Help the Next One in Line

I assume by now you’ve heard Tim McGraw’s new song “Humble and Kind.” When you think about it, the message is pretty simple isn’t it? Basically, it tells you to be a good person.

Have manners.
Care about others.
Don’t use people.
Things we should already know – but maybe we need to be reminded from time to time.

When I first heard this song I just loved it – still do. But now it seems as if the words “don’t forget, turn back around and help the next one in line” jump right out at me. And I think of my best friend. A friend that amazed me with her strength, and her compassion for others, as she fought the toughest battle of her life.

During Sandy’s two-year battle with stage 4 pancreatic cancer, all she ever wanted to do was help the next one in line.

After Sandy was diagnosed, in the spring of 2014, she was anxious to start treatment. When she returned home from her first visit to the cancer center in Chicago, she was fixated on a conversation that transpired between her and one of the nurses.

The nurse asked her if she wanted treatment since there would be an out-of-pocket expense… a couple hundred dollars. Sandy looked at the nurse and said “Why would I decline treatment for that small amount?” And the nurse said “You’d be surprised at the number of people who do.”

Sandy talked about launching a not-for-profit organization for people who needed financial help with medical bills. It was something that I truly believe she would’ve accomplished, if she had the chance.

I’ve always known there was something special about Sandy. But I want to share a few things about this young lady. A few things that I think may inspire you.

If you’ve ever been close to someone battling cancer, you see what they go through – and quite frankly it makes you sick. You ask yourself “How can they endure the chemo treatments, the pain, the sleepless nights, and especially the fear of the unknown?”

You try to put yourself in their shoes. But you can’t. You just want to take it all away from them… so much so, you wish you could take it on yourself. But you can’t.

And as awful as this must’ve been for her, she continued to pray for others. Every day.

Yes, she had her moments. But, I’ve never seen anybody more grateful for what was good in her life. I know she’d want me to tell everyone who helped her along the way, how deeply touched she was. So here goes…

If you sent her an inspirational text, a card, or called her…
she’d talk about it through tear-filled eyes, because you
took the time to reach out to her.

If you gave her a token with a message or symbol to give her hope…
she’d look at it every day and it’d gave her the strength to keep fighting.

If you dropped off a meal, or a gift card….
she was thankful for the relief it gave her and her family.

If you stopped in for a visit…
she felt blessed for the time you spent with her.

Some friends even donated airline miles and hotel points to help with travel, and this is where I too say thank you. Because of your kindness and generosity, I was able to tag along on a couple trips to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America with Sandy, and for that I am forever grateful.

She was thankful for her girlfriends, who found they each brought a different strength to the table — they each played a role. And Sandy knew she could count on her lifelong posse.

Her college friends were front and center whenever she needed support — of any kind, and her neighbors were just an arm’s length away, offering help every day.

But most of all, she was thankful for her family. Her husband, her three beautiful children, and her mom – all by her side, every single day. They took every step with her, and gave her constant support and inspiration.

She had the unconditional love of her sister and brother, who called often and came in from out-of-state when they could, to visit or accompany her to a treatment in Chicago. We should all be so lucky.

Bottom line — she felt blessed.

And she’d say….
“Everyone has been so good to me. I should be helping others.”
Helping others was always on her mind. Always.

Even when Sandy could no longer work, and her sister Kris set up a Go Fund Me page to help with medical expenses. She kept saying, “Everyone has been so generous, but I see others that need help, this money should go to them.”

I remember one night, just a couple weeks before she passed, having to be a little stern with her. I told her… “You’re out of work. You have medical bills on top of regular bills. People love you and want to help. Accept their help. You’ll have time to help the next one in line.”

And yes, I admit it…I was wrong. Time wasn’t on her side. But the fact that in the last weeks of her life she was focusing on others makes me realize her story should be told.

I know if she beat this horrible disease, she wouldn’t be boasting about her accomplishments. She’d be working. Working on fundraisers to help a family with medical bills, making meals to bring to people who need rest from their chemo treatments, or taking the time to make a personal phone call to give someone the strength and encouragement to keep fighting.

Earlier I mentioned that “the girls” (Sandy’s posse of childhood friends) all had roles to play. I guess my role was to be the optimist… the perpetual cheerleader if you will. And I know people thought I was naive. I wasn’t. And I will never regret hoping for a miracle. Not for a minute. Because they do happen.

And I have to admit, it’s hard to believe that someone you spent 40 years of your life with will no longer be with you. So maybe being “the cheerleader” was just as much for me, as it was for her. And since our group of girls lost another sister, Sara, less than 3 years ago to breast cancer — I have to say, we really fought like a team. I’ve said to God…. “Now, you’ve got two of us on the other side. And yes, I’m sure Sara is winning every ‘Angel Ab Contest’ there is, and you’re in awe of Sandy’s rendition of GREASE, but please don’t take any more of us for a while… ok?”

Now it’s time to move forward, but how do we do that?

Well, after you lose someone close, you find it hits you in waves – one minute you’re strong and the next your crying like a little baby. It’s those little things. Like picking up the phone to call her and realizing you can’t. And quite frankly, it sucks out loud.

