Last Wednesday, I opened up Facebook to find that my friend David had posted the following passage from Watership Down:
One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way — something about rain and elder bloom — when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him — no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, “Do you want to talk to me?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,” replied the other. “You know me, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger’s ears were shining with a faint silver light. “Yes, my lord,” he said. “Yes, I know you.”
“You’ve been feeling tired,” said the stranger, “but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’re care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now.”
They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be all right–and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”
He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
I immediately knew what had happened: his wife, Leslie, who had been fighting cancer for the past year with poise and grace, had passed away.
I never knew Leslie, I had only heard about her on occasion from her husband. I wasn’t even terribly close with her husband – I would see him at races when I lived in Chicago and kept in touch through our running group’s message board – but none of that mattered. I got to know both of them in a different way as they blogged about Leslie’s diagnosis and treatment. The two of them handled every step of her journey with elegance and wrote about it beautifully. When I saw that she had passed, I was both relieved that she was at peace and heartbroken for the family that she left behind.
In many ways, Leslie was the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to my decision to run a half marathon for the American Cancer Society this year. Through Leslie’s blog, I watched her endure several cycles of chemotherapy after her initial diagnosis with cautious optimism. And when her first set of post-chemo scans revealed additional, inoperable, chemo-resistant tumors, I couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. If you got cancer, you were diagnosed, treated, and then you went about the rest of your life (or at least several years of remission). You weren’t supposed to get slammed with inoperable, terminal cancer immediately after surviving the treatment for the initial cancer. That just wasn’t fair. There had to be something that could be done about that, right?
Hopefully there will be, someday. Either we’ll have better treatments or better diagnostic tools, so that a healthy woman like Leslie who did everything right doesn’t suddenly get slammed with a Stage IV diagnosis.
Tomorrow would have been Leslie’s 55th birthday. In honor and memory of this amazing woman, I ask you to take a moment to remember everyone you know whose lives have been touched by cancer. To give someone a hug and tell them you love them. To give a family member or friend a call if you haven’t talked to them in a while. To, quite simply, spread a little love around.