I have been reflecting a lot lately on the 8-½ years since I lost my best friend Elyse to lung cancer. Elyse was my person. She knew – and remembered better than I did – every detail and emotion of my life from our 30-year friendship. She comes to mind (and heart) in big and small ways often. I would have never imagined that her loss would have changed me and my life in the many ways that it has. And I certainly never envisioned that I’d feel the enormous sense of loss that I still do today. But I want to remember her and feel her as often as I can. Smile or tears – it feels good to sense my sweet girl with me.
I’ve written in previous blogs about Elyes’s 2-½ year illness and what we shared during that period, but only more recently am I understanding the healing that came after. I want to share some of the silver linings I have been very fortunate to find during a sometimes stormy journey.
Since 2009, Elyse’s family and friends have been sharing a meaningful morning together as a team, Elyse’s Legacy, at LUNGevity walks in Chicago and then Deerfield. Having a reason to come together, year after year, to honor Elyse’s memory and raise money to help others keeps Elyse’s memory alive, which is comforting and healing to all of us who miss her.
I joined the Board of LUNGevity Foundation in 2009, and I founded Breathe Deep North Shore (BDNS), a fun run and walk in 2011. This warm and meaningful event embodies the spirit of Elyse and LUNGevity’s founders, and has touched thousands of people in the caring and supportive community where Elyse and many of LUNGevity’s founders lived. Hundreds of people have contributed to the success of this incredible community effort that has helped my heart, as well as many others, heal a little bit. BDNS is also an event filled with love and hope for lung cancer survivors and their loved ones. I am so grateful to every person that made this field of dreams a reality (and helped to raise almost $1 million in 5 years)!
I also worked with the teenagers at Deerfield High School, who chose LUNGevity as the beneficiary of their 2012 School Chest fundraiser. This was truly the most meaningful of my LUNGevity experiences. Alongside my friends Jill & Cathie, I stood before the entire student body of the high school that Elyse & I attended and spoke about lung cancer and the friend that I lost. The students and faculty enthusiastically made lung cancer their cause and raised over $135,000 for lung cancer research. Sharing this cause and passion for change with these students was incredibly powerful and inspiring.
It is heartwarming and soul-strengthening to find some way, big or small, to honor a lost loved one. And the significance of sharing meaningful experiences and understanding is immeasurable. Any kind of connection with those who share a loss and/or a cause, keeps a lost loved one closer and promotes healing – and what a way to honor your loved one’s memory and find meaning in your loss.
I feel like each friend, and even brief connection, that I have made through LUNGevity in the wake of my loss is a gift from Elyse. This begins with my friend Jill Feldman, an 8-year lung cancer survivor and an advocate long before that because she lost her parents and other family members to lung cancer. Jill is my lung cancer mentor and one my closest friends. She knows more than anyone I know about the science, emotional pain, advocacy, and courage that come with being a caregiver and patient. Just like Elyse’s loss has forever changed me, so has Jill’s friendship.
And then there’s the blessing of my friendship with Jerry Sorkin. Jerry was Vice Chairman of LUNGevity, and there was no kinder, braver or more brilliant man. Jerry was diagnosed with lung cancer 9 years ago, before biomarker testing, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and many other advancements in lung cancer. Jerry died four months ago, but his memory and tireless efforts live on. He found tremendous meaning in his diagnosis and touched many, many lives through his work with LUNGevity -- including mine.
I have made many new friends (too many to name, but grateful for every single one), both with and without lung cancer. I have even had old friends diagnosed, which feels like a crazy coincidence every time it happens. I have lost some of my new friends, and it’s heartbreaking – but I am not afraid of the possibility of another loss. Each person enriches my life and gives me an important reason to keep my passion going strong. These losses drive me -- as do the friendships. And with continued fundraising for critical research, there will be new and better treatments and increasing hope for my friends. That’s my and Elyse’s end game – LOVE & HOPE.
As long as I can remember, I wanted to find a path to giving in my life, and I never knew what that would be or what I could possibly offer to make a small difference in the world -- until I lost my best friend. My work with LUNGevity and the extraordinary friendships I have made are Elyse’s final gifts to me, and I am grateful for every meaningful experience -- and for each and every person that has supported me, enriched this journey, and made me feel like Elyse and I, together, made a small difference.
So even if your heart is broken from the loss of someone you love, keep it open to the possibility that you can still heal and help -- and find love, hope, gratitude… and some silver linings where you least expect them.