Walking to remember

Turning the calendar page to August is always a little hard for me. There is no denying that we’re entering the final weeks of summer, that the days are growing shorter, that there’s more dead-heading going on in the garden than new growth, that the sun at twilight seems more fragile somehow, less robust than the relentless blast of July. I begin to mark time: the end of raspberry season, the passing of peaches, the crickets’ first evening symphony, spikes of goldenrod appearing alongside the road.

For me, too, August will forever be remembered as the month when I had to begin saying good-bye to my friend Diane. Two summers ago, as we sat on her patio and drank iced tea and talked for hours, I couldn’t quite imagine the world without her in it.

This, of course, is what grief is all about. We become familiar with the unimaginable and, in the process, we are made profoundly aware of the fragility of our own ordinary days. We learn firsthand that sorrow and loss are part of being human. That hearts can break and then, slowly, begin to mend. That out of deep sadness can come goodness. And, finally, that with each act of kindness and compassion, with each gesture we make in the memory of our loved one, we bring healing not only to ourselves but out into the world as well.

Last September, I completed my first Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk. I walked the 26 miles from Hopkinton to Boston because I believed it was the best way to honor my dear friend – by carrying forward the work she believed in so passionately.

Diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer at age 51, Diane made two choices: to respond to her disease with aggressive treatment and to fully embrace the simple pleasures of her everyday life. Under the cutting-edge care of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, she was able to do both for nearly four years.

During that time, she also worked tirelessly to support ovarian cancer research, completing three Jimmy Fund walks even while undergoing treatment herself, participating in several clinical trials, and raising thousands of dollars.

As Diane’s husband David recalled, “She was animated by a desire to live for the things that mattered to her most – mothering, friendships, and giving back. She experimented with clinical trials that had very little prospect of advancing her situation, but gave generously to potentially advance the science.”

That was Diane – determined, always, to find meaning and purpose in the time she had, even as her disease chipped away at so much of what she loved. As her own journey came to and end, Diane made another decision. She asked that those who wished to remember her do so by carrying on in her footsteps. More than anything, she hoped that more effective treatments and earlier detection might make other women’s prognoses better than her own.

Team Diane was formed in response to that wish. Walking together last year, this small group of Diane’s close friends raised over $35,000 for her cause.

It was a great achievement, made possible in part by your generous donations to my walk. What touched me most of all last year was the realization that it made no difference at all that most readers of my blog didn’t know Diane personally.

What mattered much more was the fact that there is barely a soul among us whose life has not been touched by cancer. We have all lost someone or supported a loved one through dark hours. And so, far flung as we may be, we do share a common goal and a deep sense of connection. Whether we are called to walk, or to open our hearts and pocketbooks in support of those who walk, we are all partners in this work. And together we DO make a difference.

I am proud to walk again this year. Team Diane has mobilized with renewed commitment — we hope to meet or exceed last year’s total on September 9. Best of all: all monies raised will go directly to Diane’s Fund, established this spring by the Brewster family to support ovarian cancer research under the direction of Diane’s Dana Farber oncologist, Dr. Ursula Matulonis.

This week, I began training in earnest for the 26-mile trek on September 9. As I walk the country roads around my home in New Hampshire, I carry my friend in my heart, knowing that in some way she is accompanying me with every step, urging me on. But this year, I also have a sense of just how vast this network of love and hope and connection really is. I may walk alone, but I know now that I’m also part of something that is bigger, and far more powerful, than any one of us.

If you supported me last year and wish to do so again, I’d be most grateful. And to all of you who are new to this space, please know that there is no pressure here, but rather an invitation to join me in an effort that means a great deal to me personally — and that will surely touch each of our lives at some point. (According to the American Cancer Society, in 2012 alone more than 22,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. This deadliest of all gynecologic cancers will claim more than 15,000 lives this year.)

Diane and I shared a love of Mary Oliver’s poetry, and of one poem in particular, “The Summer Day,” which ends with these lines, a prescient reminder that life is both fleeting and inexpressibly lovely.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

And so, because I think it would please my friend, I’d love to share our favorite poet with you. If you do donate below, leave a comment and let me know. I will select at random one winner on Wednesday, August 1, to receive Volumes One and Two of Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems.

Thanks so much for your support!

Here’s how to help:

**To make a quick and easy tax-deductible contribution to my walk on Sept. 9, CLICK HERE.

**If you prefer to donate by check, please make it payable to Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk, and write “DIANE’S FUND” in the memo line. Then mail it to me, Katrina Kenison, at 101 Middle Hancock Rd, Peterborough, NH 03458.

