What a cancer warrior looks like

My friend, Michelle, is a cancer fighter. Although she doesn’t have cancer – nor do her husband or any close family members at present – she is, nevertheless, a fierce passionate dazzling cancer-kicking warrior.

Michelle approached us, back when I was on staff at St. Charles Cancer Center, with an idea: What about a weekly walking class for cancer patients, survivors, caregivers? she suggested which, in the four years since its inception, has come to be known as the Walking-For-Wellness-but-we’re-really-here-for-the-coffee-afterwards crew.


Photo credit: Jim Dailing


My job, back in the beginning days of Walking 4 Wellness, was to serve as trail sweep. On my first tour of duty, I saw Michelle take off from the front of the pack through Drake Park – half-running, half-hopping – with arms open wide.

(Think: Tigger of Winnie the Pooh fame.)

The recipient of her bouncy wholehearted hug was a young woman walking in our direction. I remember thinking, Wow, how great would it be to have a friend who was that excited to see me?!

After Gary died, I moved away from outdoor-loving generous Bend, Oregon, where we had spent the best ten years of our marriage living more fully, more aware of what we had together, wholly appreciating that time was slipping away and shouldn’t we be making some great memories and creating some adventures, and so we did.

I moved away because my adult children talked me into taking an early retirement, and I couldn’t afford to stay in this high-cost-of-living destination resort area. But the doors opened for me to move back several months later.

The first time I joined the Walking 4 Wellness crew after returning to Oregon, Michelle came half-running, half-hopping across the parking lot toward me, arms wide open. And I remember thinking, How lucky am I to have a friend this joyous to see me?!

I also remember thinking that Michelle was more than a friend.

* * *

It was Daughter Summer who said, “You’re not good at accepting help. Or gifts.” And then she rattled off an example or two. And so, I became more aware of my tendency to not bother people with my stuff; more aware, as cancer progressed, that I needed assistance, that friends and family really did want to help in meaningful ways; and more aware that God wanted to produce beautiful humility in me by teaching me to ask for help.

Our toilet clogged. Gary was in a hospital bed in the living room. I wrestled with the plunger to no avail, and then sent a desperate email to a handful of friends who had offered their help. And boom, our toilet was unclogged within a few hours.

A slow leak in one of our tires. Not able to leave Gary alone—unsteady on his feet and with a tendency to escape his hospital bed—I sent the call out on Facebook: “Does anyone have time to take a slow-leaking tire in for repair?” By mid-afternoon, a friend had picked up our vehicle and safely returned it with a new tire.

This is going to sound awkward,” said the voice on the other end of the call, “but in lieu of flowers, we’d like to pay for cable during football season.” Gary and I both got misty-eyed. The cable guy showed up and we were now in business. Are you ready for some football?!

The Porch Fairy’s daily 7:30 AM Chai. Left on our front porch so as not to disturb the guy in the hospital bed. After Daughter Summer arrived from New Jersey, Chai tea and Americano coffee found their way to our front porch. Every morning. Even in snow and ice, against our counsel.

Inspired by the Porch Fairy, our front porch saw quite a bit of activity through those fall-crisp days as Hubby slipped away from me. Autumn-rich yarn colors and knitting needles with a card: “Much love from the Knitting Fairy.” Pumpkin-themed gifts and this text message: “The Marketing Fairies have landed,” from the marketing team at the hospital where I worked. Hand-crafted fresh Christmas wreath tied in burgundy ribbon from a co-worker. All left on our front porch.

Friends stopped by with treats to entice Gary to eat. Strawberry frappuccino. Banana milkshake. Mango smoothie. Our hike leader brought a gift his wife created – a hardbound Shutterfly book downloaded with memories on mountain wilderness trails. Two of the radiation oncologists sent a gorgeous note and Whole Foods gift card.

Everything, so unexpectedly overwhelmingly exquisitely kind.

* * *

Back to cancer warrior Michelle’s full-hearted Tigger hug – it represented far more than a friend encircling me with welcome-back-to-central-Oregon warmth.



