This is the face of a woman who shows the world her best side: friendly, confident, brave. Even when her insides are wracked by nausea. Even when her legs feel Gumby-ish and her ch-ch-ch-cherry-bomb shoes are cushioning the stabby pains of neuropathy. Even when her hair’s gone missing, and her puffy cheeks bear silent witness to the cumulative effects of cancer-fighting pharmaceuticals.
This is the face of my friend Donna–a woman who’s fighting cancer with every fiber of her being, and who challenges every stereotype you might have about that battle. Peek behind her mirrored sunglasses, and you’ll see the fierce look of determination in this warrior woman’s eyes.
Donna’s the pinniped-loving member of my posse. You might remember her from previous blog entries, including the one where she advised Secretary Clinton to “Let yourself be great!” She’s not one to ask many favors, but she’ll always support your dreams.
This is the point where Donna’s chemo buddy enters the story. Had you already noticed the woman in blue, with the beaming smile and sunny yellow laces? That’s Marilyn. An inspiring woman in her own right, she’s been waging war against cancer for more than two years now. If you’d asked me beforehand, there’s no way I could’ve predicted what they’d accomplish together in Boston, last Sunday.
The sun was strong and the humidity was almost unbearable. Even worse, both women were feeling the lingering effects of their latest chemo treatments. But Donna agreed to walk a “mere” six miles of a 26.2 mile marathon, alongside Marilyn. She wasn’t entirely sure how (or if) she’d make it, but they’d pledged their mutual support for The Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund, and it’s not like either one of them to renege on a promise.
Check out the sweatshirt! When Donna spotted it at the starting line, she just about fell out into a fit of laughter. Happenstance, or a secret nod from her harbor seal friend, Freckles? Food for thought. For sure, it fueled a few miles’ worth of discussion, as Donna explained to Marilyn the longstanding joke between the two of us. (Donna: You need to take a pail of herring to Freckles! Me: No way! It’ll stink up my car! Donna: Then roll down the window…let him smell you coming!“)
Donna followed through on her promise, and then some! She walked the entire 26.2-mile route with Marilyn–one foot in front of the other, from Hopkinton School to Fenway Park, to the top of Heartbreak Hill and around the corner, until (“Don’t ask me to tell you our time”) they finally crossed the finish line at Copley Square.
This is the medal they placed around her neck last Sunday–a token of achievement for having accomplished something very few people manage, even when they’re healthy. It symbolizes the whole of her life: refusing to run from her diagnosis, but electing, instead, to move forward every day with a healthy sense of humor, generosity, and positive intentions.
Author Brené Brown once said, “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.” My friend Donna lives this quote every day, and this is her race to win.