My brain tumor widow sister


Myra and Cynthia Camilleri in Yellowstone National Park

Myra and Cynthia Camilleri in Yellowstone National Park

About three months after Phil had been diagnosed with a GBM brain tumor I got an email from a woman named Cynthia. She told me that she was a friend-of-a-friend and had heard about Phil’s diagnosis. Her husband had recently been diagnosed with the same thing and she wondered if we could talk. Of course! We exchanged phone numbers and planned a time for a call.

Coincidentally, her name is the same as my sisters. Not only are they both named “Cynthia” but her maiden name is the same as mine so she grew up with the same first and last name as my sister. Cynthia lives in Asheville almost four hours away so we didn’t get together but we talked every week or so throughout the illness of each of our husbands. They had the same diagnosis and the same surgery by the same doctor. Both received treatment from the brain tumor center at Duke University.

We compared notes about their treatments and talked about our feelings. We encouraged each other on difficult days and celebrated the good ones. It was good to have someone who understood so well what I was going through. It wasn’t until both our husbands had passed almost two years later that we met in person.

Cynthia’s birthday was coming up and she found that jazz guitarist, Pat Metheny was going to be in Atlanta. He was a favorite of her and her husband and they’d seen him in concert before. Since he was appearing in the area only days away from the first birthday she would celebrate after losing her husband, she felt that seeing him would be a fitting way to celebrate. (You know we widows are always looking for signs!) I’d never heard of Pat Metheny but was happy to go along and help celebrate her birthday.

Cynthia was horticulture major in college and has a working farm where she raises asparagus. She also has chickens and honey bees. She grew up and went to college in Georgia before developing a successful landscaping business in Savannah. Then after marrying, she and her husband decided they wanted to raise their son in a more rural environment so they moved to Asheville where he had a contracting business and she was a farmer. Quite a contrast from my life in the suburbs of Atlanta! Phil had been in telecommunications sales. I had a speaking/writing business and we didn’t have children. Although I grew up in rural North Georgia, the closest I’d gotten to farming in recent years was picking out vegetables at Whole Foods or buying fresh tomatoes at a roadside stand. She’s tall and slim with very short naturally grey hair and little makeup. What another friend refers to as a ‘naturallie’sort of gal. I’m a short redhead and…let’s say…curvy (OK, more like round but curvy sounds better!) Having been a makeup artist in the eighties I’m still fond of a painted face, acrylic nails, big jewelry and bright colors. Plus black, of course. Lots of black and animal print in my wardrobe! We and our lives look different from the outside and I wondered if we’d have anything in common other than having shared a profound traumatic experience.

We went to dinner before the concert and found we shared a love of good food and wine. That’s always a good start! The concert was very entertaining and introduced me to a new and unique artist. We spent lots of time talking about, not only our shared experience but our life, hopes and fears. She’s smart, upbeat and has a great sense of humor. We also have similarities in our philosophies and outlook on life. She blends in easily with a wide variety of people, too. I was able to see that since I’d overscheduled the weekend as I often do. My sister was living with me at the time. A friend from Phoenix arrived later that night to spend the week as she often uses my home as a base when in the area for work or to visit her family. Plus I was co-hosting a Pampered Chief part at my house with another friend on Saturday and we had 20-guests to prepare for. There was “happy chaos” that weekend, as there often is in my life!

Cynthia and I got to know each other better and have remained friends, talking regularly and visiting each other a few times a year. Sometimes I hear women say they are not interested in widow/widower groups as they don’t have any interest in meeting someone with whom the only thing they have in common is having been widowed. I do understand that. Also I believe that when we take time to get to know someone we usually find that we have more things in common than we expect. There are some things only someone who has traveled the same road can understand. Having Cynthia as my brain-tumor-widow-sister has certainly eased the road a bit for me. I’m very thankful for her friendship!

New friends help us to move forward. Over the years out friendship has grown and we don’t talk much about having lost our husbands. We just share what’s happening in our lives and encourage each other in new adventures. This year she took an exciting cross-country trip and I joined her for a segment. Friends who have shared our experience and share our attitude about moving forward in life are a special gift!



2 Responses to “My brain tumor widow sister”

  1. Kim Lewis said

    Cynthia and I went to high school together and 1or 2 semesters of college. She has a beautiful soul as you well know. Cynthia is truly one of the greatest friends anyone could ever hope to have. I know that you have enriched each other’s lives. I wish you each nothing but happiness.

  2. Kim, thanks for your comment. Yes, Cynthia is an amazing person!

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