Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Familiar Face

you look familiar...

This morning I volunteered at the San Diego Brain Tumor Walk. I volunteered to do this several weeks ago, but had not heard from them until just a few days ago. Believe it or not I was actually looking forward to this. I still feel a strong affinity to the National Brain Tumor Society, and all that they do. And even though their efforts couldn't keep Michael alive, their work does help fund the research that gave him almost two wonderful years post surgery.

During the two years of fighting Michael's cancer I became very involved in the NBTS, participating in a few of their conferences, and attending some of their support groups with Michael. The people in the West Coast office, located in San Francisco, became a part of our journey. They were always so welcoming when ever we saw them. After Michael died they sent me a lovely card with messages personally written to me that made it clear that they knew who we were as a couple. This meant a lot to me. I last saw them this past spring when I helped raise funds at their San Francisco Brain Tumor Walk. Back then they were excited to see me back, and a couple of them mentioned that they were reading my blog.

Today I was hoping to see a familiar face, as that doesn't happen much now that I am in a new city. Other than the few friends that I have in the area, none of the people that I see know of my loss, or of the connection I have to the brain tumor community.

I arrived at the designated park in the Mission Bay promptly at 7 am this morning. The first thing I saw was a group of tents and tables being constructed around the park. I started walking toward the National Brain Tumor Society's table, and sure enough, one of the wonderfully sweet women from their organization was standing there. Her smiling face, and look of surprise truly lifted my spirits. "Dan, what are you doing here?" Well, I moved here recently. "How are you? And, how are the kids?" And so the conversation went. This was a great way to start the day. Recognition, and connection. I felt validated for who I was, and what I have been through.

I then went to straight to work in the registration area. I was assigned to record all the funds coming in during the fundraiser. It was a very busy job, and the woman I was assigned to work with was very nice. Most of our morning was so busy we barely had time to introduce ourselves to each other. Finally there was a lull, which gave her the opportunity to ask how I came to find out about this event. Without skipping a beat I explained that my husband died from a brain tumor. I could see the shock that went across her face. She offered her condolence, and then I quickly shifted the question right back to her. Turns out she works at an oncology clinic.

This acknowledgement of Michael dying from a brain tumor went easier than in the past. I recognized that these acknowledgments don't have to incite deep emotions, or at least outward emotion. I am becoming better at integrating the past with the present. I am learning that I can do this, feel pain, take a breath, and keep moving forward. This is a significant development.

When I was done with my volunteer assignment I realized that I needed to leave. I had done as much as I could, and felt that staying for some of the victory speeches would not be good for me. I got into my car, and had a good cry. I tried to not get too caught up in crying, so I eventually pulled myself together and called Michael's mother. We had a really good conversation, which made me realize how much I have missed not seeing and talking to her. She doesn't understand how I can continue to raise money for the NBTS when "they failed Michael," but I just let her speak her truth. We all need to get through this in our own way.

I am back at home, and busy planning a meal for my parents' first visit to my home tomorrow. My older brother and sister in law are bringing my parents here. I'm planning on sharing some of the foods that Michael and I enjoyed. Nothing special, but it's a way for me to feel like we had our own family traditions, and way of living, that I can now share with my own extended family.

Michael is alive and well in my heart. Exactly where I will carry him the rest of my life.


  1. Your mention of being able to speak about Michael, feel the pain, take a breath and keep moving forward is definitely a good and significant development. It's odd how there comes a time when we are finally able to do this. One of my older neighbours has been wanting to see my insect photography, so I took my iPad over to show her some of the images in my online galleries. I also decided to show her my recent blog post with all of the photos of Don. She looked at the photos and kept saying, "Oh, what a handsome man with such beautiful hair!" and then asked me how long we were married (35 years when he died). I can remember when it would have been too painful to show her the photos, talk about Don, and tell her how long we have been married. As I was answering her questions, I realized that I can now do so, smiling and feeling good that someone is saying nice things about Don, without feeling like I am being crushed. Yes, I am still sad for at least awhile every day, but I've gradually come to the realization that there is a time when we have to let go of the pain and sadness as it doesn't really do us much good. It seems that, after we are finally able to let go of some of those feelings, it makes room for our love and good memories to fill that space.

  2. You are so right Bev. We seem to think things along the same line. Years ago I used to suffer from back pain. I had surgery, but it didn't really offer much relief. I tried everything, and everything helped a little. I was referred to a book, can't remember the name now, but it talked about how we can live with pain. The main point was that when pain comes on, acknowledge it, and let go of it. Don't give it more power, or significance than needed. With practice this really worked for me. I have tried to use this philosophy ever since.

  3. I volunteered at the Path to Progress walk with the ABTA in May. It was a very meaningful experience for me. I feel more passionate than ever about supporting the efforts for a cure. Don't know if you saw this article but thought you would be interested that some exciting strides are being made. Too bad it is coming too late for our husbands but still a welcome advance.

  4. Dan, it is a wonderful thing to do something so positive when you are feeling such pain. A lesser person would have just sat there and wallowed in it. I love that you listened to your intuition and left when you did, to have a cry.

    But most of all I am so relieved to read that your parents are coming to see you today, hopefully staying over with you through Monday?

    But I hope you are not cooking Norwegian Bambis (reindeer);-)

    I love you
    Boo xx

  5. Wendy, I did see that article. It reminded me of dancing with Michael at our wedding. Even though he didn't get to participate in that medical trial, the chemo he was on allowed for him to still be around a year later when we were able to wed. Unfortunately Michael had already had his surgery when this study came to our attention.

    Boo, no I will definitely not be cooking reindeer. The kids used to make horrible faces, and mimic being sick whenever Michael would talk about eating reindeer. He also had this awful reindeer hide that I didn't allow him to bring into the house. There was nothing about Norweigian cuisine that sparked my interest.

    My parents will just be here for the day, as they have too many health problems and don't like to be away from home to long. Anyway, I prefer to spend it alone.

    Thank you all for taking the time to share your thoughts. I really need that feedback right now.