I wrote this post for the Prevent Cancer Foundation’s blog carnival.
More than 40 years ago, I started the 7th grade living in New Jersey. In January of 1973, my family moved and I began the second half of that school year in Newport News, Virginia. If you’ve ever been a brand new student, mid year, you can relate to the scariness. Everyone notices you as the new student while you are desperate for just one friend. For me, that friend was Betsy Wood, a girl in my class with an adorable nose and long, dark braids who was nice to me in the cafeteria.
More than forty years later, she is still a part of my life and she has brain cancer. So when asked, “Who do you prevent cancer for?”, I say for the oldest friends in our lives. For me, my oldest and dearest friend is Betsy Wood Finch.
The most vivid early memories of my friendship with Betsy include tennis lessons, riding our bikes “halfway” to meet up, and lazy afternoons at the Beechwood Pool. Our friendship was a defining part of my middle school and high school years. We were Girl Scouts together, regularly visited each other’s churches, always tried to take the same classes, and spent the night whenever we could talk our mothers into it. She knew all my secrets, and we could fill hours on the phone every evening even though we, as my mother used to say, “saw each other at school all day.”
When we were deciding on colleges, most everyone advised us against being roommates. They said we knew each other too well, we’d get on each other’s nerves, it would ruin our friendship. Fortunately for me, we ignored that advice because I can’t imagine a first semester at JMU that didn’t include Betsy. I was very close to my family and prone to homesickness. Without Betsy, I might not have made it. We had no roommate difficulties and she was still my best friend, even as a college student.
We both got married the summer after graduation from JMU. You’ve probably already guessed: she was my maid of honor and I was her matron of honor. I suppose we were most separated during those early years of our marriages. Larry and I moved to upstate New York for his PhD program at the University of Rochester. Also newly married, Betsy and Doug began building their careers and bought their first home in Newport News. Still, I always felt connected with Betsy — even though we didn’t see each other as often and were without the benefits of email, Facebook, and free long distance.
Somehow, we both ended up in Williamsburg, with young babies and work and life taking hold. It didn’t seem unusual that my mom cared for both of our oldest children while Betsy and I worked part-time jobs. Later, our kids went to the same preschool. We tried to get together regularly, desperately catching up while pushing our kids on swings or wolfing down pizza. More often than visits, we scheduled phone calls. Regularly, we’d chat for 90 minutes or so by phone, in the evening after the kids were in bed (even though we lived less than five miles apart).
As our own kids moved into high school, we had more time to see each other. We met for dinner or for coffee, and no matter how long the absence, it was like no time had passed.
Two and a half years ago, Betsy was diagnosed with brain cancer. Her strength, courage, and perspective inspire me. I see her regularly now — my work schedule is flexible and she is not working. We have time to connect and I will be forever grateful for that.
It’s true that the most wonderful and most painful parts of my life have been shared with Betsy. Her battle with cancer is a most painful part but the time we spend together makes me smile, helps me figure things out, and let’s me admit what I’d never admit to anyone else. I prevent cancer for our deep friendship.
Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver and the other’s gold. I love you, Betsy.