Eight years ago this past summer, I moved into my townhome on Green Mountain. The first boxes were still unpacked when I stepped out on my deck to catch some air and collect my thoughts. I heard a “hello” from my left and, looking over the railing to the yard below, met my neighbor for the first time. Sunglasses, lawn chair, wine glass, pixie hair and huge smile. “I’m Nancy,” she said. “And I’m terminal. And it’s okay to talk about it.”
Wow. Not quite the Welcome Wagon visit I’d anticipated.
In the weeks and months that followed, I would learn that this was the former Air Force computer whiz’ second round with breast cancer. That she was a decade younger than I. That she was part of a clinical trial that gave her some hope. And that she liked a good glass of wine even more than I did. We started walking, slowly, in the park across from our homes. I learned to pause while she found the words that radiation had stolen from her vocabulary, and translate quickly when those that did appear were out of context.
Days before she entered Metro Denver Hospice, I drove her to a medical appointment. We passed Crown Hill Cemetery–a beautiful sweep of green grass, tall trees and monuments on Wadsworth. I was all too aware of the setting, given the circumstances. Suddenly, Nancy demanded, “Remind me what those things are!” When I responded “Grave stones?”, she laughed loudly and said, “No, the things that honk.” Only then did I see the congregation of Canada geese making their way through the markers. And I joined the laughter.
Nancy would pass at the hospice the following Easter. But not before creating multiple masks for Denver’s breast cancer awareness fundraiser. Or before starting a “Ladies Who Lunch” table of residents able to leave their rooms. Or hosting her sister to a sleepover in her own.
Yesterday, 50,000 Colorado women fighting breast cancer, survivors, their families, friends, caregivers and neighbors turned Denver pink for the Komen Race for the Cure. They raised $3 million.
Here’s to each and every one of them.
And here’s to Nancy.
Photo: Water Lilies by Marina, publicdomain.net