Ten years ago today, my due date with my first child coincides with Mera’s 30th birthday. When I call Mera to send my best wishes and good cheer, I tell her I’m not sure if I can make it to the special steak dinner at Angelo and Maxie’s later that night. She understands because that is just like her to understand a circumstance she herself has yet to experience. Mera’s that good of a friend.
I spend the day reclining on my couch, my legs splayed out in front of me, my burgeoning belly contracting and then stopping. Only 5% of women actually deliver on their due date, yet for some reason I figure I will be among them. As the hours tick by, I go from bored to mildly depressed that nothing is happening.
To distract myself, I think about Mera’s birthday dinner and debate whether to go. Yes, I’m very pregnant and uncomfortable, but it is her 30th birthday, a milestone for sure, and one that carries even more weight because of her secret. It’s a secret that only a few of us know: Mera has a brain tumor. She gets checked out every three months, and so far, thankfully, so good. But how much longer will this be the case?
I feel the baby kicking my belly, I watch the clock turn to 5:30, and I decide. I decide that sitting around waiting for baby’s arrival is not only unproductive, it’s sadistic. I decide that even though Mera generously understands my skipping her birthday dinner, my absence doesn’t feel right to me. And I decide that soon enough, baby will come, and I won’t be able to go out, so why start with that excuse before it’s my reality?
I decide to join Mera for her 30th birthday.
I stand on the corner in the best clothes that still fit me at 40 weeks pregnant and hail a cab downtown. When I arrive, I make a beeline for the birthday girl, ignoring other guests’ requests to touch my belly. Mera looks at me with big brown eyes that dance like Sinatra and a smile that shines brighter than a full moon. She stretches out her arms to hug me in all my round glory.
“I can’t believe you came,” she says.
“What am I going to do? Stay home feeling sorry for myself that I’m still pregnant? Besides, it’s your birthday. You always show up. How could I not do the same for you?” I reply.
Mera is the kind of friend every girl dreams of having: Caring, understanding, empathic, loads of fun. She’s always game for the next adventure. For one night, I want to emulate those qualities to fete her as she enters her next decade.
What I don’t know is that night will be the last time she and I share a special girls’ night out in New York for her birthday, since I move away a few months later. I don’t know that a little more than a year after that night, she will discover that her tumor requires surgery. And I don’t know that night that she will only have four more birthdays.
But since all those things came to be, since my dear friend was taken from her family, her friends, her life all too soon, I am forever grateful that I got over my pregnant self that night, hailed a cab, and went to celebrate Mera turning 30.
A few months after Mera’s funeral, her friends and family gathered to walk for the American Brain Tumor Association. I wrote a little something about her to use for our team profile. Today I’m sharing it in honor of her 40th birthday.
For six and a half years, our friend Mera Lome lived with a brain tumor. From the moment of diagnosis, she displayed an inner strength that is impossible to comprehend unless you were privileged to see it in action. She never once felt sorry for herself, and instead lived every moment of her life to the fullest. Other than the quarterly doctor appointments she endured to check on the status of the tumor, she did not change her life in any way. She had always been one to live big, and if anything, her life just got bigger. Her work in television grew and her stories of the celebrities she met and interviewed became more impressive and more amazing to all those who got to hear them. But unlike the rest of us, she never seemed overly star struck or mesmerized by the famous people she encountered weekly if not daily.
And that was how she handled her tumor. It was a part of her life, but it was no big deal. Something she had to take care of periodically, but nothing that she was going to let get the better of her. The first time around, she prevailed. She underwent surgery, radiation, and only missed the absolute minimum amount of time at work, laughing every step of the way at what it was she was facing. In an email a year after her surgery, she sat at her desk, happy to be there instead of at the hospital as she was a year prior, and she wrote, From now on girls, “NO MORE DRAMA.” That was just Mera’s way. An incredible, caring friend, she was funny with a big laugh, and she was not letting anything, even a brain tumor, get in the way of her enjoying what she had.
Unfortunately, a year after Mera wrote that email, another brain tumor appeared. Unlike the first time around, this one showed no mercy. In spite of the grace, the dignity, the bravery, the laughter that she displayed every step of the way of her fight, the tumor was relentless. When the painful truth came to light, and there was little more doctors could do, she faced the new reality with the same bravery, the same grace, the same dignity, the same laughter that were the essence of her being. That is why we love Mera; that is why we miss Mera; that is why we walk for Mera.