Jodi Walsh Gomez 1969-2010

Today, October 2 is Livestrong Day –  a global day of action set aside by cancer survivor Lance Armstrong to celebrate survivors and come together to work towards a world without cancer.  It is also the second day of Breast Cancer Awareness month. I have just returned from the funeral of my cousin Jodi, who died of breast cancer at the age of 41.

I will not pretend that Jodi and I were very close…her mom married my uncle when we were kids, and being the same age same age we spent a lot of time sharing adolescent secrets. But we were busy teens and as we grew older, our own kids and grown-up lives got in the way of really getting to know each other as adults. She was diagnosed with breast cancer 7 years ago, and I remember that since I lived in the same town I felt that I should do something….but I didn’t. It just seemed weird to jump in when we hadn’t spoke in years. She moved and my parents saw her often. I was kept informed about how she was via the grapevine, which I am sure is how she kept in touch with what was going on with me as well.

Then two years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Jodi was also battling a re-occurrence  and offered support to my parents and I as we waded our way through all that diagnosis brings up. She was unceasingly cheerful, positive and committed to her faith in God. It kinda drove me a little nuts. For all that she may have been stubborn and rebellious when we were growing up – she “did” cancer like an angel.  Me…well, I was a more like the Hells Angel version.

When I was diagnosed I was scared and confused and had no idea what I was about to go through.  I was angry and remember that I told my dad that I would never be able to see a reason for this to have happened to me.  I did not believe that I would be a better person for having had cancer  since I liked the person that I was without it!  I simply hoped that I would live and possess some amount to of grace throughout the process. I was scared that my family and friends might not love me when I was not able to be the person they knew. I hoped that I would be able to make sense out of it all in the end. I am sure that as she began her battle 7 years ago, Jodi had the same thoughts.

I found out what I was made of during my battle with cancer. When I was diagnosed in September of 2009 I knew I would be a different person on the other side but had no idea who that was. I happily discovered that I was infinitely stronger, better and wiser than I had previously believed. Oddly, losing a boob, I gained more of ME.  I am certain too, that the Jodi who emerged as a result of her cancer fight  was a happy surprise to her too.

Nearing the end of her battle Jodi was still an inspiration to the people around her.  As the allotted weeks turned into days she had a hard time letting go of the need to fight to survive, but that only shows the strength of character she possessed. She left a message for her family that her memorial was to be a time of joy and celebration and that she wanted us to know that God loved us.

As a breast cancer survivor sitting in a church filled with hundreds of people,  I grieved for the loss of my cousin and joined in the sadness of my family. But I also sit as a stunned witness to the death of someone my own age with the same disease as I – with daughters close to my own kids age – who was told that it was gone and ultimately that it had come back and would kill her.  I fear for my own life, for my kids and for other women who are diagnosed at a young age.  And I am deeply impacted by the feeling that life is indeed too short.

Today, on Livestrong Day, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and in the month of my second year anniversary of being told my cancer was gone,  I recommit myself to living my life fully.  To honoring the things that are important to me, to loving deeply and with great abandon, to crying and laughing and sharing all that I am. I promise to stay in touch with my loved ones, to call my friends (or at least write!) and to show up at family gatherings. I will tell my parents, Megan, Eric and Neil, that I love them OFTEN – and I will tell the other people in my life that I appreciate that I do. I will try to spend more time doing what I WANT to be doing instead of what I think I SHOULD be doing. I commit to sharing my experience, to providing support, to being an angel (of some kind!)  to others in hard times. I commit to being an advocate for resources, support and services for those that are in need, and to be a voice for those who are quieter than I. I will try to remember to listen, to move gently and to sit in a place of compassion. I will carry with me Jodi’s positive attitude and grace and remember that her last wishes for us were to remember that we are loved and to let it in.

Maya Angelo said “I can be changed by what happens to me but I refuse to be reduced by it”.   For cancer survivors everywhere, and for those impacted by cancer, do not let this battle get the best of you. Share yourself, share your love and fight until we do not lose our family and friends to this disease any longer.

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