Thursday, October 15, 2009

Off to Atlanta

Dear Virginia, while none of us exactly control what happens in life we are able to control how we respond...what we say and what we do. Love, Priscilla

This was a note that Priscilla wrote for her niece's high school graduation. It speaks to me now, in particular, as I prepare to join my cousin Lisa, her friend Melissa and my friend Meredith for the 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk in Atlanta next week.

If I could control what happens in life, Priscilla would still be alive. I would still have my stepmother, my confidante, my advisor and my friend. But as she aptly noted, we do not control what happens in life; instead, we are tasked with controlling our responses. Priscilla must have instilled this guiding principle in me because I am certain that I could not have handled her death without the knowledge that sometimes, things just happen.

Priscilla had such an adventurous spirit. She also lived healthfully, choosing to begin her day with a strange wheat germ/orange juice mixture and at least an hour of exercise. She lovingly tended her garden and she spent vacations hiking the mountains of Yellowstone. Six years ago, if you had asked me how long I thought Priscilla would live, I would have guessed that she would live well past 85, the age her mother Nell was when she passed away. But it was not to be: Priscilla was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 2004 and she died in 2007 at age 62.

Hearing Priscilla's diagnosis was understandably devastating, and I'm not sure that I'm prepared to share with you how I felt when I learned that Priscilla's time with us was in jeopardy. What I will note is that while I wondered why this happened to a woman who had such appreciation for life, I didn't have resentment about her diagnosis. Again, Priscilla taught me well that life is unpredictable, unfair and sometimes undeniably difficult. What she also taught me, however, is that life is full of surprises, blessings and moments of pure delight. I was fortunate to experience many of my life's moments of surprise and delight with Priscilla, and I am fortunate now to remember these times with warmth and appreciation.

As I plan my trip to Atlanta, I am filled with anticipation. I know that I'll absolutely love spending time with friends and family, but I also know that I will feel pangs of sadness as I relive losing Priscilla. I hope that I will control my response to Priscilla's death in a way that would make her proud, expressing the range of emotion that the event will induce (both on behalf of Priscilla and the millions of others who are affected by cancer), yet also celebrating the spirit of the woman who inspired me to walk.

Life is unquestionably unpredictable, but when I think about Priscilla, I don't think about a life that was robbed from me; I think instead of a woman I was honored to spend 25 years getting to know and love. I'll spend every day of the rest of my life remembering her lessons and treasuring her friendship. Next week, I will walk humbly in her name as I cry tears full of memories.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


I posted Stage I: Air Loss on my 3-Day site, but I thought I would also share Stage II: Things Fly Away with you.

Poems written by Priscilla

Stage I: Air Loss

It took three days to lose the hair that brushed my waist, but it
wasn't vanity that made me cry.
That night, bare bald and holding the fallen strands of silver and
gold to my face,
I understand how my hair entwined me with the world.

My hair charmed the air and the air responded. It caressed, tumbled,
jumbled, twisted and sighed and left me night reminders of its origins
and passages -- and mine:

Salt and cedar spiked Mediterranean breezes;
Pungent eucalyptus carried by Pacific gusts;
Sweet aroma of Virginia peonies;
Sage-brushed winds of the Rocky Mountains.

Sun that backlit unruly tangles into spun gold, making me conspicuous
among twittering clusters of raven-haired Lebanese schoolgirls.

Hair blown back and sun bleached as a used race pennant on salty tacks
across Sydney Harbor.

Winter mornings in Vermont, shower-wet strands frozen to rigid cords
in the dash from college dorm to dining room.

The resinous odor of Yellowstone's pines that infused any tendrils not
kept under hat.

Stage II: Things Fly Away

I devour the poisons that slay cells indiscriminately;
I am the rerun, the one they say a prayer for.

Already some things have their own trajectory out of my life.
Home: sold.
Job: ended.
Habits: abandoned.

More losses come.

Once, when I could still charm the air,
it marked its passage in my hair.

These days, I dream of weaving a magic net with strands
Strong enough to hold what I cherish most.
Then realize that it is I who must become the net
Because what I want cannot be captured, bought or kept.

Through love, despite loss, I persist
in seining for the sustaining principles that can
guide me as I inhabit my shape-shifted world.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Back to Training

This won't be a very long post, but I do want to let all of my generous donors know that I'm still training. I've had a few setbacks along the way, but fortunately I'm back on track now!

