I began wearing one in 2004 in honor of a dear friend of mine from Austin, D.J. Francis. This morning, I received the sad news that I will henceforth be wearing the bracelet in D.J.'s memory. We lost D.J. this morning after an amazingly spirited and fierce multi-year fight with cancer.
D.J. took me under her wing when I joined KLA-Tencor back in 2000. The one year that I spent at KLA was very tumultous due to an absurd legal dispute between my former employer and KLA-Tencor. While I was there, D.J. did everything from HR, project management, communications, to being a sympathetic shoulder to vent to. Although I lost contact with most of KLA-Tencor colleagues after I left, DJ became a lifelong friend.
I have never known someone so ALIVE as DJ. Her spirit was amazing. Even when struggling with her illness, I watched from afar as she constantly kicked cancer in the teeth and kept doing the things she loved -- travelling the world and seeing the amazing beauty that surrounds us everyday in even the smallest things. Many times I'd be completely frustrated with work, kids, health, etc. and then I get these brilliant emails from DJ that made me realize that I had things to do, places to go, and people to meet. These things that were distracting me were really petty in the grand scheme of things and I needed to focus on the things that really mattered in life.
A few months ago, another friend's wife paid me a wonderful compliment. She said, "Jarrett's a doer, not just a thinker." That's one of the nicest compliments anyone has ever given me and DJ regularly serves as my inspiration for getting things done.
Last year, I did something amazing that I've always wanted to do -- I rode 100 miles on my bike in a single day at the Lance Armstrong Foundation's Ride for the Roses. I dedicated my ride to DJ and her friends and families helped me raise over $3000 for cancer survivorship. The amount of money they contributed stunned me, but it shouldn't have. DJ touched their lives in the same way she did mine.
As I prepared for that ride all summer and suffered through endless training miles on the bike, I kept thinking of everything that DJ was going through fighting cancer. I'd think how the pain in my legs and lungs was nothing compared to what she was going through and still managing to smile and comfort those around her. I'll never forget that about DJ. She was one of the most amazing people I will ever know.
The following is an email she sent me last year and I think it truly captures her vitality even in the face of all that she was dealing with.
Sunday night, 10-23-05
For those who don’t know, my former co-worker, Jarrett Campbell flew in from North Carolina to compete in the Ride for the Roses (100 mile race) this weekend, in my honor. Yea, Jarrett!
Yesterday, I went to the Lance Armstrong Foundation’s Live Strong Village, in the Palmer Conference Center, at 5:30pm, before meeting Jarrett for dinner and just before closing time for the Ride for the Roses registration packet pick-up.
Approaching the building brought a rush of emotions. Walking from the parking garage, down the sidewalks filled with Lance Armstrong advocates, I kept wiping away my tears. I was surrounded by people who had lived through this crazy battle with cancer or were currently fighting for their lives. I tried to distance myself from the emotional wham by focusing on the building’s relief sculptures of sea urchins and shells. I told myself that it was just an event…
As I entered the exhibit area, my brain was saturated with the visual impact of very bright yellow. It was everywhere―jerseys, t-shirts, posters, wristbands, and booths. The air was filled with an energy that washed over me in waves. It was a crazy mixture of ingredients: anticipation; frustration; memories of loved ones now gone; hope for a cure. I would catch someone looking at me with sadness. My inch-long hair, scant eyelashes, and shadowy brows are a sure-fire giveaway that I am a cancer patient. I wondered as I walked past one woman whose eyes had connected and pushed us into one of those slow motion moments, did she lose someone she loved or is she thinking, “There, but by the grace of God go I.”
You see, I forget that I look like a cancer patient. When the pain or fatigue zaps my body, I remember. But so much of the time I find myself transported, in awe of life. It is so wonderful to focus on the clouds, delight in people-watching the arrogance and energy of youth, the beauty of the everyday, the humanity of my co-workers or those I meet in check-out lines and waiting rooms.
Today I was very tired. The housework and paperwork seemed to have consumed the day. I ignored my allergies and went for a walk in a beautifully breezy and sunny day. It took the last bit of my oomph. After showering, I didn’t feel that I had the energy to go to the Ride for the Roses, but then Jarrett called. He was at the 78 mile rest stop and the wind was taking its toll. In addition to starting 45 minutes later than planned, he was very tired and wanted to tell me that he would probably cross the finish line an hour later than planned.
I started sending him mental bursts of energy, through the ether. As I fought my computer crashing, trying to print out a map to the Travis County Exposition Center, I made a sign to hold up at the finish line. I grabbed a bottled green tea, rushed out the door with camera and sign in tow and drove to the race site. As I approached the grounds, the exiting traffic was amazingly repetitious. Car after car passed, with loaded bicycle racks, and front seats filled with yawning drivers and passengers.
I arrived 45 minutes before Jarrett’s expected finish, and raced across the field of the event grounds. Several times I had to stop and shake the pebbles from my Birkenstocks. Since the chemo zapped my toes, they are my standard shoes. I am so very Austintacious…
The finish line was congested. The local DJ, who had been announcing and congratulating finishers all day, soon shut down his sound system and the crowd took over hollering “good ride” and “you did it!” As I watched the survivors pass through their special chute and receive a yellow rose, it made my heart swell with hope, and again I was wiping away tears. I anxiously watched for Jarrett’s white jersey (donned by the Peleton Project riders) and his NC blue helmet. When he came whizzing through, I flashed a quick photo, then followed him to his turnaround, waving my wacky poster.
Another rider, pumped by adrenalin, chattered to Jarrett like a long time riding buddy. I asked his wife shoot our photo. When we walked away, Jarrett said he had never met the man. Oh well, this is Austin, and although it has grown into a very big city, folks are still friendly in this city full of soul…
Jarrett headed to the hotel, took a long hot bath and rehydrated a bit, then met Bobby and I for dinner at Curra’s Grill. What better way to resuscitate a worn cyclist than some authentic Tex-Mex.
Tomorrow will be here before I know it, so I am going to call it a day. Hopefully, I will receive the scan results tomorrow, and decide the next steps in my walk through cancer. Thanks for joining me for the journey.
Peace and Love,
So next time you see me. Notice my LiveStrong bracelet, think of someone you know like DJ, and remind yourself to be a doer, not a thinker.