a friend, a walk, a cause, a book, a thank you

Diane and KIn two weeks, I’ll turn 56, a birthday my dear friend Diane did not live to see. The photo above, my favorite of the two of us, was taken the year before she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

As always in the early fall, Diane, our friend Carol, and I had used my birthday as an excuse for a girls’ getaway at my parents’ house in Maine. For years we celebrated our time together with the same fool-proof menu: old Jackson Browne music on the stereo, lobster risotto (a collaborative culinary effort) and champagne for dinner, Diane’s scones and fresh fruit for breakfast, long walks, and no-holds-barred late-night conversations – the kind that can only happen between the most intimate friends, away from home, with no kids or husbands within earshot.

I’ve been thinking a good deal lately about how Diane spent her 55th year. It was she who originally inspired the phrase “the gift of an ordinary day,” for her delight in simple pleasures and time spent with her family and friends only deepened as she bravely faced both her devastating prognosis and a heartbreaking series of “lasts.” Diane negotiated the realities of ovarian cancer with the same determination and clarity she brought to everything she did – continuing with aggressive treatment for her disease while fully embracing the joys of her own everyday life. Under the 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. As her own journey came to and end, Diane made clear her desire that her loved ones might carry on this effort in her memory.

Team Diane was formed in response to that wish.

Team Diane 2013Walking together in the annual Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk over the last three years, our small group has raised over $125,000 for Diane’s cause — money that, by Diane’s design, goes directly to her beloved Dana Farber oncologist Dr. Urusla Matulonis and her dedicated team of researchers. It’s a great achievement, but of course there is much more work to be done.

Next Sunday, on September 21, I will join Team Diane for the fourth time to walk in this event that’s become a touchstone of my life. I’m proud and grateful to be part of this committed group of walkers – some of us who knew and loved Diane, others who have joined because they’ve been moved by her story or touched by cancer themselves.   We are mostly women in our forties and fifties and sixties, and so we walk despite our own individual challenges – sore knees and cranky backs, cancer and Lyme disease, tight hamstrings and tender heels, the usual aches and pains of age. (Although I’ve got my own tricky back and gimpy leg to deal with this year, I didn’t for one moment consider dropping out!)

IMG_3186 - Version 2As always, we’ll begin the day in the dark, eating homemade scones on the pre-dawn ride out to Hopkinton (another Diane tradition, happily continued). We’ll hold hands for a moment at the start and then set out together, joining the more than 8,500 others who will be walking for a cure that day. En route, we’ll share our BlisterGlide, sunscreen, and Ibuprofen. We’ll urge one another on and catch up on one another’s lives. We’ll take plenty of stretching breaks and pit stops and remind each other to drink more water. And late in the afternoon we’ll cross the finish line arm in arm, with cheers and tears, remembering our friend, knowing how proud she’d be to see us carrying on her mission. And knowing, too, that we are making a difference. Collectively, working together, we can improve the odds for every woman who is diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

1235289_10151642734492304_1068429755_n - Version 2 (1)Once a year, I reach out to you, my dear readers, to join me in this cause that means so much to me and to so many others. For, as we all know, cancer touches each of us. As I write, my dear friend Lisa is being treated by an extraordinary team of doctors at Dana Farber, while another is celebrating her recent recovery from ovarian cancer. And so, it’s little wonder that I’m more committed than ever to doing my part to help conquer this disease. I am deeply grateful for any support you are able to give. Together we’re walking and giving and working to change lives — and perhaps to save them.

Thank you. Your support and your presence in my life means more than I can say.

how to donate – and a special thanks from me

Each year when I invite you to support me and Team Diane’s efforts, I like to choose a book to give away here, one that has some special significance to this cause. I can think of none better than the first volume of Mary Oliver’s collected poems, perhaps my favorite poetry book of all time. Four years ago, Diane borrowed my copy and found deep solace in these poems; later, when the book came back to me, her slips of paper were still in it, marking the ones that spoke most deeply to her. This too was part of her legacy: she wanted to remind us to pay attention, to love life and to live it fully, with gratitude and awareness and wonder.

So, if you do make a donation, make sure to also leave a comment below and let me know.

