By Alli Allen
My friend Gay was born and bred in the South to a large and lively family. She spent her carefree childhood playing outside with friends, catching lightning bugs, eating homemade pies and basking in the bonds of her close-knit community. Her grandmother’s specialties infused her with a love of cooking. Her dad’s legendary sense of humor followed her around town. Her religious traditions solidified the prominent place family and prayer would hold in her life.
After college, Gay moved to the big city and got hitched to the love of her life. Before she could say, “snap, crackle, pop,” she and her hubby heard the pitter patter of little feet. Two of the most delicious kids ever born soon joined the happy nest, and Gay’s family was complete. But don’t think the story ends here … not for a second.
Echoes of Gay’s small-town upbringing brought porch suppers, cul-de-sac get-togethers, cozy sleepovers and snapshots galore to the neighborhood in which we both lived. Histories were shared. Friendships blossomed. Unbreakable bonds formed. But these bonds weren’t just between the two of us; Gay was already busy making meaningful friendships with practically everyone she met … friendships that were lasting.
Being a friend of someone like Gay is a privilege. You’re part of her family. You’re on her “to do” list. A typical Gay day is cooking dinner for a friend, calling to check on someone or meeting girlfriends for a glass of wine. When a friend faces a tough time, Gay reaches out, she listens and she helps. She is a doer and a personal cheerleader. Her concern for others is real, and her advice is solid. She is a true friend.
When Gay got sick several years ago, she never faltered. Despite the devastating diagnosis of ovarian cancer, she set her mind to getting well. With magnificent determination and optimism, she took off her gloves. Bolstered by her army of close friends and a world of support, she began fighting.
In the fight of her life
While undergoing treatment, Gay set her mind on educating the community about ovarian cancer. She called on friends to help organize a forum with a panel of experts. Teal ribbons and balloons blanketed the room on event night. Four hundred people showed up.
Gay faced the audience and told her story. She explained why she was shouting out against this silent disease. She stressed how important it is to know the facts.
Because of her event, 400 more people now know:
- the warning signs of ovarian cancer
- the ins and outs of genetic testing
- the available treatment options
Four hundred people told their friends and loved ones what they learned about ovarian cancer. And word spread.
But Gay wasn’t finished. There was more work to do.
Energized by the event’s impact, she got busy raising money for ovarian cancer research. As an advocate with a clear purpose and a strong voice, she and her devoted friends raised over $150,000 for research in dire need of funding.
Four and a half years into the battle, with her vast legion of friends flanking her sides, protecting her back, and supporting her from the frontal assault, she continued to fight mightily.
Last June, Gay’s family threw her an extraordinary birthday party. Everyone there felt lucky to attend. Skits, songs and a blue wig kicked off the party, and it drew to a close with cake, group hugs and special sentiments shared.
How can one ordinary person’s reach touch so many people?
As we go through life, many of us are consumed with our own struggles and circumstances and we fail to reach out and support others along the way. Maybe we don’t have enough time. Perhaps we don’t have the resources. Some of us are so consumed with receiving that we don’t consider giving. Often we are too busy dealing with everyday minutia to meaningfully lay a foundation for the days ahead when our kids fly the coop, life slows down a bit and we can savor the frosting on the cake of life.
But what if things don’t go according to plan?
Never knowing when life might strike a brutal blow, have we earned the blessing of a true network of support?
So what does it mean to be Gay? To me, it means appreciating the gift of each day; treasuring family; investing time in other people, and being a friend – a true friend. It means facing challenges head-on, and being brave. It also means giving back as much as you can, whatever your circumstances. Knowing your purpose. Nourishing others with your presence. Living with intention.
And inspiring others, each and every day of your life.
Gay passed away in 2015 after a valiant 4 1/2 year battle against ovarian cancer.