. And this November is also the month my dear friend Candee lost her battle with Pancreatic Cancer. I don’t believe it’s a coincidence she passed away during Pancreatic Cancer awareness month. Candee never did anything unless it had some meaning to it. And because of her, I’m finding my voice to speak up about this disease and some of the lives it has brutally shattered.
Candee and I became friends at 14. She didn’t have much of a family life … her mother was an alcoholic and her father a workaholic. And Candee was forced to raise herself.
Candee loved my family – especially my Dad. Sundays would always find her at my house for brunch. Then off we’d go in her candy apple blue Malibu convertible for a long ride, topped off by a visit to Marshall St on the Syracuse University campus for a slice of pizza at Cosmo’s.
Years later, Candee married a guy named Peter Mathon from Toledo, Ohio, and I married a local guy named Steve Kaminski and became a General Electric (GE) wife – which meant moving a lot. Changes in geography are not good for friendships, but ours was different. We still managed to see each other in one city or another for the next 40 years.
Everyone needs a brutally honest friend, and Candee was mine. Whenever I needed a good reality check, Candee was my gal. Bad hairdo, bad outfit, bad boyfriend – Candee was straight up with me. She was also outgoing and gutsy. Years ago, she decided she had enough of Syracuse and was moving to Los Angeles. She knew no one there, but asked everyone she knew for the name of at least one friend there, so she could connect with each of them. By the time she arrived in LA, she had a whole new circle of friends. Next thing I knew, she was packing up and moving to Las Vegas. And when the job market bottomed out in Vegas she was off to Phoenix. Did I say “gutsy”? And, like her Dad, she was a workaholic. If she had the chance to work seven days a week, she did. Candee was hardworking, genuine and selfless, with not an envious bone in her body. And she was so very proud of me.
We had dinner last year when I was in Phoenix on my cookbook tour. We promised we would schedule a spa weekend somewhere, somehow, very soon. But life happened, and those plans never materialized. So, when my phone rang a couple weeks ago on a Sunday morning from a number in Phoenix I didn’t recognize, I froze. I didn’t pick up. As crazy as it sounds, for me phone calls on Sunday mornings mean bad news. I have a history of receiving bad news calls on Sunday mornings – and I wasn’t prepared for this one.
It was close to noon before I returned the call. Her name was Donna and she called to tell me that Candee had passed away that morning. It was all very sudden. I could barely hear a thing after Donna broke the news to me – my head was spinning with disbelief. Apparently, Candee had a pain in her upper right shoulder a few weeks before, that turned out to be a blood clot in her lung, and that turned out to be cancer of the liver – and the ultimate cause turned out to be TWO types of Pancreatic cancer. She was given three months. She made it two weeks. Like I said, Candee always did things her way.
Ironically, in every city Candee lived in, she volunteered for hospice – and that’s where her last few days were spent.
Donna expressed her sympathies, then asked for my address as there was something Candee wanted me to have.
Flash back a couple years … While in Phoenix on business, Candee and I met for dinner. She was wearing this pretty silver and black bracelet and I complimented her on it. When she dropped me off at my hotel, she took the bracelet off her wrist and handed it to me. I protested for about half a second – then slapped it on my wrist and gave her a big hug, a huge thank you, and said goodbye. I LOVED that bracelet and wore it all the time. Then one day, I looked down, and it was gone. I had been traveling and I’m sure with all the shuffling of luggage the magnetic clasp came undone and it was gone. I was heart broken. I remembered what someone had once told me … “what’s given in love can never be truly lost.” That thought was somewhat consoling, but still – it hurt. When Candee and I were together again, I confessed to losing the bracelet and my tormented guilt over it.
Yesterday, the package arrived. THE package. It was the “something” Candee wanted me to have. There it was. The bracelet. Candee had gone out and replaced it. Tears flowed. Grief poured down my cheeks. Like a gift from beyond, Candee continues to give.
Thank you my sweet friend.
Candee isn’t the only one I’ve lost to this horrible disease. Here’s to you too, Steve Kaminski -– father of my two beautiful children who was lost years ago to Pancreatic cancer. I’m so sorry you never got to meet the wonderful girl your son chose to marry, and never got to hold two of your three beautiful granddaughters, or get to be called “Great Grandpa” by your adorable great grandson. I’m sorry you didn’t get to dance at your daughter’s wedding to the song, “I loved her first.” And I’m sorry you didn’t get to see what an amazing woman she’s become. Your passing left a huge void in your son’s life, but he’s made up for it by becoming such a devoted father. You would be so very proud of them all. I wish you could have experienced these moments, these blessings.
I thought so many times about posting on social media this month about Candee, Steve and Pancreatic Cancer but didn’t because I knew so many caring individuals would respond with, “Sorry about your loss.” I didn’t want it to be about ME. It’s this horrible disease, this silent killer. We need a cure. We need awareness. We need early intervention. And while November is Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month, those who fight the disease are fighting year-round. Please join me in the fight by sharing symptoms and risk factors, and supporting organizations like Pancan.org.
XO, Sheila G.