**Widen the circle by sharing this post with your friends, on your Facebook page, and on Twitter.

To read more about the cutting edge research being carried out by Dr. Matulonis and her team at Dana Farber, CLICK HERE.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Your prose does the same thing for me that Mary Oliver’s poetry does: it causes me to pause and my heart to kneel.

    “This, of course, is what grief is all about. We become familiar with the unimaginable and, in the process, we are made profoundly aware of the fragility of our own ordinary days.”

    This is exquisite and too painfully true. Thank you. I will be with you in spirit!

  2. Donation forthcoming, posted on my Facebook page immediately. Best wishes

  3. Fleeting and inexpressibly lovely … I don’t think Mary Oliver has ever put it so perfectly, at least for me. As you know I adore her poetry as well (and have all of her books so please don’t send them to me!). Almost 20 years later, I am affected by watching my mother walk with her closest friend through cancer to death, at the age of 49. Just last week a book arrived that I had written an essay in about the experience. I am certain that what you shared with Diane has been profound and life-altering, and equally sure that it was exactly the graceful and generous gift she needed right in those four years.
    I feel the same way about August. I can just feel the notes of fall underneath all this summer right now. xox

  4. What an wonderful way to pay honor to your friend…to continue her cause. I’m happy to help out again this year. Thanks for all you are doing so selflessly for others!

  5. I read your post and thought, “It seems like yesterday when I first learned about your dear friend Diane.”

    But no, it was a year ago, and I’m so glad to remember her again with a donation in her honor that will support research to find a cure for ovarian cancer.

    Thank you again for reminding us to appreciate our one precious life.

  6. Mary Ann says:

    I love Mary Oliver too. I am glad you are doing the walk again this year and I am honored to make a donation towards such a good cause. Please remember my friend Lori who died last summer at the age of 50 from stage 4 colon cancer. She managed to live almost 2 years after her diagnosis, when initially the prognosis was only 3 months. Reading about Diane reminds me so much of Lori. Thank you for sharing; as always you touch my heart and soul.

  7. Katrina, I did make a contribution again this year, in honor of my cousin, Thyra Sherman, who was treated for breast cancer at the Dana Farber Institute, and is in complete remission. Thank you for your courage and inspiration!

  8. Katrina,
    I have tweeted it, posted it on facebook and told all my friends. I have also contributed in memory of my dad and in honor of you as you walk for Diane. As you know, your emails and our lunch were a wonderful part of my healing after my dad died. You supported me and now I support you right back! May your walk help to prevent this pain for others- too many people lost to cancer so young, Diane and my dad among them.
    With Love,
    Meredith

  9. I made a donation in honor of my best friend Goldie Factor who fought for 17 years against breast cancer. She lost her battle 2 years ago at the age of 45. She was the bravest woman I’ve ever known. I also pledge in honor of my Mom a 4-time cancer SURVIVOR, Linda. Lisa. Terry, Tommy, Jean, Isabel, Dominic, Steven, Rich, Patti, Debbie,and Rona, all friends and family members who are survivors of various cancers. And in memory of Denise and Lisa who lost their battle against squamous cell and pancreatic cancers far too young!
    I was wondering Katrina if you’ve had the chance to read the book “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed? She lost her mother to cancer when her mother was 45 years old and it sent Cheryl on hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, over 1000 miles. It was a wonderful book! I just finished and it blew me away!
    I look forward to your new book! I love your writing and insight. I would love the book of poems. Thanks for always inspiring others and carrying on your friends battle against this horrible disease!

  10. I’ve been following you for years since i first read mitten strings for God. you’ve been a constant for me as I contemplate the joys and challenges both physical and emotional of raising my children. your writing has a special place in my heart and soul. I’ve recently written about my oldest going away to his 1st sleep away camp on my blog in which i quoted your writing. I often recommend your books and blog to friends in hopes that your writing will help articulate for them what is happening in their hearts. thank you Katrina.

  11. Sue Schober says:

    Katrina,

    Your message and poem could not of come at a better time. My brother just passed away at 60, too soon and my mom is in the hospital because of her Alzhiemer’s. I want to live my life to the fullest and keep each memory close to my heart. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom, you touch so many hearts and minds with your prose and I for one is deeply appreciative of your talent.

  12. My boys were having a time this morning. Whew. After I settled them down, I thought, I need a dose of Kstrina Kenison to reset my perspective! What a moving article, my husband had to ask why I was weeping. Thank you for your post, I made a donation, for your friend.

  13. Happy to support your efforts again this year, Katrina. Last year as you made your walk, my friend Joanne was battling ovarian cancer and had reached “first clinical remission.” Sadly, the cancer returned in January, and while she is holding her own for the moment, the doctors are puzzled by her numbers and really aren’t sure how to proceed. So I pray that your fundraising will help find answers and a cure for all who suffer from this disease. Best wishes for a successful walk!

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