Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Breathe Deep Cleveland

On April 1 of this year, Cara wrote the following in her blog:

I can't believe we're less than two months away from the Breathe Deep CLE event, it's surreal.

Okay, I'm going to pause here for a moment because I just noticed that Cara made a little mistake - she should have said "less than three months," not "less than two months." It might seem weird that I'm nitpicking this, but it just really stands out to me due to the fact that Cara passed away slightly more than two months before the event - hence we could not have been "less than two months away" while she was still alive to write about it. What's weird is that I selected this passage to be read at her funeral, and I didn't notice the error at the time. And I'm usually so good about spotting things like that. I guess my mind was not quite fully functional that week! Anyway, back to Cara:

I have such high hopes for this thing. We have 15 people signed up and a good chunk of money raised already but we need more. I want this thing to be EPIC. I know it has the potential to be - if you think about how many people are impacted by lung cancer in some way - or hey, even cancer in general... Come give us a shout out. Walk a few miles (you can borrow my shoes, if you want!) and eat a bagel. Hug someone, ask questions, learn things. It'll be fun. My hopes are so, so high.

Remember what happens on this episode of Saved by the Bell? Well don't worry, I'm not going to go on a speed bender and break down in Mark Paul Gosselar's arms (unless he's available?). I'm just a little scared. I'm afraid of failure. I'm reminded of a time when I had a birthday party and only two people came. One of those people stole some of my presents. Why was I friends with her, again? Never mind.

It has to succeed, it just has to. I'm not saying this because my name is all over it - I just want people to come out, take a walk, and learn things. Understand what a huge impact lung cancer has on us all.

Cara poured her heart and soul into this event. I'm so proud of her for recognizing the importance of having such an event here in Cleveland, reaching out to the national LUNGevity Foundation to get the ball rolling, and then putting in all the time and effort with the planning committee to make it a reality. Not to mention the work she did in promoting the event and designing the logo for her fundraising team.

All this while battling stage IV lung cancer.

Thanks to the efforts of numerous people, but Cara most of all, the event was, indeed, a success. It raised over $39,000, smashing the original goal of $26,000. Cara alone raised over $13,000. Although it would have been an undeniable success for the fundraising alone, there was some doubt that the event would even take place. We have had a strange summer weather-wise, and June 26 was part of a stretch of nearly two weeks in which it rained almost every day. That day was one of the rainiest of them all. The night before the event, an email was sent out to all participants: Breathe Deep Cleveland would be held rain or shine, but if there were thunderstorms in the area, it would have to be canceled. The weather forecast at the time did indicate a significant chance of thunderstorms.

I can just imagine how nervous Cara would have been, how dismayed she would have felt if the event she had worked so hard for had had to be called off.

Fortunately, there were no thunderstorms. I was a volunteer as well as a participant for the event, and as we were setting things up and then getting people checked in it was almost continuously raining, reaching torrential downpour status at times. The weather certainly depressed turnout - from 250 registered participants, about 100 people actually showed up. Things went very well, though, all things considered. And luckily, for the actual walk/run portion, the rain mostly stopped.

Before the walk/run started, there was a Zumba warmup, which many people still participated in despite the rain. Then we had several speakers. The first was Cleveland councilman Joe Cimperman. I'm grateful to him for taking the time to speak, but it occurred to me that Cara would have disliked his speech, because literally everything he said was related to smoking reduction efforts. Now, realistically, that is a very important way to reduce lung cancer mortality. However, to focus entirely on that aspect - "he's feeding into the stigma," I can imagine Cara saying. She hated the stereotype that lung cancer is only a smoker's disease. She hated how so many people, upon learning that she had lung cancer, would ask before anything else whether she had smoked. Cara thought that was a question that only really needed to be asked by a patient's doctor.

Cara's doctor, Nathan Pennell, was another speaker at the event, and gave some nice remarks about promising new efforts to fight this awful disease. Cara had envisioned that she would give a speech there. I wish I could have heard her speech. I'm sure it would have been fantastic. As we all know, she was excellent at both writing and at talking to people. Despite standing just 5'2", she had a commanding presence. I hope that I was able to live up to her by speaking in her stead. I'll share my remarks here:

