Saying goodbye is never easy, but it’s getting increasingly more difficult as we say goodbye to another one of our group, as we think of ourselves as an extended family. Saying goodbye to another one of our own, that was taken from this life way to early and especially to cancer, is more than any of us can take. It feels like yesterday we were saying goodbye to Wes, and this past Saturday we said goodbye to Margie.
Margie was what legends are made of. She was Jersey tough, and made no bones about it. But she lived a life that not many people can claim to behold. I know I can’t. But yet, I’ve learned a huge lesson from her in the way she lived her day to day and how she conquered cancer on a daily basis in her resolve not to let it take her down. She was resolute in her quest to stay alive long enough for a cure to be found, of which she was certain was imminent. She fought that fight for eight years, researching trial after trial, with a host of successes. But after seven years, she was told she had exhausted all of the trials available to her. As conventional chemo was relied on and failed, the cancer that had been kept at bay, or in the same spot for so many years, started to spread throughout her body.
Last summer she and her husband Corky came down to Bethany Beach, DE where we all met up. As Marge and I sat on the barstools of our local beach bar, she told me frankly, that the doctors had told her she only had 4 months to live. I was speechless and downtrodden at the news, but not convinced. Not with Margie – no way. She was a fighter and she had been successful in navigating the world of cancer with all the chemo protocols that could make a difference to her. I placed my bets on Margie. You bet I did. I was certain she was going to beat it, because for all intents and purposes, although the original ovarian cancer had spread to her lung, she had kept it relatively the same for about seven years. She could beat this, for that I was certain. In all honesty, I was banking on it. We lost Wes to cancer. His fight lasting 16 months before the conventional chemo ceased to work. We needed a winner. We all wanted a winner. For God’s sake, we need someone to beat this beast. We need to assuage our fears that cancer can’t be beat. We need to go into each fight with this disease knowing we can fight it and beat it. We believed in Marge. She was forthcoming in her conversations about her prognosis and her battle, but rarely weeping. Apparently, that was the role that Corky filled, as the self admitted crier of the family, all the while Marge would admonish him and say “stop crying.” Jersey tough – that was Marge. But she was so much more than that. She presented us with an opportunity to watch someone living with cancer be the edification and shining star for those of us that cower in the corner afraid of this disease and afraid that life is going to dish us up a bowl of bad soup. You know – life’s not fair and all. And we’re confronted again at how unfair it can be. Yet Marge didn’t get caught up in that self-pitying campaign, but rather she got caught up in the keep fighting, keep living campaign and that is exactly what she did. She didn’t give in and she didn’t give up. I believe she left this world kicking and screaming. She wasn’t ready and she certainly wasn’t done living. I love that about her.
I’m not sure that I am in the know enough to say that Marge hadn’t come to a place of acceptance or peace about what was surely imminent. I really don’t know. But I feel fairly certain that she wasn’t done living. Who is? Especially when diagnosed so young and with so much more of life to look forward to. But I know that Wes had reconciled his prognosis, even as I did not. He left this world with me being the one kicking and screaming and not wanting to let go or stop fighting, but ultimately, I did, because he did.
As Marge was diagnosed a year or two before Wes, they naturally connected more deeply on this level. Two people having to deal with a horrible disease and all the emotional variables that comes with the day to day involvement of dealing with cancer and all of it’s effects. Cancer becomes a full time job. That’s just a fact. Wes often said that he always appreciated everyone’s well wishes, but that no one can understand what it means to have cancer, except another cancer patient. I totally got that, and I still do. They could support each other in a way no one else could. I wished better for the both of them. But they dealt with the hand they were given and as Wes often said “it’s just the walk I have to walk.” They both deserved better, that too, is just a fact.
But Margie played hard and worked hard. She was competitive at heart and wanted to be number one in whatever she was doing. Work – check, sports – check, check. Even with cancer, she would beat you in a 5k race, simply because she wasn’t going to lose. And that was even during her chemo treatments. She was a force to be reckoned with and certainly someone we should all learn from. She lived everyday like it was her last – even before a cancer diagnosis and certainly after, but she kept living almost as if she didn’t have it. When we saw her, we rarely saw the effects that cancer had on her. Chemo is tough, to be sure, but she withstood it as so many before her have, and will after her as well. But she continued to live and to be present, working the whole time up until a year or so ago. Then she started doing things on her bucket list, just in case.
She was a huge traveler, but truly loved to be involved in anything. She just liked to be on the move. Her boys told stories of her getting up early and either banging pots and pans together or running the vacuum cleaner into their bedroom doors at first light. They laughed at the memories and cried at the loss. A huge loss. A mother that made her own rules and lived by them and expected others to live by them too.
Last summer as Margie told me about her updated prognosis she had been given, I was stunned and saddened. But the next day as we all met up in our usual place on the beach, I sat back and watched and marveled at her ability to live life every minute. Her shoulders weren’t down, her chin wasn’t dragging, she wasn’t pensive to the point of sadness, in fact, anything but. She was up, talking with everyone, engaged, laughing, enjoying and living. I sat back and watched this phenomenon with astonishment but with the utmost respect as I witnessed her enjoying her time “here” for whatever time that meant, and whatever experience awaited her for the time she was granted. As I sat back and watched, I was mesmerized by her ability to compartmentalize this huge obstacle in her life. I mean really, we were talking about life and death, but yet she continued to pick “life.” She embodied strength, resolve and an unyielding determination to just live. It was a beautiful thing to watch and an incredible lesson to learn. I was so taken aback and literally amazed at her ability to keep living and to be present and in the moment. To be mindful of her time, right here and now, and to embrace it, and that she did. What a lesson. I sat back in my chair, hiding behind my sunglasses as I shed some nonchalant tears, although not nonchalant emotions, as I considered what I would do in that situation. I knew then and I know now that I would not handle it with the same finesse and drive. I would be downtrodden and probably wanting to hide myself. To suffer in silence, and to feel every bit of the pity that anyone in this situation is awarded. I might feel it was my right to wallow. But she did not. Not Margie. Jersey tough – she chose life. She chose to live, and so she did, until she just couldn’t fight her body anymore.
As the story was told, Marge was in the hospital but wanted to come home. Possibly wanting to be home when the time came. But as she was suffering, Corky knew he had to take her back to the hospital. As he picked her up to take her to the car, he was crying. He knew she would never see the house again. As his tears flowed, he said Margie said: “stop crying.” It became the mantra of the celebration of her life last Saturday as Corky and their boys told stories of their wife and mother and when the tears were shed – the crowd would say “stop crying!”
As we say farewell to another friend, we are again reminded of how short and precious life is. Make it count. That’s what Margie stood for. She made every minute count. She didn’t wait. Life was on her timetable, not the other way around. And as we mourn the loss of another dear friend, we can’t help but acknowledge the incredible gift she gave to all of us that had the privilege to know her and learn from her. Live life as if today was your last, and live it well. Have fun, explore, WIN, of course win – Margie liked to win, but enjoy and never give in and never give up.
Thank you Margie for teaching us an incredible lesson. As we witnessed you fighting this incredible fight and for all intents and purposes, winning the battle simply by continuing to live your life to the fullest even with the burden of cancer, you showed us what unyielding strength looks like. You have inspired us all, and although this farewell is laced with tears, we cry and we mourn because we love. That love is the gift. But we accept the pain that comes from this loss because the joy you gave us was infinite and the lessons immeasurable.
With love – farewell, dear friend.