I ran this morning. Under normal circumstances, that’s not worth mentioning, because it’s not that unusual for me. It’s something I do. But this entire summer I’ve been hampered by three successive injuries—a pulled muscle in my calf, a groin injury and, most recently, a stress fracture in the fourth metatarsal in my right foot. Individually and collectively, they have caused a setback in my exercise routine and been a source of great frustration.
But they’ve also been an ever-present reminder about the importance of being healthy—something I think we all need from time to time. We typically don’t realize how fortunate we are to be healthy until that health is taken away from us. I always chuckle to myself whenever I ask an older person how they are doing—which is usually more of a greeting than a true question—and they launch into a list of all that ails them. When you’re ailing, though, it dominates your thoughts and that has a tendency to spill out in conversation. Just ask those people who asked my how I was doing when I was hobbling around on one foot for a couple of months.
There are a few people, though, who aren’t like that. That rare breed who smile through their suffering. They remain upbeat despite being beat up. I’m jealous of those people. I’m not like that. I know one person who is. Christy Barford, a graphic designer in our office. A couple of years ago, Christy started disappearing for extended periods, and it finally leaked out that she had melanoma—skin cancer. Being a redhead with fair skin, that’s perhaps not all that surprising. And melanoma isn’t that big of a deal, right? Go to a dermatologist and get it scraped off, monitor it for a while and, bingo, you’re back running in the mornings.
Apparently my knowledge of melanoma is frighteningly wrong. We would get updates that she was in the Cleveland Clinic or the Mayo Clinic or undergoing this experimental treatment or that new drug. That she was really tired and in a lot of pain. Yet somehow she was constantly, endlessly—almost annoyingly—cheerful. No one who’s that sick is supposed to be that happy. Especially at work. Yet she was.
One weekend some friends from her church threw a party for her to raise money to help her pay her growing medical bills. It was a huge affair and raised many thousands of dollars. There were more people at the party than I even know. Christy, of course, was there, laughing at the insanity of the whole thing, despite spending the previous week in the hospital in Pittsburgh undergoing some experimental treatment and driving back that afternoon.
Whenever I would see Christy, I would, of course, feel like a piece of dirt because she was going through hell and remained happy, while I was whining incessantly about my poor little pulled muscle.
It seems to me that people like Christy are rare. But they are right. We need to learn from them about health and happiness. But it's going to be a bit harder now. Christy died today. The cancer won. Damn the world.