Thursday, May 27, 2010

Suitcase of memories...time after time

My suitcase is not nearly packed. I've been pulling apart my closet to find the right dress and the right things to wear to services today and tomorrow.

In between all this I've been sorting through photographs of Gramma to take to Syracuse for today's calling hours. It's not hard to find pictures of my grandma. For so many important moments in my life she was there.

But the ones that strike such an emotional cord for me are the ones taken at my sister Mary's wedding.

We all hoped desperately she would be around to share that day-- for my dear grandmother it was the day that she had to be at. She told everyone how much she wanted to be there for her grandchild's special day. Being there to see that mattered more to her than anything else on this earth.I recall the hug I gave her after the ceremony--tears were flowing freely, knowing she had made it just in time to see me walk down the isle and then Mary walk down the isle with my parents. She was wheeled into the church literally just in time.

*** You see, the car carrying her, my aunts and the nurses aide had been trapped in traffic from the Puerto Rican Day Pride parade running through Rochester (I kid you not). Such is the Seinfeld episode that can be our lives.

That day I remember thinking how wonderful she looked...a peace and contentment was on her face. I don't have a photo of my moment with her (as we waited for the photo session to be arranged) but it will be locked in my mind's eye and heart forever. The joy we both felt about having seen Mary get married was pretty indescribable. Yet for was a triumph beyond measure---she had made it to that very special day, one marked on her calendar.

She patted me wistfully, just like when I was a child. She held me close and whispered in my ear "Some day it will be your turn."

Open emotional waterworks.

I was speechless for a moment but whispered back...
"I'm still looking for Mr. Right Grams....and they don't make many like grandpa anymore."

It was then that she smiled smile as wise as I'd seen her smile in a very long time- the softness of recollection in her eyes. I will remember forever that look of gratitude she had at those words--perhaps pride-- that I held on a pedestal the only love of her life. Her smile said it all...and I know now as I grieve her loss-- I know she has reunited with him...

My sister Mary's moment with Gramma. Priceless.

Monday, May 24, 2010

I know love because of Gramma

I can't put into words what I am feeling right now.
After an incredible weekend at the OMG Cancer Summit for Young Adults in NYC and all the emotions and high of that energy...there followed some difficult news. I am sitting quietly in my apartment hearing the birds chirp and feeling the profound loss of a most incredible woman- my grandmother.

As my plane touched down she was leaving this earth. She slipped away quietly and peacefully with my two aunts at her side.

When I've had time to soak this all in I will share more...but for now I smile--even in my tears.
I smile because for ninety-five years she graced this earth...and I have had the miraculous good fortune to have loved her for all of mine.

Friday, May 14, 2010

When all you can say is WOW

Photos by the very talented Brady Dillsworth (George Eastman House photographer)

Pinch me.
I don't know that there are a lot of times in life where you take a deep breath in and think that you are dreaming. Wednesday I was having one of those nights. I won an award given by some of the people I respect most in this city.

Roc City Rising is an event that invites established community leaders and groups of young professionals to the world famous George Eastman House for a night of networking and energizing. Young people with fresh ideas and perspective can mix with the likes of the mayor, the county executive and other elected officials and notable Rochesterians.

When Maria Fisher (then Thomas) first approached me about attending this event three years ago, in its first year, I was more than a little intimidated. She secured me a table for I'm Too Young For This almost immediately. It was something about her ease and encouragement that settled my panic. It was not only her willingness, but utter determination to help connect me to this opportunity that made me forget all of the misgivings I might have had.

You might ask why I was intimidated. I felt that those in the room I would inhabit would be different from me--successful and on their stride. After years of struggling to peak my head out from a curtain of illness that covered everything else in my identity I felt like this was a place I did not belong---yet. I was happily so very wrong. And despite my trepidation got the very distinct feeling that amidst the crowd of suits and the tinkling of wine glasses, there were people attending that just like me wanted to make a difference in their community.

Nicole Brown joined me from that first year and we were able to take turns moving outside of the boundaries of the table into the crowded room. Our table was all the buzz. People stopped and noticed a sign that said "stupid cancer" and sometimes would have to ask. Many of them probably had not even seen the word 'stupid' printed brazenly in large letters at such an event. What surprised us both was the amount of YPs that told us they knew a friend their age who was struggling with cancer. One young woman even quietly glanced side to side, as though checking over her shoulder for eavesdroppers, as she whispered--"I had cancer too".

This event ended up being the biggest and most powerful way to get the word out to our demographic about what we were doing with the then newly formed chapter of I'm Too Young For This...and it didn't stop there. Maria would play an integral role in getting the word out to the masses of the young professional community--in a way that reverberated over the next few years to come.
This high profile opportunity- to tell people why cancer is something to talk
about for the very generation the event was meant for - became an annual tradition.
This Wednesday night when Maria began to read the speech she had written to introduce me as the first recipient of the Emerging Leader Award presented by the Eastman Young Professionals and the Roc City Coalition I felt the tears coming.

