Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Report from the 2017 Brain Tumor Walk

Cindy, volunteer at Honor and Celebrate, posing in front of the message canvas
  People have rapt, confiding expressions on their faces when they stand in front of a canvas, Sharpie in hand, and write messages to certain someones who will never read them, because they've died.  Seen from my perch in the Honor and Celebrate tent, they stand quietly, letting the busy world fade, then their lips begin to move, then their hands.

I love you mamma
For my husband Patrick — Happy Anniversary
If all you can do is crawl, start crawling  —from a fellow human
Memories of Maria, a thoughtful and decent person

    Many returned their Sharpies without meeting my eyes and walked away quickly.

Student volunteers from UC Davis
who set up the message canvas
    The message canvas would have been unusable without help from two young UC Davis students.  After my first attempt to set it up, it was too low and sagged badly in the middle.  They raised and pulled it taut with twine looped around the top bar of the tent.  Then one of them wrote: Remember Monica, Our Angel.

    Cindy was the other volunteer at Honor and Celebrate.  She had successful brain surgery for a benign tumor in the '90s, and has been intending to come to the Walk every year since.  But something always came up.  We were lucky she made it this time, because she had a deft touch in setting out the Sharpies, and fluffing the paper roses we used for the Remembrance Ceremony.

    Around forty of us gathered by the tent at 9.  We passed out kleenex, and paper roses, then Rev. Will Hocker from UCSF led us in a reading of Epitaph by Merrit Malloy:

    When I die
    Give what left of me away
    To children
    And old men that wait to die.

    And if you need to cry,
    Cry for your brother
    Walking the street beside you.
    And when you need me
    Put your arms
    Around anyone
    And give them
    What you need to give to me.

    I want to leave you something.
    Something better
    Than words
    Or Sounds.

    Look for me
    In the people I've known
    Or loved.
    And if you cannot give me away
    At least let me live on in your eyes
    And not in your mind.

    You can love me most
    By letting
    Hands touch hands
    By letting bodies touch bodies,
    And by letting go
    Of children
    That need to be free.

    Love doesn't die.
    People do.
    So, when all that's left of me
    Is love,
    Give me away.

    Painfully beautiful, like the setting — spectacular clear vistas, but chilly, and breezy enough for we hearing impaireds to lose some of the Reverend's words, and to not be able to fully appreciate the acoustic guitar accompaniment.  
   After the ceremony, a survivor told an inspiring story from the main stage, about how she married and had a child after she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Then the walkers started off in the direction of the Golden Gate, encouraged by a troupe of taiko drummers.

    Unlike on previous years,  when the walkers returned, they did not hear a speaker from the research community telling of
Suzy on left
promising new treatments in the pipeline.  But we did have a good band, who played a hot version of "Got my Mojo Working" by Muddy Waters. One couple even braved the cold and got up and danced. 

  The wife of the harp player told me she'd always been active raising money for medical charities, but never imagined needing help herself.  That changed when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  She said this with a bright, friendly smile, the way many people tell you their truths at these events.

    My old friend Oded Angel, he of the fateful New Years Day bike ride, came at noon to help us pack .  He was a welcome sight.  For me and many other volunteers, the day had started at 6:30 am with a couple of hours of hard and inglorious physical labor, carrying heavy boxes from a U-Haul, unfolding tables and chairs. 
By mid-day I'd started to fade.  Oded helped until we were packed up, then biked off to visit his sister in San Francisco.  Before he left, he said he was glad to come to honor my wife.  Simple words, meant a lot. Like the simple words Sharpied on the canvas.

∏-Rats of Crissy Fields
Team Jolly Roger, a tradition at the Walk
    Jenifer let me take that canvas home, and I unrolled it on my living room floor and wondered what the writers would want me do with their messages, so private and so public.  Can't keep them forever, my clutter problem is already unmanageable.  So maybe sharing a few more is best.
Miss you daddy! Every day since May 11, 2011 -- your little baby girl
Our dearest love, Suzi -- Team Shine a light by the Bay
The Jolly Rogers, YO HO" (Team members names in interlocking hearts)
Friends of mine touched by Brain Tumors — Dennis, Kathryn, Sirus, Wasina


    If too much upbeat cancer talk brings you down, or you find yourself wishing that the '!' would suddenly disappear from the world's keyboards, you might appreciate this poem.  If this were a radio show, it would be dedicated to all the cancer patients who didn't make it.

Picture This

by Carol Teltschick

On your TV 
After the evening news
The name of every person 
who died from cancer today

A photo of each face

How they looked before, and after,
The list of treatments that did not save them

We could observe a moment of silence 
for each of these people
after our dinner

We could give them that
If only it wouldn’t take 
the whole damn night

(Cancer kills more than 1500 people a day in the U.S. alone)

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