My walking the 3-Day is not new. But there is more to this year’s story. And that something more is Jeff Little.
As most already know, I am walking in the last walk the 2011 season of the Breast Cancer 3-Day in San Diego on November 18-20th. I’m so blessed to be able to do this again this year and thank each of my donors for your selfless generosity in helping to raise the money needed for this event.
This is my 7th time to walk this event since 2006. That year, I walked two events and was on staff as coach for a third event. It was the same year I met my friend, Kim Loofbourow, who was in her 30s and fighting cancer’s attack on her life. That year changed my life in so many ways, which many of you have read several stories. And the following year, I received my own early stage diagnosis.
Each year new people share their stories with me. Many of them tell me of their own diagnoses. Others tell me of their friends or lovers or sisters or aunts or any other number of people who have been lost to breast cancer. I have shed tears with each person who has entrusted me with his or her story.
This year, I’m walking for so many people, but this walk is for a special friend who lost his own life to esophageal cancer in January this year. Jeff Little was only 32 years old. He and I didn’t know each other long or very well, but we shared a super-glue bond of our own in his last month of life.
Jeff’s health was declining quickly and he was back in the hospital. It was just a few days before Christmas, and Cherrissa (his wife) called me and asked me to go see him because he was having a tough time. I wasn’t ready to face cancer and its effect on someone so soon after losing my dear friend, Kim, just a few months before. But I agreed to visit, not knowing what I was to encounter. Cherrissa asked me to “talk to him like I talk to (her).”
He put on a happy face the day I saw him. I asked how he was and he answered in a way to not let on that he was having a hard time. I looked at him and wasn’t sure what I was supposed to say, but I remembered the frankness that Kim and I always had in our conversations and I decided that was the ticket–honest, genuine talk. And that was what we had. I told him that I’d been asked to come by and see him because he’d given up. I told him that I was there to “kick his butt, if needed” to which he responded, “I’ll let you, because someone needs to.”
Jeff and I talked about dying that day. One of the doctors told him that he “would not live to see Christmas.” I listened to him as he went through so many emotions–anger, pain, confusion, fear, and so many more.
And then I asked him this question: “Are you open to some feedback?”
He responded with a nod. I told him that I was ticked off at the doctor for saying that, as no one knows exactly when our moment will come.
And then I shared this: “…but let’s assume the doctor is right. You have five days left. So, what are you going to do with them? You have three children watching you. You have Cherrissa. You have parents and siblings and many friends. All of these people are watching you, Jeff. And they are not watching you die. They are watching you live. And YOU are teaching THEM how to live…in the face of death. So, you can be bitter, angry, and give up now and you will teach them to give up when they face the tough stuff in life. OR you can live what time you have left in love and joy and giving them the best of you for however long you have. That will be what they remember. Whatever you choose will be the gift you give them for the rest of their lives.”
We talked about my friend, Kim, and how she lived her last couple of months, and the relationship she and I had. I gave him her picture and some of the words she and I shared. We talked about walking the Breast Cancer 3-Day, and that he was sorry that he didn’t get a chance to walk it with me, wishing he hadn’t procrastinated and having regretted not doing it. I told him that we would walk it together; he said he wouldn’t be able to walk too fast and I told him that I wasn’t a fast walker either.
I gave him my Survivor shirt from the Relay for Life, and a copy of the Serenity Prayer. And we hugged and cried together, as he looked at me and said, “I’m scared, Coral.” And I told him that I’d be there for him, just as I had told Kimmie I’d be there for her. What I didn’t tell him was that I was just as afraid as he was.
Jeff did live to see Christmas and the New Year. He lived with courage as he faced each day, letting his family and friends know how much he loved them and sharing what he needed to share in the last month he lived his life. He passed away on January 20th, 2011…a month and a day after he and I had those couple of hours together in his hospital room.
He wanted a picture of us together. In that hospital room, with me looking like hell and barely having wiped the tears off of my face, I let Jeff take our picture with his cell phone. It is one of my favorite pictures.
No regrets, Jeff. You ARE walking the 3-Day…60 miles…San Diego…
You are walking with ME now.
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Note from Coral: Please support me as I walk again this year in the fight to end
breast cancer! The Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure is a
60-mile walk over the course of three days. Net proceeds from the Susan
G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure are invested in breast cancer
research and community programs. Please use the link to the right to support this cause. Thank you.