Since Day One-- Maria had not only become aware of the profound impact of cancer on young adults, but had grappled herself with the echo of cancer strongly within a smaller local circle. Her very real and profound connection to cancer came with the loss of a dear friend. Maria got it.

She got why this was different- and she got why this was a message others needed to hear. The fact that it was her who presented me with the award was more meaningful than I can ever describe...and the fact that she had managed to still surprise me made me an absolute "puddle".

Just mere moments before I stepped near the podium to prepare to be called up to it, I had seen my parents arrive and my sister and brother in law--so it was only then that I knew the 'nomination' that Maria had told me would be announced...was not truly a nomination--it was the real deal.

A hug from Maria. I think the emotion is pretty evident from this picture.

Words have failed to really describe all I can say is wow.

What a long road it has been these few years. Don't get me wrong I haven't really changed.
I still am the same ol' Leah. I'm the girl who trips over her own feet, feels victorious when she eats dessert before the main course... and is still very often caught by a stranger at a stoplight in the car next to me singing heart and soul out (usually to something Tom Petty).

I haven't changed all that much. It's just funny how things appear to have changed around me.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Six degrees of Z-man

I met a friend of Zach's today...
and it's fitting to write this now tired, slightly achy and headed to the shower after a workout.

Mary Eggers is just the kind of person that I can totally imagine Zach gravitating toward in his early quest to make his athletic goals come true. She is the real deal. Funny how life brings people at just the right time.

When I first found Mary it was through her blogs. Way back in the day she wrote the most touching blog about Zach, after meeting him for the first time. Later she became one of his most vocal supporters, trying to garner votes for him when we were pushing him through the channels on his way to win the LiveStrong Dare to Share Your Story contest. Her account of meeting him at his very first triathlon was so quintessentially Zach that I knew she understood the kind of person he was. I had to email her and reach out--and so I did---that was the fall of '08.

And today---roughly 18 months after that electronic introduction-- (here in the spring of '10) I found myself face to face with this kick ass athlete, trainer, 5 time Ironwoman, wife, mother, nurse and blogger... and what is the occasion? what am I up to? ...I'm ready to tell you.

Three weeks ago after a run I found myself overcome with emotion during an attempt to run. I don't feel really ready to fully describe that experience here, but suffice it to say it was emotion this time and not the breathlessness that made me stop...and then it was something else that kept me running. Tears filled my eyes and I felt a very keen sense that I was not running alone. When I got home-- almost on instinct I flipped open my laptop and emailed Mary. I didn't wait until the feeling had passed-- I just typed to her as the tears were still splashing on the keyboard. I just asked her a question---if someone like me---whose lungs are shot (and badly scarred from treatment) could ever do a 5K?

She wrote me back in 5 minutes. Her answer---was of course--YES.
And so---no turning back.

So today in the Pittsford Y lobby--where Mary waited for her son to finish gymnastics class--we chatted about what it will take, how I can accomplish this successfully---and of course about Zach.

There are times I can feel the inspiration that Zach placed in people---and I could feel that with Mary. When you meet someone special and they are no longer of this earth---its kind of comforting to be around someone else who gets them---and hasn't forgotten their spirit. Its a joy that is tinted with sadness--that Zach was not here to do the introduction.

I must thank Mary from the bottom of my heart--she's agreed to train someone like me--- out of shape, clueless and fearful of doing something the wrong way---as a pure and honest gesture of friendship. Something about that gives me confidence- to make me believe maybe I can achieve this goal.

Zach--you have a mysterious way of reminding me--and others that your spirit still lives on.

I have a lot of work to do, but I think you'll's something worth fighting for.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Dr. Seuss meets Pema Chodron

Life brings you things that challenge you when you open yourself up to something new. Yet when flipped around, life can also open you up to something new--- when you are challenged.

This is my take-away from an amazing new page-turner I've been reading in spare moments at day's end--the time that comes before my eyes start to flutter enough for me to switch out the light. My friend Tracy introduced me to a writer and philosopher whose book is captivating me and somehow this Pema Chodron feels more like required reading with each turn of the page.

Currently I am reading The Places That Scare You. In my mind's eye it seems the adult philosophical sequel to the undoubtedly famous All The Places You Will Go. You know that one. Everyone I knew got a copy of that Dr. Seuss book as 'that token gift' upon graduating from high school. I remember thinking that sort of optimism was truly about charging forward and taking on the world. What on earth would make me draw this connection? Perhaps because Dr. Seuss was in many ways as schoolchildren our first introduction to philosophy, all bundled in bright primary colors, fun and whimsy.