So I asked my friend Michele (who was Sara’s best friend), “When will I go a day without crying?” And she said “The day I stopped crying was when I asked if you’d help me with a fundraiser in Sara’s name. The day I decided to do something positive, to help others, in her memory.”

I know Sandy would agree. If she was here, she might say… “Don’t focus on the negative. You know I’m still here with all of you. Be grateful for the people in your life. And do everything you can… to help the next one in line.

sandy final

Well, my dear… I promise you I will. The girls will. Always.

https://powerthroughit50.wordpress.com/2016/05/09/eulogy-for-sandy-keller-napolitano/

 

Miracles Happen

It was April 1st, 2014. Yes, April Fool’s Day. A day when we rack our brains, trying to think of that perfect gag to play on co-workers and friends. But not last year. Last year April Fool’s Day was no laughing matter. And it’s a day I’ll never forget – as long as I live.

I was sitting in my office with my face in the computer when I received a call from my best friend. She had her biopsy results — Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer. And it had metastasized to her liver. I think this is the first time I fully understood what the term “in shock” meant. Just six months earlier we lost a friend to breast cancer – and the probability of the “C” word hitting again was impossible – so we thought.

I remember trying to speak, but couldn’t. Hindered by that lump in my throat. When I finally opened my mouth, my voice was trembling. And tears were running down my face. However, the person on the other end of the line wasn’t trembling. She wasn’t even crying. She was pissed! “FUCK THIS!” As I recall… were her exact words. And it was at that very moment I knew, cancer had met its match.

I may not be right about a lot of things in my life, but I knew I was right about this. There was no way this badass friend of mine was going to be a statistic. And so, for the sake of this post, she agreed to let me refer to her simply as “Badass.” Because she is. Thank God. And we love her for it.

Badass immediately started researching the best treatment options, speaking to doctors, and reaching out to survivors. She changed her diet, started taking supplements… and she prayed. Every day. Religiously, so to speak. Still does. And not just for herself, but for others. And we pray for her right back.

And, although reluctant, she accepted help from others. Whether it be a shoulder to lean on, someone to stay with her during treatment, or homemade meals delivered to the house… she agreed to let others in. Like the purple bracelet says “No One Fights Alone.”

Someday I’ll tell her whole story. But for now, this is just part of her journey. The journey to “Survivorship.”

You know, they say that God works in mysterious ways, and boy do I believe it. Because it was that same day I received a call from a friend I hadn’t seen in months. And little did I know she’d be instrumental in helping Badass fight this fight.

Maryann, and her husband Brian, called to see if I’d like to meet them out for some Buffalo wings and a beer so we could catch up. As much as I wanted to, I just wasn’t in the mood – still reeling from the bad news. As we talked on the phone Maryann shared with me that she had a number of family members with Pancreatic Cancer. And from that very moment, she was on board – sharing information about the Macrobiotic diet, doing research, checking in on Badass, and praying every day. And it was Maryann that initiated our visit to Sloan Kettering – to an extraordinary person by the name of Nick Medley.

Fast forward to September 2015…

Badass is doing amazingly well almost 18 months after her diagnosis, and looks fantastic to boot. Yes, she still gets hit on by any man who glances her way. She’s a “hot” Badass, don’t cha know. However…looks aside, she’s still fightin’ the fight and we need to kick it outta the park!

On September 18th, 2015, we visited the Sloan Kettering Outpatient Cancer Center in NYC. You see, Maryann learned about a concierge at Sloan Kettering who gives “healing hugs,” and insisted we bring Badass to meet him. “My husband and I will pay for the hotel.” she said, “We need to do this; we need to go!” So…we did. Remember, when an earthly angel (AKA Maryann) is this insistent… you do as she says. And I’m so glad we did.

When you walk through the doors at Sloan Kettering there’s no need to ask for Nick…he’s waiting for you. He’s the first person you see. And you can feel his love and concern immediately.

sk1

His smile alone melts your heart. And when he hugs you – yes, he hugs everyone – you feel the warmth, the healing, the sense of peace.

His caring is not superficial.sk3
It’s genuine. And for a man who was featured on ABC news, and gives over a thousand hugs a day, we were shocked that he spent over two hours with us… telling Badass success story, after success story.

sk2He held her hands. He looked into her eyes. He said “Trust. Release. Live.” Trust in God — that all will be okay. Release your Worries — even if it means screaming, and punching a pillow. And Live your Life — to the fullest!
As I watched him speak to Badass, I was at the edge of my seat. There was something about Nick. I could see it in his eyes. A sense of calm came over me just being in his presence. I could tell that Badass and  Maryann felt it too. A sense that everything was going to be alright.

He gave each of us a guardian angel pin. And said “Whenever you’re having a bad day, look at this pin. And know you’re not alone.”

When it was time to say goodbye, it was kind of sad. Like leaving an old friend. We gave him a Syracuse University polo shirt and made him promise to root for our team. We said we’d keep in touch – and we will. Because he’s now part of this path to recovery. And Badass has already seen a small miracle since our visit. Yes, God does work in mysterious ways.

I asked Badass, “What should we name this post?” and she very simply stated… Miracles Happen.

Yes they do, Badass… yes they do.

Trust. Release. Live. 🙂

And while you’re at it, say a prayer for Badass.
No One Fights Alone!