On Friday, Sept 26, I will choose one winner at random to receive Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, Volume One. (Needless to say, I wish I could send a copy to each and every one of you.)

Donating is easy.

        Go to my personal fundraising page by clicking here: 

http://www.jimmyfundwalk.org/2014/katrina4teamdiane#sthash.9xacweAR.dpuf.

Or send me a check: Make your check payable to “Jimmy Fund Walk.” Write DIANE’S FUND on the memo line. Send it directly to me at: 101 Middle Hancock Rd., Peterborough, NH 03458.

Note: You may wish to check with your employer’s Human Resources department to find out if they  will match your gift and double the impact.

Every single contribution is both meaningful and deeply appreciated.  Onward, with gratitude and love!

Changing the world one step at a time

IMG_3186 - Version 2Never doubt that a small group . . . can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

One week ago today, we walked.

Twenty-seven women, ages sixteen to sixty-something, united by a desire to make a difference – and inspired by the faith that, together, we can.

We walked from Hopkinton to Boston, grateful for one another, for clear skies, good company, and comfortable sneakers.

We walked sharing stories, Ibuprofen, sunscreen, Chapsticks and BlisterGlide.

We walked fueled by Gatorade and bananas, popcorn and power bars, laughter and love.

We walked in memory of a dear friend, gone three years but never forgotten.

We walked for our loved ones and for yours.

We walked with blisters, numb feet, bum knees, loose toenails, sore backs, toothaches, weird rashes, annoying socks, tight hamstrings.

We walked anyway. [continue…]

A friend, a cause, and a special thanks for you

D & K

Three years ago this week, my friend Diane and I took a walk around her neighborhood.  I remember we went slowly, taking our time, enjoying the sunshine and each other.  Although we talked and laughed as we always had, my heart was heavy. I knew it would probably be our last walk together.

But what I couldn’t have known on that August morning was that although Diane’s own four-year journey with ovarian cancer was coming to an end, my walking partner’s legacy would live on.

As I set out just after dawn today for a long, solitary walk on a quiet country road, I found myself thinking of my friend.  Not a day goes by when I don’t miss her. I miss our long walks, our trips to the farmers’ market, our overnight get-aways, fast rides in her little chocolate brown sports car.  I miss her e-mails (which always seemed to contain the words I most needed to hear), the sound of her voice, her perfect, light-as-air scones, her pleasure in a glass of good champagne, her no-nonsense advice about kids and recipes and neighborhood dilemmas.  I miss hearing her views on politics and tv shows and books and which jeans looked best on me.  [continue…]

Running

All through August I’ve been out the door each day at 6:15, to run two and a half miles to town in time for a 7 a.m. yoga class. It is only for a month, this early class, but I’m hoping that after it ends I’ll continue with my own variation on the new routine. My morning run began as something I was making myself do; with each passing day, though, it’s felt more and more like a privilege, a gift, a blessing.

A few days ago Kristen at Motherese wrote about finding flow in her running this summer, and I understand exactly what she means. There is something about the rhythmic exercise of moving through space at your own speed, on your own two strong legs, that is liberating, exhilarating, and immensely satisfying. I love being out in the world before anyone else is up, love running all alone down the very middle of the road, even love the fact that, after four weeks of practice, I’ve shaved a few minutes off my time.

Three weeks from Saturday, I’ll be walking 26. 2 miles in the Dana Farber Jimmy Fund Marathon Walk, raising money in memory of my dear friend Diane, who died of ovarian cancer last October. Knowing that every mile logged and every training hour put in is preparing me for the challenge has given me a great sense of purpose. I’m not just getting up before dawn for myself, I’m doing it for a cause, and that makes a difference, too. I’ve happily run in the rain and in the dark, walked ten miles all alone, pushed myself up hills I’ve never tackled before and, in the process, worn out one good pair of shoes. I’m also a bit more confident that when the day comes, I’ll be able to go the distance.

As summer draws to a close, I find myself, as usual, regretting all the things I didn’t do. I’m sorry that I didn’t read poetry in the hammock or set up the tent in the back yard. I wish we’d had more dinners on the porch, more swims in the pond, more fires on the hilltop, at least one picnic, or campout, or barbeque. Next week both boys will head back to school; already I feel the sense of loss that arrives with every Labor Day, as predictable as the first cool mornings, the spikes of goldenrod alongside the road, the symphonic thrum of crickets. The change of season is definitely bittersweet for me, the shorter days a reminder that this existence of ours is as transient as a summer cloud.

