Today I was going to share a recipe for beef enchiladas. But because I’m undiagnosed ADD, my mind ran instead to the reason I made beef enchiladas in the first place. And that made me think about cancer. Which made me think about how to cook for people who have cancer. Which made me think about writing about how to cook for people with cancer. Which caused me to fruitlessly search for a cookbook I used to have about cooking for people with cancer. Which made me think about my sister-in-law, Joann, who gave me the cookbook because she had cancer and I sometimes cooked for her. Which made me think about her favorite soup. Which brought me back to why I made beef enchiladas in the first place.
I know. It’s exhausting. You should try living in my head. You would drink a lot of wine too.
This is not going to be a post about cancer. Or beef enchiladas. But it’s all related. This is a post about friends. Specifically, The FOKers, a large group of close friends whom we love and hang out with and make fun of weekly.
Of course they’re not our only friends and we’re not their only friends. We all have other groups—neighbors, church friends, hometown friends, work friends. We like to spread the love. We have our friends John and Linda, whom we’ve known for longer than any of the FOKers and with whom we’ve shared the many ups and downs of life that come with years of friendship. We have our friends Jamie and MaryEllen, whom I’ve known longer than my children because MaryEllen has been my BFF for decades. She is still the first one I call to share good or bad. And she knows things. She. Knows. Things. And there’s our friend Chrissy, whom I’ve also known longer than my children. And our other dear friends and neighbors, Mike and Jennifer, whom I’ve known since Brian was about 3 or 4 years old. This is really where the story of the FOKers begins.
It all started in 2001 when Mike and Jennifer tried to get away from us and moved from Powder Springs to Kennesaw. This was not acceptable behavior, so we stalked them and built a house down the street in the same neighborhood. This meant a change of schools for Brian and Casey and a change of church for our family. Starting middle school without your elementary school friends is tough, so when Brian met a friend at school, Justin, we were delighted to learn that his parents, the Kruegers, also attended our new church. Through them, we met other folks and eventually we all started hanging out together.
When the boys were in high school, Justin played varsity football and was pretty good, so it was a big deal for all of us and fun to watch him play. Under the Friday night lights, we gathered and watched football and cemented what would become a lifelong bond. Since people would ask why we were all there, at some point—this is a subject of much debate and contention amongst the group—someone (me) said we should get t-shirts saying we are the Friends of Krueger’s and someone else (Barry, not David) said FOKers! And thus, we became The FOKers.
Thirteen years have passed since we first attended our new church and ten years since we started going to those football games. Those years have been filled with doing life together—what In a Southern Kitchen is all about. We’ve shared births of grandchildren and we’ve shared deaths of parents, grandparents, and friends. We have commiserated over raising teenagers and raised glasses to many graduations. We’ve held tightly to each other through dark moments. We’ve visited each other in the hospital for semi-major events like knee surgery and major events like a heart attack. We’ve carried food and wiped tears. We’ve celebrated engagements and weddings. We have laughed at each other’s foibles and cheered each other’s successes. We never miss an opportunity to get together and probably socialize more than any of our kids do. Each year, we celebrate with annual events: The FOKers Annual Christmas Extravaganza, where we eat and drink a lot and then have a hilarious white elephant gift exchange; the Big Stick Pool Tournament; FOKers at Lake Blue Ridge; and birthdays, lots and lots of birthdays. Our kids, The Little FOKers, marvel at the closeness of this group of 20+ friends, and they all say they hope they will have a circle like that when they are older.
Christmas of 2012, we shared a champagne toast in honor of one of our friends who had been diagnosed with cancer and was facing surgery and possibly additional treatment. We held hands and prayed for him. Then we ate, drank, and exchanged raunchy gifts like always. But everything had a different feel. All of a sudden, a monster had entered our circle, and we had the sobering realization that none of us were getting younger and none of us were immune to that monster or anything else.
Our friend turned out to be okay. He had surgery but no additional treatment and he is doing great. There are difficult consequences and with self-deprecating humor he shares his stories with us because he knows he can trust us and he knows we care. And together we laugh with love because that’s what we do.
And then the monster called again. Another friend, whom I will just call Doc, was diagnosed with cancer right around the holidays. He has recently begun treatment and it is an intense, debilitating regimen of chemotherapy. He has a two-week cycle: chemo all day in the doctor’s office, then the next day chemo in the spine. Then a week off. Then admitted to the hospital for a more intense version of chemo when he has to stay overnight for two nights while they flush it out of his system—it is so toxic it requires constant monitoring of the heart and liver. He will do this for six months.
In between treatments, Doc is going to work. He refuses to be sick and he refuses to be treated like a sick person. At the hospital for the first treatment, the nurse came in the room and said, “Where is the patient?” He was sitting in the chair rather than the bed and not wearing a hospital gown. If his blood counts are high enough then he is going to work every day that he can. He is trying to live a normal life while poison courses through his veins and he is doing a damn good job of it. I firmly believe that attitude can make a vital difference in any ailment that you have. If you have a cold and you take to your bed for three days, then you’re going to feel a lot worse than if you just suck it up and go about your business with a box of tissues by your side. Doc has the best attitude of anyone we’ve ever seen, which is why, at the end of the treatments, he is going to be just fine. David is kind of secretly hoping that Doc’s hair won’t actually grow back so he can join the inner circle of bald guys in the FOKer club, but of course his hair will grow back. And Doc has great hair.
Doc has been very, very fortunate so far in that while he has had some side effects from the chemo, nausea has not been a predominant one. He can pretty much eat whatever he wants. Lots of people have been cooking for them and taking them food because that’s what you do. And your first inclination is to take something bland and easy on the stomach. And indeed, for most people who are going through chemo, that’s exactly what you should do. But Doc loves a lot of different types of food and when I asked his wife the other day what he wanted, she said Mexican. So I sent beef enchiladas. And we just said to ourselves, “How cool is this—our friend has just been through his third round of highly toxic chemo and he wants to eat Mexican food?! Thank you, God.”
Thank you, God. Thank you for our friends and for doctors and for treatments and for healing.
And for beef enchiladas.