Monday, July 6, 2015

Running In Circles.

Procession of the Unknown Soldier.
Cancer years are a little like dog years - each is filled with enough loss and love, decisions and determination to make up at least seven "normal years".  And in the circles I run with, these years are unfortunately punctuated with more than our share of grief.

The reality is, more than 40,000 deaths are attributed to breast cancer each year, and some of these will be my friends and fellow advocates.  Each and every death inflicts loss - to the families left behind, the breast cancer community and society as a whole.  Each carries with it a shroud of stories and perspectives forever silenced by this insidious disease.

These deaths are a tragic reminder of the importance of advocacy and why we cannot afford to lose focus in our quest to end this disease.

But some losses will inevitably hit closer to home than others.
As far as the eye can see.

When Barbie Ritzco died earlier this year it was a crushing defeat for the breast cancer community.  She was a great woman known for her strength, bravado and a feisty can-do spirit. And though I knew her for only a short time, it was easy to see why she had earned the respect of those who spent time in the trenches alongside her.

Barbie and I bonded over a shared love of tattoos and the decision to forgo reconstruction.  At that time she was the only other young person I'd known who was as vehement about this choice as I was. And when Barbie died it was the first time I fully realized the gravity of the disease we shared.

She was many things to many people, but to me, Barbie represented all of us.  So, last month, while in the DC area for a BCRP panel, I decided to make good on a promise to meet up with the great Warrior Queen the only way I possibly could - at her final resting place in Arlington Cemetery.

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, Arlington  is much more moving than I could have ever imagined.  The sheer magnitude of those perfectly placed marble tablets standing at attention across endless rolling hills would cause even the most hardened cynic to wipe a tear or two.  

Arlington embodies American sacrifice and honor in a way that is nearly impossible to put into words - though many have tried.  It is also a very real testament to the tragedy of war and life cut down too soon.  

And it was here, amid this reverent landscape that I finally met my friend.

Though the grounds were solemn and steeped in ceremony, as I made my way to Barbie's grave, I didn't feel as sad as I feared I might.  Arlington is something special, and perched high on a wall amid all those brave men and women - the young soldier didn't seem quite so alone.

This, of course, was not the meet-up we should have had - shared drinks and tattooed tales.  But being able to pay my respect in person is something I will always be thankful for. As I gazed upon that marbled wall, I realized that although Barbie's life was far too short, the flame lit through her message and spirit will live on through all she touched.

And perhaps, that is the most any of us can ever hope to accomplish.

Perhaps, this alone, is enough.

Rest at ease, dear Soldier.  For we shall carry your post.