As we look towards a new year, I’m reminded of two dynamic yet quiet women who were active participants in our caring community prior to their deaths this year. Fran Butler and Gwen Goss epitomized one of the rationales behind the founding of The Gathering Place. At that time, I hoped that our organization might play a positive role in helping people LIVE their lives to the fullest while confronting the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. Both Fran and Gwen faced the realities of their difficult diagnoses with both an acceptance of and adherence to the traditional medical regimens as well as an “I’m not going to let this control what I want to do in life” attitude.
I met Fran during The Gathering Place’s first dragon boat racing foray. I had the pleasure of getting to know Fran during the course of our strenuous practices and then competitive race day. I remember learning that she would schedule her chemotherapy in order to miss as few practices as possible. Fran went on to participate in our next two years of dragon boating, however was too frail to be an active part of our competition this year. Her team, however, welcomed her participation in their final practice even when it was clear that her death was eminent. Never, in the three years of dragon boating, would Fran allow anyone to give her a “pass” for not giving it her all. She was “all in” and encouraged all team members to participate to their fullest.
Gwen’s extracurricular activities included ultra-running. This form of running is defined by long distance events. I don’t mean the “simple” marathon distance; rather the 100 milers. I learned that Gwen had recently run the Burning River 100 mile Endurance Race, however was disqualified based on taking too much time to reach the 70 mile mark. Gwen’s disqualification was particularly disappointing as she had just completed a round of intense chemotherapy the same week as the run. Instead of taking pride in completing almost ¾ of the race feeling the negative effects of her chemo treatments, she lamented her inability to finish what she set out to do…cancer or no cancer.
The bottom line is that neither Fran nor Gwen allowed cancer to define their lives. Yes, they couldn’t deny many of the negative realities of their diagnosis including a probable shortened life span, however they defined cancer survivorship in a way that taught many of us who crossed their path a lesson. As The Gathering Place enters our 13th year, I know that we will have the opportunity to meet more Fran and Gwens who have the courage to walk through our door. Against all odds, they too will teach and inspire us to live life to the fullest for as long as we have a chance to do so.
Eileen Saffran is the founder and executive director of The Gathering Place. Click here to read more about her.