“For all the times you reached out to help me, now that I’m better, I want to help you.”
This is what my friend Karen told me about how she started volunteering with the NOCC (National Ovarian Cancer Coalition).
Not all adventures are big, or dangerous, or even extremely exciting. Some may be as simple as participating in a fundraiser – something you can do just about everywhere. When you are open to the wonder of what could happen, with no expectations, that’s when adventure happens. Karen is on the remission side of ovarian cancer, and recently she talked me into an adventure of participating in a 5k fund- and awareness-raiser. I thought about sharing with you some stats about how ovarian cancer is a silent killer, but when I went to read the booklet I picked up at the race, it was filled with blank pages –I’m taking the hint. This story isn’t about the downer part of how cancer sucks. This story is about friendship, gratitude, doing things that might make you uncomfortable but end up inspiring you and sharing lots of laughs.
A commuter friendship grew
I first met Karen years ago, when she was honored on the “Women to Watch” list for being a rising star in the high-pressure advertising industry. While in line for coffee at our commuter rail station, I introduced myself and gushed about the article she was featured in. From that one compliment, a casual commuter relationship started. Besides being in the same industry, living in the same town, our kids were about the same age. As things go, it had been a while since I had seen her when we started bumping into each other again on weekends at Starbucks. It was during one of our chats there that I learned of her intimate, hard news about the discovery of her tumor. Being Starbucks aficionados, we commiserated over the fact that she was not supposed to have caffeine. With her ever-present smile, she sang the joys of her special-order decaf. She also confided that sometimes getting out of the house and going to the coffee shop alone was something she had a hard time with – but she turned it into an adventure. Funny coincidence, there were times I was there at Starbucks…an unexpected reward! Admittedly, there was one time I didn’t recognize her because she had lost her hair as well as her envy-inducing eyelashes. I finally figured it out when she smiled, for that is one of her most memorable features. A few weeks later we laughed as I gave her a crazy blue hair wig to wear! She is one of the lucky ones, given she is a survivor, and her hair and lashes have returned.
Together in Teal
When she asked me to be a part of her team for the “Together in Teal” 5k on Roosevelt Island, I knew this was an adventure I didn’t want to miss. I thought it was the best excuse to go explore Roosevelt Island. The fact that I’d be wearing a teal tutu and hanging with Karen were icing on the cake. When I registered for the event, I saw a place where to mark what size t-shirt. I looked around for tutu sizes…not realizing Karen had ordered them for her team. (Ha! Of course I thought everyone in the race would be in teal tutus…because that image is really fun).
I was a little nervous about the race, because I’ve never done a 5k before, and I am not currently in runner shape. This was part of the adventure for me, facing these body-related fears. Another friend, Steve, said he thinks this could be the start of a new set of adventures…maybe even doing the Burning Man 50k! (I know, I know, “never say never” but…I don’t think that’s on my list.) Courage is having fear but doing it anyway. You never know what the outcome will be. In this case, it was awesome. My fears were dispelled when, except for Karen’s hubby, the entire team were walkers. One teammate ended up coming in second to last, while I came in dead last! We did because we discovered we both liked stopping and taking photos along the way.
When Karen told me about her desire to help others by volunteering with the NOCC, I was impressed. Any volunteer organization would be lucky to have her strategic thinking. But it was her way of expressing gratitude – for all the coalition did, as well as a way of expressing thanks for her life– that really is the message behind her statement of wanting to return the favor of support.
But truly, the biggest message that came out of this adventure? Going out in the pouring, cold rain to walk around a city island doesn’t sound like much of an adventure. What it took to get there, is. Those of you who have been through cancer or been a supporter of someone with cancer, you know this can be a really dark time. The message brought home to me is that laughter, a positive mindset, and supportive friends truly can make the tough times easier.