“The spiritual path,” writes Pema Chodron, “has always been learning how to die. That involves not just death at the end of this particular life, but all the falling apart that happens continually.” At fifty-two, I am constantly butting up against the fact that I can never hold on to anything, that nothing good ever lasts quite as long as I want it to, and that no matter how old I get or how “grown up” I should be by now, the letting go doesn’t get a whole lot easier.

Heading out in the morning, watching the sun come up over the mountains, the dawn light illuminating the mist as it drifts up from the valley, I am stopped in my tracks, simply by the sight of the sky. A sky, as my friend Lindsey says, “whose light comes from beyond the reach of our eyes.” How magnificent it all is: the beauty of another day’s beginnings, this cosmic offering that is ours for the taking, 365 days a year. Not a day goes by when I’m not pierced by some awareness of loss and time passing. But I’m learning to linger, too, in this place of gratitude. I think it really is the answer: we can live all curled up in our dark holes of regret, or we can rise up and stretch our limbs out into the beauty that is all around us. We can claim it as our own.

There all sorts of good reasons to wake up early. For me, the best reason is simply the opportunity to be present for a little longer, to welcome the sun coming up over the mountains, to notice how it appears just a bit later each morning, rises ever so slightly further to the south, alters the quality of the light, turns the season almost imperceptibly toward fall. These changes, these small deaths, are part of a vast choreography of impermanence. Gratitude is the awakened heart’s response to this eternal dance of life and death, this whirling dance of change. And so I’m choosing to focus on what is, and to be grateful for all the things I did manage to do this summer. I’ve walked and run for miles. I’ve grown stronger, healthier, faster. I’m nearly half-way to my fund-raising goal and determined to raise nearly three thousand more dollars before September 18. Meanwhile, I’ll keep running. I run for the exercise, for the joy of it, for the cause my friend believed in and, most of all, because I know how lucky I am that I still can.

If you wish to contribute to my Jimmy Fund walk in Diane’s memory, or in honor of a loved one, you may give in one of two ways:
• Visit my fundraising page at the Walk web site and follow the instructions to make a gift online.
• Write a check payable to “Jimmy Fund Walk.” On the memo line, write: “Dana Farber Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.” Send it directly to me at: Katrina Kenison Lewers, 101 Middle Hancock Rd, Peterborough, NH 03458.

Thank you, my friends. I couldn’t do it without you!

Walking

“What are you thinking?” I asked Henry.

We were taking a last hike before he heads back to college tomorrow, climbing up the back side of North Pack on a perfect early autumn morning.

“Oh, nothing much,” was his reply.  “Sometimes it’s nice to just walk in the woods and not think about anything at all.”

My own mind, of course, was racing down the trail ahead of my feet, tumbling into the afternoon, considering what we would do for the rest of the day, what I should make for dinner, how we could make this last weekend of family togetherness feel special.

“Henry is already a yogi,” my yoga teacher said to me five or six years ago when she first met him.  He had never done a downward dog; what she meant is that he is possessed of — was perhaps born with — the calm, the kind of inner quiet, that most of us spend years, and lots of time and energy, trying to achieve.  When he walks in the woods, he just walks in the woods.  Yesterday, as sunlight filtered through the trees and summer drew to a close, his companionable silence was the gentle reminder I needed to do the same.  To let the thoughts and plans and voices in my head fall silent for a while, and to be fully present right where I was instead, taking a hike with my son.

His plane leaves at 6:30 tomorrow morning.  As I type these words, he’s upstairs, packing the final load of his clean laundry into his suitcase. Tonight, we’ll have an early meal, our last as a family til Christmas time. We’ll say what we’re feeling grateful for, chat at the table for a while, head to bed by ten.  And in the darkness of dawn I’ll hug him one last time and send him back into his other life.  The good-byes are hard, still.  So I’m grateful for right now, for every moment that we are here under this roof together.  And I’m taking a cue from my son — not thinking about it all too much,  just paying attention.