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Monday, January 17, 2011

Losing the Battle (saying goodbye to a beautiful colleague)

I'm taking a break from my Blogging Break to pay tribute to a dear colleague who lost her battle to cancer this past weekend.  I am reposting something that I wrote back in May, after she paid us a visit at the office.  Unfortunately, after that visit her health deteriorated. Each update we received got worse as time went on, and this morning we got the news that she had succumbed to her illness.  Rest in peace, Marie.  It was a pleasure to have known you.  You are an inspiration and will be greatly missed.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A visit from a colleague

Yesterday afternoon at work we got a visit from a colleague who is currently on sick leave. Actually, it's long term disabililty. She has terminal cancer.

Marie is in her late forties. She is a vibrant woman, a workaholic with a great sense of humor and a zest for life. Several months ago (which seems like only days ago), Marie had been complaining about headaches. Constant headaches. She didn't look good and was always tired, which was unusual for her. A friend and I were standing just outside my office one day and Marie was heading down the hall toward us. She was swaying, almost walking into the wall. We were concerned and asked if she was okay. She wasn't. She told us that she had been feeling dizzy all the time and was having problems with hand-eye coordination and depth perception. Her husband had to help get her dressed because she couldn't fasten her buttons. Go to the doctor! We exclaimed. She explained that she had called and made an appointment for the following week. We expressed our concern and urged her to call again or just go to the Emergency. She wouldn't hear of it. She had deadlines that had to be met. Senior Management was depending on her. I just shook my head at her and told her she was crazy.

The next week we got the news. At first the doctor thought she might have a brain aneurysm. He sent her to the hospital right away. They soon discovered that it was a brain tumor. She went through a number of tests and scans and was booked for surgery to remove it. She remained in good spirits and gave us regular updates by phone. It turned out that the tumor was cancerous and they were not able to remove all of it. It was terminal. I felt so sick when I heard the news. I had just been standing here talking to her, and (what felt like) the next day I find out she is going to die. It was so surreal.

Marie's illness was announced at a staff meeting, and we were told that she was keeping a positive attitude, and if we talked to her we were to remain positive as well. I couldn't imagine staying positive. I truly don't know what I would do if I got that kind of news.

It has been a couple of months and she has started chemotherapy and radiation. She just got back from a Caribbean cruise and decided to pay us all a visit. I got the news that she was here and as I turned the corner I saw everyone gathered around her. She was bald but wore a beautiful scarf on her head. She was sitting on a chair in the hallway with her wheelchair sitting nearby. She looked beautiful. Her makeup was perfectly done. She wore nice clothes and jewelery. She had strappy fuschia sandals with matching toenail polish and wore ankle bracelets and a toe ring. She was smiling and laughing and cracking jokes. Same old Marie. She even cracked some pretty morbid jokes about death. She talked about how surprised she is of herself. That she doesn't feel depressed or mad. When she first got the news, she was told that she had only a few weeks to live. It then changed to several months. And now doctors tell her that she will most likely live for a year and a half. She feels blessed to have that much time left. She feels happy and she wants to enjoy every day of her life. She said that nobody knows how long they have here on this earth. Any one of us could walk outside and get hit by a bus. She told us to live every day like it's our last. To truly appreciate the things and people that we love. She talked about her cruise, her shopping trips, her plans to move into a new bungalow. She seemed happy and was full of energy. We all laughed and smiled and wished her well when she was ready to leave.

I went back to my office and I cried. What an amazing woman. She has been given this news and is making the best of it. Living life to the fullest. I don't know if I could be that strong. I don't think I would be. I can't imagine leaving my husband, children, parents. All of my friends and family. It's not fathomable. Yet it could happen. I don't think anyone is ever ready to receive news that they will die, but I am amazed and inspired by people who are as positive as Marie. It makes me realize that my life is really not so bad. It's awesome, actually! Yesterday I was reminded just how lucky I am to have my health and my family. Yesterday I was inspired.