This Sunday I'll be running the NY Marathon for Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center as part of Fred's Team. I would be so thankful and touched if any of you would be willing to make a contribution to support this cause on my behalf. I also encourage you to note, on the contribution form, the names of anyone you've lost to cancer or anyone who is fighting or has fought cancer. I plan to write these names on my jersey Sunday; thinking of them will inspire me through the tougher parts of the race and remind me of what I'm running for. I'm not sure my old joints and legs will survive Sunday on their own, but they will if accompanied by a full heart.
Know that I will be able to run this Sunday whether or not you contribute. I actually got an entry into the race through the lottery, and then through the unbelievable generosity of brother James and his wife Angela, I reached the Fred's Team contribution milestone overnight. I write this in hopes that you'll join them in contributing to the fight against cancer. My brother Alan works at Sloan-Kettering, and if his colleagues are half as dedicated and conscientious as he is then they've more than earned their reputation as one of the leading institutions of cancer research in the world.
The fight against cancer is a cause that means a lot to me. In 1998, I lost first my mother and then her mother, my grandmother who raised me for many years, to cancer. I used to think that the phrase "there isn't a day goes by I don't think of her" was a metaphor, a figure of speech, but then I lost them both and learned that it is neither an over or understatement, only a gentler expression of a genuine state of lifelong mourning. Some days I wonder what my mother and grandmother would think of what I've made of my life, but every day I miss them.
I struggle to make sense of the random nature of the onset of their cancers. Both were healthy and active. They never smoked or drank. They ate plenty of vegetables and stayed engaged with family and friends. I don't imagine for a minute that if research could lay bare the exact causes and mechanisms of cancer that it would be comfort enough, but neither do I find it fair that cancer continues to claim so many lives in such an agonizing way. It is a cruel and merciless killer.
Earlier this year I read a brilliant memoir of one daughter's loss of her mother to cancer: The Mercy Papers by Robin Romm.
There is one passage I'll never forget; the first time I read it I was laying in bed on a Sunday morning, and tears started streaming down my face and onto the pages of the book.
"I know it's selfish," I say. "But I can't tell you it's okay to die. I won't be okay." My words are coming too fast. "I'll try to go on, I'll try to live a life you'd be proud of, but I can't imagine life without you and I can't tell you to die."
My mom stares at me with her wide brown eyes. She looks at people these days in the same way she looks at the clock by her bed or the television on the dresser or the large wall-length crack in her wall.
It's hard to hear her through the whirring of the BiPaP mask.
"Thank you sweetie," she says. "I dun want to die. But at thiz point, iss what should happen." Tears stream down my cheeks. I'm getting the pillows damp. "And, sweetheart, I dun need your permission."