Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Destiny reunites, separates friends again

CEDAR CREEK LAKE, TX -- Some stories seem so special that they must be retold, even when they involve  ordinary people.

The name of Sherry Lee French and her picture will go unrecognized by most local people and certainly the world-at-large, but the tragic story of her battle with breast cancer would be one well worth remembering.

The people who do recall her will remember that she drove a red pickup truck with the words, "Lil Country Girl" in the back window, and she always wore some article of pink. One of her favorite T-shirts, black with pink letters, blazed the message, "Cancer Sucks." She wore it proudly to shopping, lunch or wherever else she went.

About five years ago, the tiny black-haired woman of Italian descent with the friendly smile and generous spirit learned she suffered from breast cancer. She first reacted by saying, "I love my boobs, and I can't do this." Later she accepted the reality, undergoing a double mastectomy and other cancer treatments, but the medical procedures failed to deter the aggressive disease's spread to her bones.

Today, July 30, 2013, in midafternoon at the age of 55, she lost her painful battle, passing away in her rural home near Seven Points, TX, with her adult son and daughter by her side.

The retired federal employee, who was born and raised in California and lived in Dallas for decades, moved to Cedar Creek Lake about three years ago when she learned her illness would be terminal. Using money she saved for retirement, French bought a small house on one of the area's country lanes because she wanted to live out the rest of her life surrounded by East Texas' natural beauty.

French bought some chickens that she loved to sit and watch roam in her backyard, and she set about to make her last few years enjoyable ones.

She was a frequent customer at the Yellow Rose Café where she would meet friends and chat, always saving half of her lunch for takeout for her evening meal. She never complained about her fate, except to say that she wanted to use every last minute she had for maximum enjoyment and peace.

French wore hearing aids as a result of having been a physically abused child of an alcoholic, but she seldom expressed resentment about that either, except to point out that she had always made it a point to remind herself that she "never would be like" that parent.

She bought a boat last summer, and her son took her for many pleasurable rides on the lake. On one of their favorite outings, they attended the "Buddy Bash" cancer benefit concert at Cedar Isle Restaurant and Baja Club.

She visited friends and relatives on the West Coast and in Nebraska. She took her son and daughter and two nieces on trips to Las Vegas.

She also healed relations with half-siblings and others with whom she had become crossways over the years.

She joined the local Rockin' Country Church and participated in a Baptismal ceremony with several members of her family present.

For me, it all seemed surreal because French and I had been next-door neighbors when we both lived in Dallas. We discovered we had things in common, including that I was gay and she had a gay brother. We became close neighbors and good friends, but we lost touch with each other when I sold my house to take advantage of a large equity that resulted from the real estate boom.

After buying and selling yet another house in Dallas, I moved to Cedar Creek Lake five years ago after retiring. I came more because of economic considerations than any other motive. I realized that I could live in the country for much less than it cost me in Dallas.

Three years ago, I received a Facebook message from French asking if I had been her former neighbor. We discovered we lived just three miles from each other on Cedar Creek Lake. We agreed to meet for lunch the next day, and we continued to do so once or twice per week until recently.

French kept going strong until early this year when she started canceling lunch dates because she felt so weak. In recent weeks, she began showing signs of cognitive problems and experienced difficulty speaking as the cancer spread to her brain.

It finally became clear her time had come to go, and she went peacefully with loved ones near her to help calm the anxiety that sometimes plagued her.

She died with dignity, her life fulfilled, despite it being cut short long before her time. Life dealt French some bad hands, but she made the most of them.

It would be a good model for anyone to follow, and I like to think that some force more powerful than her and me put us in each other's company again for the benefit of us both. And who knows, perhaps, we will meet yet again one day.