Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Keeping People Alive

Last night, I learned that one of my Dragon Boat teammates (and fellow breast cancer patient) just died. Sue found out her cancer had come back for the third time, just after I found out about my own recurrence. But she continued to paddle for the Breast Cancer Foundation Dragon Boat team because she didn’t have any symptoms. She told me she was going to miss the World Championship Regatta in Australia at the end of the month because she was flying to the U.S. for the birth of her first grandchild.

She died on the plane ride over three days ago, not from cancer, but from a blood clot that traveled from her leg to her lung.

I decided to take up Dragon Boat racing again so I went to training tonight. I kept thinking about Sue while we were paddling. And they weren’t sad thoughts. I was thinking about her counting in Spanish, about the special glasses she used to wear to keep the water from splashing in her eyes, about her coy smile and her American accented voice. All small things that made up Sue.

Then I turned to the guy next to me – an older man who has taken his wife’s place on the team since her death. I realized I didn’t know anything about him or his wife, whom I’d never met. So I asked him about her. Turns out tomorrow is the second anniversary of her death. I hope he didn’t think it was disrespectful of me, but I wanted to get to know her. I wanted to keep her alive for him too. I think he appreciated it.

I began to think about how most people live in memories. Often, they’re little, seemingly inconsequential things, not big moments in history. I wanted to keep Sue alive in my mind and picture her smile as I paddled. I wanted to keep talking about her and thinking about her even though she wasn’t with us anymore.

So as we paddled back to shore at the end of training, I began counting aloud in Spanish. In our last training session together, Sue had said, “Let’s do something different!”

I’d like people to smile and laugh when they think of me after I die, not cry and be sad. That’s something different.


Alison said...

Okay, Shin. I'll cry now. Laugh later.

Mel said...

Hi Shin, that's great that you're doing Dragon Boating again!! Now listen - have you heard about this documentary called "Crazy Sexy Cancer"? It was aired last week in the US, so maybe some friends of yours from home have a copy. It is about a girl diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer, and her journey to find a cure. She ended up finding a husband and an altogether better way of life. It sounds really inspiring and funny and I'm dying to see it -I think you would enjoy it too. There is a website too - my favourite thing is a photo of her bald head hat with "F**k cancer" on it!! Also a book called Crazy Sexy cancer tips. I'm looking for it here is Oz but no luck so far. Keep paddling my lovely crazy sexy friend. xxxxxx

Shin said...

Mel, I'll ask my mother-in-law about the documentary. It sounds like something a lot of women I know would be interested in seeing. Thanks for the tip-off!

Marge said...

Hello, my sweet.
Since you know I'm a fan of heralding the fabulous while they're alive, let me add a few small but significant memories of the Shin I know and love.
- Shin writing term papers the night before they were due - while at her waitress job - then turning them in, covered in grease spots, and still getting A's. I, of course, would labor for weeks and muster a B-.
- Shin showing up at my dorm room on Graduation Day to give me a lovely Coach money purse - the only friend to do such a thing, and a gift I still use to this day.
- A tipsy Shin giving me a VERYwet kiss right before I walked out to exchange my wedding vows.
- An even tipsier Shin driving all the guys crazy at said wedding.
- Downing some serious sushi and sake with Shin at Nobu in downtown Manhattan - and letting someone else pick up the tab. Nice!
- And not least, I want to point out that since the time I first met her in 1984, I have often described Shin as "fiercely independent" and "a survivor". Why should she be any different now???

zorop said...

i'm still laughing.