I was offered an opportunity early this week to address the players and coaches at the Chattahoochee HS Varsity football pre-game dinner.
What ordinarily would have been an easy task; gather my thoughts and constrct a speech, proved to be very challenging. While it was not difficult to shape a story line and remarks that connected a season of challenges the team has faced with my own personal challenges; the simple task of getting my thoughts organized, ordered into sentences and cohesive paragraphs was mentally exhausting. Retrieving words, typing efficiently and putting together a cohesive message that I could only hope would make an impact proved to be a far more lengthy and tedious process I expected.
I suppose I should not be surprised that my personal expectations did not align with reality. Lessons swiftly delivered and learned… I quickly learned by Friday evening I need to do better at listening to my body and mind. Naps are more critical on a daily basis and allowing my brain to rest will serve to benefit me in the long run, especially as I prepare to begin radiation and chemotherapy.
Not going to lie… I was nervous. I am slower in my movements, thoughts and as confident as I generally am, I was intimidated to put myself out there three weeks post brain surgery. The fact that my oldest is a sophomore and XC and Track athlete and these were his peers, wasn’t lost on me either.
I’ve had requests to share my remarks and have done so below. Additionally, I have added some images and a video of a personally impactful moment at the end when every player lined up and one by one gave me a hug, said thank you and offered prayers and sincere messages. While my objective was to leave these young men with a message of the importance of showing up for one another; collectively it was them who left me overwhelmed with how they showed up for me.
Please find below my remarks from last evening a selection of images and a video clip.
I get it. You’re sitting here covertly passing time on your phones and collectively wondering why some random lady with her head wrapped in a scarf who shuffled up here like she had one too many early afternoon cocktails has anything meaningful to say about football. This isn’t the first time someone underestimated me.
Let’s begin with some sage wisdom from Henry Ford.
“If there is any one secret of success, it lies in the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own.”
Three weeks ago on September 14, I was well into the 36 hours I would spend in the Neuro Intensive Care Unit at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC.
IPC (Intermittent pneumatic compression devices) hung from the end of my bed and wrapped around my legs rhythmically pumping to prevent blood clots.
A slew of cardiac monitors on stands behind my bed connected to an array of wires affixed to leads all over my chest.
My right wrist had an arterial catheter line – protected by a hard cast like sleeve –providing precise blood pressure, oxygen and blood chemistry levels for each heartbeat on a second by second basis.
My remaining 5 IV’s were dispersed between my left arm, and both ankles providing open access for fluids, pain medication and everything we didn’t want to think of if my case turned critical.
Amid the organized skilled medical chaos to my left stood my best friend Karen and to the right sat my husband Paul. Between the two, they were my lifeline.
They took turns feeding me ice chips, adjusting the blanket under my neck, holding my hands as tears streamed down like a river as I would lapse into hyperventilation and panic as pain would grow to incomprehensible levels. Their eyes never failed to meet mine with serenity and calm as critical care nurses would flood around my bed, hold me, talk me down from panic, help me slow my breathing as opiod IV pain meds -that burned my veins like fire – were administered providing relief for what never felt like long enough.
I have Brain cancer. Three weeks ago I underwent my second craniotomy to remove a 20-30% recurrence of my brain tumor. A formidable unrelenting beast of an opponent, I have yet to ever yield to a challenge in front of me or not engage in a war with a cancer for which there is no cure. Never underestimate your opponent.
Despite dismal and unrelentingly depressing statistics, my family and I have chosen to show up, persevere, hold our heads up, proudly fly our middle fingers in the air, live boldly, fearlessly and as presently as we can through life. We are doing our level best to process the magnitude and impact of my cancer’s return and are moving forward as a family one day at a time. With patience we will persevere.
Ten years ago, at 33, my cancer diagnosis provided me as a patient the opportunity to play and engage in life as a third-string quarterback. I practiced every day; memorized a playbook inside and out; went to every game, rode the bench and never played. I became frustrated with the undisciplined complacency around me and turned my heartbreak and frustration into a mission to build a medical team that would not only show up every day to practice but show up in my life when I needed them.
I ran hypothetical life plays over and over for 10 years. There was never an adversity too complex or a logistic too challenging that I hadn’t run through hundreds of times and hadn’t found a solution for. The exhaustion and disappointment had made me resilient and each experience over those ten years that had humbled me or left me feeling vulnerable would eventually become opportunities and advantages not impediments or excuses.
I was a disciplined warrior who after 3,662 days on August 28, courageously accepted the ball that Cancer handed back to me and kicked my third string quarterback ass off the bench and into the game.
You and I are not that different from one another.
Your football season has not been easy. You have experienced defeat, been handed heartbreaking, tough and humbling losses. There has been deep disappointment, frustration and anger. You’ve questioned the commitment among yourselves and I imagine wondered why you even show up day after day.