Watch below to refresh yourself on this commencement gift classic...

Where Pema seems to pick up-- is that important little middle lesson that Dr. Seuss's book skimmed over--- exploring the place where you've lost and need to reclaim the wonder. It's that wonder and excitement that through 'growing up' one may abandon.

Somewhere along my road--through the fear acquired from naturally "fear-inducing" experiences I followed different paths and the places I went, or was on the way to going changed.

Yet, contemplating this sort of a scenario---regarding those broken bridges and detours as places I tend to look upon with bitterness really has never done any good. Concentrating only on the impossibilities of "what if" and "if only" would be a horrible way to live life, right? But in little bits I did that. Negative self-talk seems hard to avoid at times. Yet Chodron's words direct us to stay steady on course.

The HERE and NOW is where it's at. She emphasizes that there are no promises of fruition in life. She seems to lead us toward looking at joy and sorrow with a more complex lens. It is this challenge-- to look deeply at both joy and sorrow and have gratitude for both for the value of what it teaches us that triggers a profound change in our thinking.

This is also my take-away from several experiences in my life as of late. The old way I used to cope with the fall-out from new things that became dead-ends was counterproductive. New thoughts and new confidence are bringing me a different groove, so to speak,---a different way to look at those seemingly aimless detours.

Are dead-ends really hopeless? Or are they just leading us to an intentional re-route? Dr. Seuss planted the seed, but my recent read has clarified those thoughts. Disappointment, in matters of the heart or in matters of course, is going to be there. Whatever alternate scenarios exist in some other possible plain of life (the one containing unfulfilled plans or dreams that didn't transpire) aren't where I was supposed to be...

There is something comforting in letting go of an ache to go back and try to make it different. You can't. Now is what's real.

Thank you Tracy. Thank you Dr. Seuss and Pema Chodron.

Oh...the places you can go when you begin to let go of the harmful 'what ifs'.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

'Runny' is bad. Diversify---good!

A runny nose tells me May is here. I don't think there's any ragweed in the city, but something must be making me 'run' like a champion. I may have never mentioned the whole allergy thing. Where is that damn bottle of Allegra (likely expired)?

Well, it's not the allergies that kept me totally out of a morning jog today but maybe too much salsa sashay in my Zumba class last night. What a workout!

Did I mention I've been taking classes at a gym? It's only a two week trial, but I am trying to make the most of it. Dancing as you most know is hard for me to resist--so I think by building a variety laden workout schedule I can't possibly get bored with I'll be more likely to stick to it. Diversify. Heck, that principle works for investments...makes sense for the workout too.

Keep the comments coming. I need the encouragement.

Monday, May 3, 2010

when fear jogs through my mind...

I will admit it--- there are lots of things that scare me. Having cancer didn't eradicate that sometimes timid part of my nature. I'm no daredevil and usually when I try to be it can end in...well... humiliation or near disaster.

Fear hasn't been the only thing keeping me from regular or vigorous workouts in recent years. Since my second battle with cancer my lungs have felt heavy and I've failed to catch my breath after any length of a run. There are at least two possible reasons for this--and maybe even a combination; scar tissue inside--- or the lasting souvenir side effects of my nasty, but necessary bleomycin. "Bleo", as I affectionately call it, is undeniably a miracle drug--but so notorious for its harmful lasting effect on lungs that Lance had it removed from his protocol during treatment.
And now...I cant help but think Bleo was having its little laugh on me. But does it have to be that way?

One avoids what one fears...because fear is protection. Fear is like a shelter. Living within its confines seems so comfortable for a while. Yet it restricts us-- preventing us from experiencing anything new and in the end it just traps us in stasis.
I had to get to a point recently where I admitted a fear had gotten the best of me. Sure, I am a busy girl---I work a lot, I play a lot...I am always on the go...but my excuses were running out.
I avoided running because it scared me. And then I remember Zach. His voice still rings in my ears.

What the heck am I afraid of? I know that's what he would say if he were here.

Three weeks ago I started jogging around my block...I started tracking my progress easily by following the ordered grid of my street. I am at the H end of a line of alphabetical intersecting streets...and when I first started with this plan I could barely get from H to E without stopping. Yet--over the last three weeks something has happened...I've gotten farther. I now am beginning to work toward looping around the alphabet.

When I've felt that pressure on my lungs...I have resisted the urge to stop, but instead I slow the pace...change my breathing. The progress has been very gradual-- day to day.
I've felt stronger...and something has replaced that former fear. It's not to say that I'm fearless. I still move with the caution of someone who knows what it means to suffer a setback--but I just don't feel that same tension anymore. Instead I feel something childlike and exciting.
I feel curiosity.

Every day my curiosity, instead of my fear, kicks in first as I lace up.

I'm curious because I want to see how much farther I'll go today...