Photo credit: Jim Dailing


It embodied the entire platoon of crazy intense loving ferocious astounding warriors who surrounded us as we stood on the frontlines of cancer, who stood beside us with their walk-leading skills and inspiration, with their homemade soups and Whole Foods gift cards, with their hand-crafted photo books and their toilet plungers, with smoothies and curry dishes and homemade salted dark chocolate chip cookies. With Chai tea.

There were no small gifts. No one ever mailed or hand-delivered a small gift. They were all massively large and love-filled.

Some people don’t care to use battle terms when it comes to cancer. But cancer wasn’t the rival football team from across town; cancer was killing my husband. And I wasn’t going to stand by passively. And standing with us on the frontlines was a legion of compassionate people, the whole of their love-in-action greater than the sum of its parts.

The sheer volume was power-giving. Each person—whether they realized it or not—was raging beside us against the hopelessness of Gary’s cancer in those final weeks; it bolstered the patient, and it bolstered the patient’s wife.

Warriors come in all sizes and shapes and from all backgrounds. They’ll find you. They’ll want to be part of your battalion. Let them. Don’t fight your battles alone. Side by side with these vibrant extraordinary family members, these fierce cancer-kicking gutsy enduring friends — I grew more resilient.

And if more resilient, then think what can be accomplished with our steady, true, resilient, audacious lives to make our corner of the world a better place for others.

Are there warriors in your life? I’d love to hear about them.

P.S. If you found this post inspiring or helpful, please share, tweet or post!


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  1. Michelle

    Oh my, I can just see our Cancer Kicking Rockstar Walkers brandishing toilet plungers on our next walk!

    Endlessly glad to be on your team, Marlys. 😉

    • Oh, ha-ha, Michelle … now there’s a picture stuck in my head of W4W with plungers! Endlessly grateful to have you on my team, and utterly grateful to be on yours.

  2. Char Lake

    Thanks for continuing to share your heart & yours & Gary’s battle with cancer.
    My sister-in-law was recently diagnosed with stage IV Lung Cancer. She is a
    born again believer, never smoked, never spent time around smokers but is
    fighting this battle. Hopefully we can be of encouragement to them in this battle
    for life. We all believe in miracles of which I’m sure you did also but we need to
    be there to support them whatever the outcome may be. Thanks again! Always
    enjoy you posts!

    • Char, I’m sure you will be a great source of comfort and wisdom and lovingkindness and encouragement and nourishment to your sister-in-law and her family. You would be amazed at how much one kindness can mean during a time of overwhelming-ness.

  3. Gary Wirth

    What a great story about how you got into the walking group and still are. With Gary’s loss and now how things are going so great for you with all your family and friends here for you. So glad you stay and I could store your belongings for as long as you want. Look forward to our walks. Gary

    • So glad I could return to Bend, Gary, and so grateful to you and Carolyn for being and doing so much for us as Hubby was slipping away. You two are fabulous … you’ll have to be my featured couple when I do another piece on warriors!

  4. Peggy Carey

    You sure make Bend a better place.
    Thank you!

  5. Doug ford

    Always inspired by your adventures. Thank You for sharing with us all each week a special part of your lives.

  6. In my research for the book I am writing regarding my cancer experience, cancer expieriencers fit into a profile. One of the biggies of that profile is not receiving well. The line of thought for me was, “If I receive, I am doing so because I am not perfect. I can’t show the outer world how imperfect I believe myself to be.” (Long back story beginning at age three). I’ve worked this piece for many a year. Just when I think I’ve got this, your blog shows up gently moving to a deeper place of joyously receiving. Thank you! I would like to reference this blog post in my book. May I have your permission?

    • Of course you may reference this blog post in your book, Cristina … I would be honored. Wow, what a powerfully authentic vulnerable sentence: “If I receive, I am doing so because I am not perfect. I can’t show the outer world how imperfect I believe myself to be.” Good for you, brave soul, for recognizing and verbalizing this. I look forward to reading your book!

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