As a former division 1 collegiate athlete, I can tell you that I have worn your shoes and have experienced similar seasons.
However, I have gained an advantage you have yet to earn from these experiences. I have age on my side.
Time will translate these experiences into wisdom and over time each and every moment will accumulate into this beautiful thing called perspective.
Eventually, time will provide wisdom and you will, I promise, look back at this season and draw from the adversity, challenges, doubt and heartbreak and re-purpose these emotions as positive influences that will provide the necessary perspective to get you through what you will be facing in that moment.
This season, your experiences and the gutting losses are more valuable than you have the capacity to appreciate today.
You are learning to be resilient, adaptive and persistent in addition to showing that you are accountable. Through it all, while you may think of quitting or not showing up, you do and have shown up. Regardless of the score, you have shown up for yourself, your team, coaches, school and community. You are leading with a depth of character that no score can ever show.
I will be 44 years old on Wednesday. 10 years ago, I wasn’t entirely sure I would live long enough to turn 40, let alone see my oldest go off to HS or have a third child.
I promise one day you will see and feel how our lives are held together, shaped and influenced by everyone who simply showed up and chose to be present.
We show up by choice. We show up by court order. We show up to get paid and we show up without expectations. We show up by obligation and we show up by a deeper calling. We show up with heartbreak, hearts overflowing, hope, anticipation, remorse, regret, tears on our sleeves, dreams, love and we show up because we know showing up in the face of adversity best exemplifies the never ending algorithm of good woven into our collective human genetic code.
I have seen the beauty of life entwined from our first to last inhalation of life breath and lived in the seconds, minutes, days, weeks, months, years, decades and moments in-between.
I am grateful for all those in my village who have stood with us and shown up as we shuffled, adjusted, accommodated, faked it until we made it and took risks sharing our journey.
I can’t stop the freight train of brain cancer. However, I can respect the magnitude of its power, align my response, reaction and play by play with perseverance, humor, positive attitude and trust. You can do the same.
Cancer does not define who I am any more than a score in a game defines your capability as a player or a team. What will define you and be an obstacle to your success will be your unwillingness to view another person’s point of view and see things from that person’s angle as well as from your own
I have a long road ahead with at least 6 weeks of radiation treatment and at least 6 months of oral chemotherapy. While it is an overwhelming summit to look upon, we are deeply blessed by all those who have shown up along the way and continue to do so even when it is crushing to do so.
You and I don’t know the roads we will end up heading down. We don’t know if we will find our way, what the view from the summit will look like, what the score will be in a game or if we will even play. However we know that we will all show up because showing up is what we do.
The sun will shine, the moon will rise, and your season will unfold as will mine. I will hopefully shuffle less, think faster, grow some hair and most certainly I will fight like hell. There will be good and there will be bad. There will be laughter and there will be tears. There will be success and there will be failure and it will unfold in a story line never intended to be anything other than lived honestly with each of us present.
Before I close, I want to invite Billy Waters up here.
On September 14, while I was in the ICU, my middle son Cooper broke down in one of his classes. Words cannot express how challenging this has been for our children.
As Cooper sat at his desk, forehead resting on the edge and tears quietly streaming down his face, his teacher took notice and brought him to Ms. Venturo, a familiar and loving staff member at TRMS.
She was able to share with him that I was out of surgery and doing well. In an effort to make him comfortable, she asked him what he needed; to which Cooper replied: I need Billy.
By the grace of god, good people, kindness beyond words and the movement of mountains, Billy showed up at TRMS for Cooper.
The nature of their conversation is not entirely clear to me, and I welcome Billy to share if he feels comfortable. But what I can share here and now is that showing up make an impact. Showing up does more to heal a heart and mend a broken soul and give hope that in the midst of cancer and fear; there is joy and there is goodness.
No one gets an invitation to live life. So I encourage you to take from my life and experiences and simply just show up. Remind one another that nothing compares to being there for one another and life is best lived when we trust in the process of simply being present.
Billy, Thank you for caring so deeply for my family and my Cooper. Until you walk through hell, you cannot know the depth and breadth of comfort that is provided by those who walk with you, hold your hands and simply show up.
So, Carpe Diem the HELL out of each day my friends. Show up, be present, smile, laugh a lot and be the somebody nobody knew they were looking for but were grateful they found.
What fabulous speech for those kids to hear and they will never forget it!
Your writing never fails to blow me away. And this piece is tremendous. Your words to that team are real and inspiring. I bet the team loved it. And you know what I also bet…that Tucker will be walking a little taller down those school halls now too…because every football player who he passes by will be turning to another and saying, “See that sophomore over there? His mom kicks ass!!!!”