The healing power of friendship: One Idyllwild woman’s cancer battle raises an army

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Judy Lawler of Idyllwild, relishing her first experience at a tattoo parlor, takes pleasure in sending cancer a message of defiance last Saturday.    Photo by Lori Cornell

Judy Lawler of Idyllwild, relishing her first experience at a tattoo parlor, takes pleasure in sending cancer a message of defiance last Saturday. Photo by Lori Cornell


By Pat Hughes
Special to the Town Crier

It was back. Ten years had passed since she had won the battle against breast cancer, yet here it was again. Judy Lawler felt her usual carefree demeanor abandon her just as surely as the test results inserted cancer, front and center, once again into her life. Watching her husband’s stoic expression crumble at the news hit her like a knife in her already troubled heart. Even her self-deprecating, irreverent sense of humor, which she wore like a protective shield, couldn’t deflect the fear that gripped her body and soul.

But Lawler is surrounded by friends and family. Starting with her closest friends in her Idyllwild quilting guild, she shares the devastating news that she will immediately undergo chemo. As the treatment wreaks havoc on her entire system, Lawler’s platinum silver hair quickly starts to fall, sending her to her newly amassed stash of stylish hats, caps and headbands. Jess Tena, husband of her close friend and fellow quilter, Sally, promptly shaves his head to let her know she is not alone.

As the chemo therapy concludes, she is faced with the news that this time around the treatment has achieved no positive results. She’s once again bald and now facing a mastectomy and radiation. Lawler, mentally donning the robes of a warrior, announces to her quilting friends that she is going to get a tattoo on her breast; one that clearly tells cancer what she thinks of it. She can’t wait to see the first nurse or doctor who happens upon that declaration forever inked onto her skin.

Joined by half dozen or so friends at the Hemet tattoo parlor, she’s completely surprised to see that many of those in her posse also have appointments. Lawler is not alone in this new experience as she witnesses a variety of tattoos blossoming on the chests, arms and legs of quilting grandmothers. “In that moment I was overwhelmed by this sense of protection, surrounded by my friend’s laughter. Their support empowered me and left me thoroughly delighted,” Lawler concludes.

The tattoos barely healed, Lawler is headed this lovely fall day to A Cut Above Salon and Day Spa located one half block from where the quilting group holds their monthly meetings and workshops. Today her heart is full at the news that Carmen Terrazas, close friend and quilt guild president, is having her shiny, shoulder length locks completely shorn so they can both run around town in snazzy hats. “Just what I needed,” Lawler muses, adding, “If people could grasp how impactful these gestures can be, right when one feels the most alone, they wouldn’t hesitate sharing their life-affirming gift of friendship.”

The following week’s itinerary is discussed, confirming that Lawler’s sister and niece will be driving her to the hospital for the mastectomy. The surgery-day game plan continues as carpools are set for the hospital-bound warrior friends. A lively debate ensues as to who is preparing what meals to stock in Lawler’s refrigerator during her recovery.

Once again, there it is: that bond of friendship popping up like cheerful detour signs in the face of cancer.

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