In the Suburbs: Answer the phone, a life may be at stake

A little over a year ago, I ignored two phone calls from my cousin Gary’s phone number one evening. When I finally got around to returning the call, I learned from Gary’s wife, who picked up, that he had died suddenly that day.

While it would have made no difference, I was upset with myself for not being more responsive and I vowed not to do that again. So, when my phone vibrated two times in 10 minutes as I was getting shopping bags into the car at Target and it showed our friend Lynn’s name, I immediately called her back.

We go back some 36 years as friends and I hadn’t heard from her in way too long.

When she answered, Lynn said, “Wow! That was fast. I just wanted to check in and see how everything is.”

Somehow, I thought there was going to be more to this conversation. I was right. Once I got past how glad I was to hear from Lynn, I informally asked whether she was back to work at the school where she’d been, her next comments made me speechless for the next hour plus.

“Well, it’s a long story, but I’ll try to be brief,” she said. “Back in February when COVID was just beginning to spread, I had been having some trouble catching my breath but thought nothing of it. Then we went hiking in the Adirondacks and I couldn’t keep up. Mickey (Lynn’s husband) and our friends were way ahead of me. A few weeks later, on a ski trip, the same thing happened. I just couldn’t ignore it anymore.

“Soon after the ski trip, my doctor told me to go right to the emergency room rather than wait to see him and I was admitted to the hospital. After the tests, the doctor arrived with the diagnosis. I learned to my shock that I had stage four lung cancer. But instead of being immobilized, I immediately asked the doctor what our treatment strategy was going to be and said I was ready to get to work.”

For the next hour, I listened as our strong, vibrant friend chronicled how she decided to stare down this life-threatening illness, which had spread beyond her lungs to the spine and possibly the brain. After months of chemo, excellent medical suggestions from the daughter of a close friend who is in the biological science field, multiple other treatments, mini-strokes and a dangerous return trip to the hospital in early summer, Lynn not only survived but she is getting her health under her control.

Lynn shared that if her treatments continue to work well, her cancer could go into remission and she could return to a reasonably normal life.

“My salvation throughout this illness has been my wonderful husband and family,” she told me. “They took over at the beginning and have been there for me. My husband semi-retired to take care of me, my daughter organized everything for me because I had some difficulty remembering things and my sons have made amazing sacrifices for me.

“And I cannot say enough about the incredible support network of family and friends and others, who have kept praying for me, and prayer has made so much difference. I’ve always believed in prayer, but until now never realized all it could do for me.”

I asked Lynn whether she could have visitors and she told me with some reluctance that she can have company, but urged my wife and I to consider a COVID test if we decide to drive out to the Allentown, Penn. area where Lynn lives. “I just can’t take a chance,” she said. “If I contracted COVID it would surely do me in.”

I told Lynn I absolutely understood her concerns and said we would consider those very carefully if we opted to make the drive.

At the end of our call, Lynn said that she regretted not calling sooner, but didn’t want to overload us and other close friends with a lot of gloom and doom. I told her we were just concerned that maybe we had done something or said something. She quickly assured me that wasn’t the case.

As I tried to process everything Lynn was sharing. I mostly empathized with her feelings of isolation during her recovery. The combination of recovering during the time of a pandemic and needing to protect her own immunity was clearly very difficult for Lynn, who has always been an active, high achieving person. But knowing her as we do, we believe she is going to recover to enjoy a future that will only get better.

I am just glad I picked up the phone this week. Talking with Lynn showed me the inspiration and strength she is showing everyday. And we’ll pray even harder now.

Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his “In the Suburbs” appears each Friday. He can be reached at