Wednesday, October 5, 2011

#366: What's Left After Goodbye...

The trouble with people is that they go away. Nobody sticks around forever. Grandparents die. Parents let you grow up and move out of the house. Your summer romance goes back to school. Your shrink moves to Colorado for the skiing. I don't like saying goodbye. And this week, I have a couple of pretty big ones to say.

Today is the last meeting of my LIVESTRONG at the YMCA group. I signed up because they promised a free Y membership for three months, and a chance to work with some trainers and instructors who I figured could help me get ready for my half-marathon. I wound up falling in love with a bunch of women who I'll never forget.

The one who survived 4th stage lung cancer, and can lift MY weight on the leg press.

The one who came to the gym looking a little weary because she'd just had a radiation treatment.

The one who went out and bought a pair of those goofy Vibram toe shoes for a treat.

The one who didn't like to shimmy in Zumba because it made her breast hurt after chemo.

The one who cries when she talks about what it's like to train survivors.

The one who has beaten cancer three times, and is tough enough to whip it another three hundred.

I thought I was a pretty bad dude for outlasting cancer and running a 10K. I'm a wimp next to these champions. We'll stay in touch on Facebook, and they are putting an alumni class together that will meet once a week, but it isn't going to be the same. Today, we'll swim, and eat, and laugh and cry together. Then we're going to paint one of the walls in the lobby yellow and hang up the first of what will be many class pictures on the new "LIVESTRONG wall." Everyone who comes into the building will know that something remarkable happens there, and everyone who loves a survivor will know that there is an opportunity for them to be a part of that remarkable thing. Goodbyes are hard, but leaving that kind of a legacy softens the blow.

Then there's Dee. Dee is my cancer nurse. Every cancer patient should have one. Dee was mine. You deal with lots of nurses and doctors and techs and administrators when you're fighting cancer. But there's always one who can take you by the hand and lead you through the dark. That's Dee.

Dee was the first person to greet me in the exam room at the Oncologist's office.

Who laughed and reassured me that the green goo leaking out around my PEG tube was not my vital essence, but the spinach dal I had eaten at the Indian buffet the day before my first Chemo treatment.

Who explained how to treat thrush.

Who fought the insurance companies for me when dorks in suits tried to stand between me and the treatment that was to save my life.

Who gave me the daily injections when I had my saddle thrombosis, and nicknamed me her "My Little Pin Cushion."

Whose face was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes after passing out in the lobby of the clinic one sunny afternoon.

Who brings people from the hospital to see me on stage.

Who created and facilitated the head and neck cancer support group that taught me I wasn't alone.

And last week, Dee packed up her office and moved on from the Markey Cancer center. She has a great opportunity to train other cancer nurses. She's going to pass all that knowledge and passion and compassion to new generations of healers who have never had to pick up an unconscious Fat Man from under the couch in the waiting room. She isn't going to be there the next time I go to visit the doc, but she will be in my heart for as long as it beats. Goodbyes are hard, but that kind of legacy softens the blow.

I wonder about my own legacy a lot. What's going to be left on the wall or in someone's heart when I finally say goodbye? Will it be a kind word... or a cruel one? Will it be a story I told? Will there be someone who runs a marathon or auditions for a play or starts a blog because they knew me? Have I built anything that will last, planted anything that will bear fruit long after I am gone? I think these are questions you once you realize that you are probably closer to your last birthday than your first one. We all want to know that we mattered to somebody.

Cancer taught me that I matter to a lot more people than I realized. People love me more than I ever dreamed. If nothing else, that's my legacy. I gave people a chance to love somebody in this world. Not a bad start.

Lots of people tell me that I inspire them. I am grateful, but I always wonder, "What are you inspired to do?" I have a friend who is trying to stop smoking and start running. I don't take any credit for that, it is a tribute to his own strength and love of life, but he says I put him to shame. I hate that. That's not why I'm alive. There is plenty of shame in the world already. I want to help make more life. If the Fat Man was saved for anything, it was for that: to be a living example of how love can beat death. In every life. Every time. Death can take us in the end, but it we don't ever have to let him win. "The Girls" at the Y taught me that. The Five taught me that. Dee taught me that. If I can teach you that, and inspire you to wrap your arms around life and never let go... well that's a legacy that will soften any goodbye.

Yeah, I'm feeling a little reflective and just a bit melancholy today. I'll get back to miles and weights and fund-raising tomorrow. But today, I'm just kind of nestled in the love of a bunch of cancer fighters who have made me a part of their own legacy.


One for the Five, my half-marathon to honor my friends and family whose fight against cancer has ended has raised more than $2400 for the Markey Cancer Foundation with 19 days to go.

Running for Sabrina, my friend Charlie's marathon to honor his niece and fight Down Syndrome has raised $2000 with just a few days to go.

LIVESTRONG at the YMCA still has spots available for the afternoon and the evening sessions which start in a couple of weeks.

Feeling inspired yet?

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