As many of you have read before, I ran the Chicago marathon as part of the American Cancer Society’s team, DetermiNation in honor of my cousin Jeff. He was diagnosed with uveal melanoma, a rare form of ocular cancer in 2013 and has been fighting hard since. Many treatments and fast forward to this summer, things were getting tough, but as always he always had a smile on his face and was full of life. Pretty much giving cancer a big middle finger. It would absolutely not cramp his style. His life. He would always check up on me and ask how my training was doing and when it came to the big race day, he was the first one there to meet up with me after crossing the finish line.
I always told him that his strength helped me pull through the race and that this was for him. I didn’t run through one mile without thinking how amazing and strong of a person he was for smiling through all of the traveling to get the treatments he needed, how selfless he was despite his condition and how he never for one second let his condition break his spirit and love for life.
Just a few weeks ago I heard that Jeff’s health was severely declining. Since it’s been unseasonably warm out, the family lake house was still open for business. The lake house is THE family meetup place during the whole summer and Jeff has always been the ringleader of everything that was fun there….boating, wakeboarding, skiing, tubing, lighting fireworks off of the dock…we just talked and were just in the moment…trying not to focus on the bad health updates and just sharing some laughs. Before I had to leave, he hugged me a little tighter than usual.
A couple of weeks ago, my mom let me know that Jeff was going to have hospice set up at his home. A million things were running through my head along with many tears and angry yelling…but the one thing I can say over and over again is, “it isn’t fair.” It isn’t fair that the one person who loved life the most and pretty had the status of best human being ever…was now given such a grim outlook. It’s not fair.
The hubs and I visited him on a Saturday armed with his purple Gatorade – one of the few he could have – and we just talked and watched videos of his daughter’s first ballet class she just came back from…that Monday on December 7th…I got a call from my other cousin saying that Jeff had passed away peacefully that morning at home…I didn’t know my heart could splinter into a million little pieces with just a few words. I knew what my cousin had said, but I still find it really hard to register…even now. Jeff was the brother I never had. He was always the one to sit at the kids table, dance and sing along to boy band songs especially back when I was obsessed with NSYNC, he always made everyone feel loved and welcome. Then cancer just fucked everything up.
When the news hit the Internet, FLOODS of photos from his hundreds of friends, family, coworkers and anyone else he crossed paths with posted photos and messages on how amazing of a person he was and it really was a testament to how many lives he touched. He always had a smile on his face. He was always the one to crack a joke and spread the fun.
My heart breaks for his little girl who is only three years old and his wife. This week was hard to get through, but every time I wanted to just mope and do nothing on any particular day…I would just think how much Jeff wouldn’t want that. Heaven gained its best angel and while he isn’t here physically on earth I can still feel him. I feel him when a new boy band song hits the airwaves, when I run and feel like I can’t run another mile, when I’m feeling sad and need to smile and especially when I need to feel strong and to remember that we need to live each day to its fullest. Just like he did.
Jeff, cancer may have taken your life too soon, but you never let it take your spirit and smile…and with that…cancer didn’t win. May you rest in peace. I will miss you so much.
With the heaviest of hearts,