First, I want to thank you all for being here today. Cara McManus, my wife, was the person who took the initiative in creating this event. Many of you knew Cara, but there are also a lot of you here who did not know her in person. I want to say a few words about Cara and about why this cause is so important.
Cara was a very active person whose favorite thing in the world to do was ride her bicycle. In the spring of 2013, she started to have some issues with wheezing and shortness of breath. The first time she went to see a doctor, they said that it was probably asthma and gave her an inhaler. No one would ever guess that a healthy 34-year-old with no history of smoking would have lung cancer. The doctor was wrong, of course – it wasn’t asthma. But throughout that summer, even as Cara’s symptoms did not improve and then gradually worsened, she continued to pursue her active lifestyle. In August, she did a two-day, 150 mile MS charity bike tour. The truly amazing thing is that, despite all the issues she had been having, she said that she felt fantastic on that ride.
Three weeks later, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
During Cara’s battle with cancer, we saw firsthand the benefits of groundbreaking research. She ultimately lived 20 more months after her diagnosis. If the same thing had happened to her five years sooner, it’s likely she would have survived for only a fraction of that time. We had the opportunity to make so many happy memories together during the extra time afforded by those new treatments. And she even got to go on a lot of bike rides last year.
Cara became very passionate about the cause of lung cancer awareness and research funding. In this country, we make such a big deal about breast cancer awareness. Now, I’m not knocking breast cancer awareness. It’s a very important issue. But why, Cara wondered, couldn’t there be a similar movement for lung cancer? Lung cancer kills more people than the next three top cancers combined. 27% of all cancer deaths are due to lung cancer, yet lung cancer gets only 6% of federal research funding.
As Cara sadly realized, this is in large part due to the stigma of lung cancer being considered a smoker’s disease. But the truth is, lung cancer can happen to anyone, even someone like Cara who was healthy and never smoked. And even if someone did smoke, it doesn’t mean they deserve to die of cancer.
Cara founded this event because she saw the urgent need to raise awareness around the issue of lung cancer and to increase the funding toward more groundbreaking treatments and earlier detection. Perhaps if lung cancer research was funded in proportion to the deaths this disease causes, or perhaps if doctors didn’t assume that there was no way a young non-smoker could have lung cancer, then Cara, instead of me, might be the one standing up here talking to you right now.
She’s not. But there are so many people out there who are or will be going through the same thing. That’s why it’s so important that this cause succeeds. I’ll never forget Cara’s passion for this cause, and I hope none of you will either.

This year was the first annual Breathe Deep Cleveland. We intend to make it bigger and better in the future, and we anticipate nice weather next year!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Tell me how you really feel

On more than one occasion recently, I've had someone say to me something like, "I see the stuff you post on Facebook, but really, how are you doing?"

It occurred to me that there are undoubtedly other people who haven't asked me but are wondering the same thing. So I thought, why not write something about it?

I suppose people are aware that there are situations like this one. If you don't feel like clicking the link, it's a heartwrenching story about the contrast between a college track athlete's cheery social media persona and the inner depression that drove her to suicide. Not that I think anyone would suspect me of being secretly suicidal! But we all know there can be sizable gaps between the lives people present to the outside world and the lives they are really experiencing, and that social media can magnify this effect.

As for me? I can honestly say everything I post on Facebook is an accurate reflection of how I'm feeling at that time. Granted, I do tend to focus more on positive things, but that's not me putting on a false front. It's more that staying positive externally helps me stay positive internally.

Of course, I miss Cara a lot, and I probably will for the rest of my life. Of course, I feel a great deal of sadness over her loss. However, and again I am being completely honest, I feel happy more than I feel sad. That's due most of all to the fact that I have a lot of great friends and relatives. It's also due to me keeping myself busy doing things that I enjoy, and it also helps that I, as always, have a lot of great music to listen to.

Thinking about it, I've had a pretty amazing life so far, and you know what? There's no reason I can't continue to have an amazing life. That's not meant to diminish the importance of Cara to me. Not at all. In fact, I consider both the life that I have had and the life that I'll continue to have to be largely thanks to her.

It's said that, in marriage, two people become one. In that sense, Cara lives on as part of me. To some, that might sound like a platitude, but I wholeheartedly believe it. The influence we each had on the other, in making our lives happier, and in our development as human beings, was incredible. If I had not met Cara, I would be a completely different person, and I believe that I'm a much better person for having known her. And now, everything I do, it's partly her doing it as well. If I bake a pie? Cara is helping me. Enjoy a long bike ride? Cara is helping me. Make a new friend? Cara is helping me.

I spent twenty months of my life with someone who had had something really terrible happen to her, and she reacted to it by living her life to the fullest and trying to approach each day with a positive attitude. I wish deeply that Cara had never had cancer, but given the reality that she did, I'm very grateful for those twenty months, both because we had so many happy times together during them and because I learned so much from the way she lived her life.

Our lives are largely defined by how we deal with adversity. That's something I believed even before Cara had cancer, but I never knew then that I would see firsthand such an amazing demonstration of grace and courage.

In writing her blog, Cara provided a great service both by exposing everyone to the realities of what she was going through and by being a shining example of how someone could deal with an awful situation. Perhaps I can do something of the same. I could not, though, do it without her.

A final thought. I'm very grateful that I live in an age in which people are free to fall in love and marry the ones they love. Obviously, the recent Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage (which Cara would have been thrilled to see) is very relevant to this, but there's more to it than that. The people who pine for the days of "traditional marriage" seem to want us all to forget that, traditionally, marriages were often not based on love. They were often arranged marriages, and women were generally treated as property. Yet clearly, the ability to fall in love with another person is deeply ingrained in us as human beings, and it's likely something that has been around much longer than society's concept of marriage. Cara and I were very lucky to meet each other and to have the opportunity to share that love.