Of Superhero Capes and Chemo

Posted: April 9, 2017 in Blog
Tags: , , , , , ,

I met one of my favorite people when she was just finishing up chemo for breast cancer. She was interested in volunteering at the agency where I work, and we met to talk about the jobs that volunteers were doing and the time commitment that might be involved.

I’ve mentioned this before in other blog posts. Some people throw light. It’s a warm, peaceful feeling to be in the presence of that light. My new friend Lorrie threw light like that. She led with it. I noticed it the first time we sat together over coffee, talking about LGBT kids. She was magnetic.

When she asked if it would make a difference to the kids that she came to a drop-in center wearing a headscarf, I told her I thought the kids would place more value on the fact that she was showing up to be supportive of them—they were not likely to judge the fact that she’d lost her hair to chemo. She took her scarf off then and the fact that she’d lost her hair dimmed when compared to the animation and luminosity in her eyes.

Lorrie decided she would sit through our volunteer training, a process that requires 24 hours over three Saturdays. It’s a big time demand. While I hope that folks who attend will learn something from the staff or the youth leaders or me, it was during that training that I learned that ANY statement coming from Lorrie starting with, “Oh, Nancy!” meant that filters were off and there was no predicting what I was about to hear.

On the third day of training, I’d left a basket of fidget toys out for the attendees to hand around. It was the usual training fidget toys—stress balls, Play Doh, stuffed bears, Nerf balls, etc. Lorrie set the tone for the next several years of our friendship at that moment.

“Oh Nancy!”

I looked up from a pile of handouts I was organizing on the front table, as a stress ball made its way down the line of new recruits and landed at Lorrie’s seat. She had the ball in one hand and the most incredible twinkle in her eyes that I’d ever seen.

“Nancy!” she repeated.  “This feels just like my new boobs will feel!” She immediately turned to the man next to her and extended the stress ball, laughing. “Here! Feel this!”

I was momentarily speechless, then washed over with a wave of her light and an irresistible urge to giggle. The man who sat next to her looked surprised (although by Day 3, it’s hard to say why either of us would have been) and declined, but he started to giggle too. Then the person on the other side of her started. Then the rest of the attendees joined in.

It occurred to me that we were laughing, however briefly, in the face of cancer.

Maybe chemo should come with capes, not headscarves. I learned a lot about life force and joy from a superhero who kicked cancer’s ass twice in the time that I knew her. During the third bout, when chemo stole her hair again, she shaved her head and sent me a selfie, commenting that she thought it appropriate to share, since this was where she was when I met her, too. Like that years ago night over coffee, it is not her uncovered head that stands out in the photo. It is her eyes—bright and mischievous and daring. She was laughing, irrepressible.  It is truly Lorrie, open, vulnerable, ready for a challenge, unbeatable. Of all of the photos I keep of my friends, it’s probably the most beautiful photo I have.

She brought incomparable gifts to my job and to my life. I wrote about the impact she had on our youth group members when we honored her at the agency gala a few years ago. Over coffee at Caribou, over pizza at Lou Malnati’s, during staff meetings and retreats, from hammering out details of a grant that funded her position through me pestering her for program reports and curriculum details, to developing our pilot program for first- and second-graders, to a serendipitous vacation when we both ended up in Paris, she was a creative force. She was one of my go-to people at first, someone whose input I trusted and whose expertise in her field gave her unique perspective on our new projects. In time, she was simply my friend, one of very few people who knew how writing Urban Tidepool had affected me and with what I was struggling, including processing my pending divorce and the fall out of the people I thought of as my friends.

Lorrie Paris

We lost Lorrie just a little over a year ago. Today is her birthday. It has been an odd year of our Youth Outlook team grieving, of kids and former kids grieving, of our book group grieving, of individuals noting softly in non-sequitur, “I miss Lorrie…”  while we engaged in the day to day activities of which she used to be a part. It has been a year of making space for the folks who needed to say, “I miss Lorrie…” and then coming home and crying alone in my garden or on a walk with one of the dogs because I miss Lorrie too.

The program she developed is going strong. The “talking ball” that she would take home from time to time to wash and return is still in the fidget basket. The stress ball that started years of laughter may still be in the bottom of that basket, too. In staff meetings and trainings, we still refer to “Lorrie nights”. I can’t walk into Lou Malnati’s or pick up coffee from Caribou without thinking about her. Maybe she actually kicked cancer’s ass a third time, because she’s certainly still with us, throwing light and prompting giggles with irreverent comments.

 

If you work in social services, you know how it goes—if it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen.  This happened. So I’m documenting it. I met a superhero who was having chemo. She was irreverent and sarcastic and funny as hell. And bald. She was my friend. She was my person. I watched her change people’s lives. Sometimes I got to help. Other times, I just bugged her for paperwork about it. She kicked cancer’s ass twice and left a legend. She really should have had a cape.

I will tell you clearly and not as a non-sequitur. I miss Lorrie.

Happy birthday, my friend.

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Comments
  1. Nancy Carlson. says:

    A beautiful story about a beautiful woman who roughed so many lives in so many arenas. She loved you too, Nancy.

  2. Nancy Carlson. says:

    touched

  3. Karen Jarczyk says:

    Nancy, you hit the mark completely… thank you for making me smile and feel Lorrie’s big presence so close as I was reading. Lovely… True….Beautiful!

  4. Jude says:

    I miss Lorrie too. She gave me a beautiful statute for the garden when I finished my MSW. I put it in my new garden today and have been thinking about her.

  5. Claudia evenson says:

    Oh Nance. She loves this. I can just hear her comments calling you a brat or some other loving name. Thanks for sending. I wish I knew her better.
    Love you. Claud.

  6. susan francis says:

    Beautiful.

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