Last Saturday, I walked 18 miles and got NO BLISTERS! I am having a little bit of trouble with my pinky toes -- they prefer to rest underneath my fourth toes, which causes some rubbing when I get up to the high mileage. I have two months to figure that part out, however, so I'm not going to worry about it too much just yet.

I'm very fortunate to have been "adopted" by a local Denver team. It's much easier to train when you have a group of wonderfully supportive men and women by your side. While 18 miles certainly wasn't a cakewalk, the time did go by relatively quickly because I was in good company. I'd like to publicly thank Tammy Urbach for organizing all of team Because We Can's training walks (among other efforts) and for allowing me to participate for the past several months. I'm sad that this weekend will be my last walk with Tammy's team, but I'm thrilled to be able to support them at the Denver 3-Day later this month! My sister will be visiting me in late August and we'll spend a day volunteering at the Denver walk. I can't wait to cheer on team Because We Can as well as all of the other motivated walkers who will arrive at camp seeking food, entertainment and lots of rest.

From now until the Atlanta walk in late October, I promise to keep up with my training. I don't know if I'll manage 18 miles on my own, but I did keep all of Tammy's route maps so that I can repeat some of my favorite walks during the next two months. :)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Training Update

I've put together a short update about my training efforts, which I e-mailed to my donors earlier today. I've also posted a version online for anyone who happens to be browsing and would like an update. You'll have to submit your e-mail address to receive a link to the document.

Click Here to Access the Training Document

Sunday, June 7, 2009

June 6, 2009: My Sister's Eyes

This is a guest entry. One of Priscilla's sisters, Roberta, wrote this about her thoughts on Mother's Day this year.

Mothers Day weekend was not too long ago. For many years now, I have spent Mothers day weekend in Nags Head with one of my friends at her mother’s cottage. May is a lovely time of year, the water too cold to swim but a time when the beach is relatively deserted and a pleasure to walk.

This year, like most years, I spent hours walking along the beach, smelling the ocean mist, feeling the warmth of the sun on my back, the tension of work being lifted and watching the sandpipers running back and forth trying not to get their feet wet.

This year, unlike previous years, I spent a great deal to time thinking about my sister Priscilla. I wondered why I could not recall spending time with her at the beach. My only memory of Priscilla was at Palm Beach, the year she gathered family together for a fabulous week at Kiplinger’s Bay Tree Lodge. I remember that beach excursion because Pris lathered herself from head to toe with SP60, wore a huge hat and had a linen shirt covering her arms. Her concern was that we were not to be on the beach between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., we had vinegar in the event that there were jelly fish in the water and, of course we brought many bottles of water to keep from dehydrating. She made her sun-worshipping sisters feel like they were going to have sun stroke at any moment.

This year, unlike previous years, as I walked the beach, I wondered what would have drawn my sister’s eye. Would it have been the color of the small moss colored rocks, the unusual shape of sea glass, the water rushing over tiny sand pebbles, a piece of drift wood, the sand print of a seagull, the white foam bouncing over the sand. What would have drawn my sister’s eye? What would she have stopped and admired. What would she have noticed, drawn my attention too, made me see.

This year, unlike previous years, I really missed my sister Priscilla. I missed the opportunities to walk the beach with her. I missed her eyes.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Sometimes I just have “A Day”

I have a friend whose mother passed away only two months before Priscilla did (yes, also from breast cancer). We were e-mailing this morning and she noted that certain days of the year are particularly difficult for her. This makes sense; in fact, last year my father and stepbrother had a hard time facing Mother’s Day without Priscilla. In my e-mail to my friend, I observed that I don’t experience a heightened sense of loss on any specific date. But I do sometimes have what I call “A Day.”

On “A Day,” I miss Priscilla with that horrible achiness that to the best of my knowledge only comes when you experience significant loss. I had “A Day” last Tuesday. I was struggling to get my sewing machine to work. Jason and I were discussing how to replant portions of our backyard. I was e-mailing my mom about both sewing and gardening. I couldn’t get the cat to come close enough to cuddle. Somehow the combination of all of these activities thundered so loudly in my head that all of a sudden I had a breakdown. I just sat on the floor and cried. And cried. Jason came home and I cried on his shoulder. Then I cried some more until the dog came to lick up my tears (she’s a fan of salt). All I could think about was how much I miss Priscilla. I wanted the opportunity to be able to talk to her about sewing, gardening, cats, dogs, having a fabulous crafty mom in Maryland and so many other things.

One day last October, I had “A Day.” I was flying to California and I read a terrific book. While reading a particularly meaningful passage, I thought to myself, “Oh, I can’t wait to tell Priscilla about this!” I completely visualized the conversation in my head. And suddenly I realized that I couldn’t tell Priscilla about the book because she is dead. I’m not sure I can explain how that felt, but it wasn’t good. I was stuck in the window seat of a crowded airplane, inwardly struggling not to burst into a million tears. I had to gasp for breath, close my eyes and pull myself together.

I miss Priscilla every day. My friend is right: it gets easier with time. But when I have “A Day,” it’s hard. I long for ten more minutes with Priscilla. I long for one more conversation. I long to hold her hand again. I have to calmly remind myself that I wouldn’t have such deep longing if I didn’t have such precious memories. But it's hard.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Walking for Priscilla; Walking for Velcro shoes

This week I received an e-mail from the 3-Day that suggested I blog about training. Sorry 3-Day, but that blog would be pretty boring. I’m training, yes. I’m up to 6.5+ miles, which is a full 1.5 miles ahead of schedule. And as I spend most of the 6.5 miles either working my tail off on the elliptical or actually running on the treadmill, I feel like I’m at a decent place as far as training is concerned. I have until October to work up to three consecutive days of 20 miles anyway.

The point of all that is this:

When I started thinking about my next post for this blog, I was also sort of thinking about training. Suddenly I was hit with a very vivid flashback of my childhood: Priscilla liked to run. When I was five or six years old, she promised me a pair of Velcro shoes if I would start running with her. All the other kids had Velcro shoes and I badly wanted a pair of my own, which made this a particularly enticing proposition. I don’t remember how long our running experiment lasted, but I do have a memory of running around a lake with Priscilla. I can picture Priscilla’s long blond braid bouncing on her back while I struggled to keep up with her. She wore blue running shorts. I’ve probably glamorized the experience in my memory because I know that I’ve never enjoyed running.

At some point, Priscilla was given advice to stop running. At that time, she must have switched to walking as her primary choice of exercise. I do have lots of memories of taking long walks with Priscilla, mostly around various Arlington neighborhoods. These I did enjoy, and I’m sure that many family members have similar fond memories of walks with Priscilla. One walk stands out in particular; it was after her diagnosis and the weather was cool and brisk, although not yet cold. We left from Nell’s house (it was Priscilla and Dad’s house by then, but I’ll always remember Lexington Street as Nell’s house), walked up to Sharp Park and came back through lots of old houses on Ohio Street. Several neighbors along the way greeted Priscilla with a wave and mid-morning pleasantries. I felt comforted by this somehow, confident that Priscilla had established herself in a community so firmly that should she eventually die, her spirit would continue.

Walking with Priscilla was also one of those activities that was easy to do even when our walks were at a rapid pace uphill. Walking was about exercise, sure, but it was also about conversation. Walks were always peppered with commentary about our surroundings, questions about life decisions, and if you were lucky enough, lots of laughter. On Mother’s Day 2007, Priscilla and I took a walk around the block (this time in Boulder, not Arlington). Dad and I had spent the better part of that May shuttling Priscilla from one medical appointment to another, and that was only when she wasn’t in the hospital. She hadn’t been able to take a walk in some time. I remember feeling so encouraged by her spirit on Mother’s Day, delighting in her laughter when some neighborhood dogs blocked our path. We only made it halfway around the block, but we returned home with great smiles. One month later, we lost Priscilla.

So 3-Day, when I think about training, when I think about the purpose behind the 60 miles I’ll walk in October, I think about Priscilla’s spirit. I think about my stepmother and I think about my best friend. I remember that as a child, I watched Priscilla do her crazy floor exercises with hand weights, leg lifts, and three towels. Now I do my own set of crazy exercises in preparation for three days of honoring Priscilla’s spirit, surrounded by friends and family who will walk with similar memories of their own loved ones.