Goodbye Maire

Yesterday I was privileged to attend a farewell ceremony for Maire Kent, a 24 year old sarcoma patient whose battle with cancer ended on September 27. Maire and I were not only linked by the similarity in our diagnosis, but we shared a family connection as well. Her Uncle Mike is married to Ryan's Aunt Colleen.

I didn't know Maire before she got sick, but had a few short opportunities to visit with her in her hospital room after my clinic visits, and finally at Relay for Life of Fowlerville, just two weeks before her death. Maire and I did the Survivor's Lap together. Uncle Mike pushed her wheelchair around the track, and Maire reached out and asked me to hold her hand. As we walked along with all the teams cheering and clapping in the bright sunlight, my eyes filled with tears and I realized that the strong, warm hand gripping my own would not be there next year. But still, I thought she had more time than she did. Despite the way her body had been ravaged by her disease, at each visit Maire was cheerful, smiling, and at Relay just seemed happy to be there with her family.

The service that honored her life yesterday was beautiful. The room was full of people grieving her loss but also full of love. Aunt Colleen gave a thoughtful, heartfelt, and moving tribute to Maire when she delivered the eulogy. She also offered a message of hope and salvation that I pray will enter the hearts and minds of the people in that room who needed to hear it the most. Ryan and I sat in the back, listening and learning more about the life of the girl Aunt Colleen and Uncle Mike loved so much. Her short years in this world were not easy ones, but somehow she still managed to touch others and keep fighting right to the very end.

We watched the pictures flash across the screen of happier times, and I thought about how close my family had come to having to hold a service much like this one. My heart squeezed in my chest as I thought about the pain Uncle Mike must be feeling as he sat in front of the casket of his young niece. Because of a strained relationship with her parents, Uncle Mike had stepped up to fill a much bigger role in Maire's life than he might have otherwise. His pain must have been overwhelming and I said a prayer as I thought of my own beautiful nieces, that they would have long healthy lives and Ryan and I would be spared the loss of any of them.

Partway through the service I looked up to see Dr. Chugh enter the crowded chapel. Dr. Chugh is my oncologist and was Maire's as well. She stood at he back of the room with her friend and colleague, a cardiac sarcoma specialist who played a hugely important role in Maire's final year of life. As I caught her eye and waved I became overwhelmed with love and respect for the woman who saved my life and led my family through one of the darkest times we will ever know.

The service drew to a close and we headed outside for the military honors Maire would receive and to watch pink balloons of Maire's favorite color released into the sky along with a single white dove. Dr. Chugh greeted me with a hug and whispered "this must be so difficult for you" and she gently rubbed my back as she had done in the hospital when I was bent over a basin unable to stop vomiting. It was difficult of course, but Ryan and I had come in support of Aunt Colleen and Uncle Mike who have been there to help us through our struggles over the years. So I just nodded at Dr. Chugh and wiped away the tears from my cheeks.

 As we stood there Dr. Chugh and I made small talk like we do at each clinic visit. I was happy to introduce her to my goddaughter, nephew, and my sister in law and mother in law. She laughed when Aunt Colleen and my mother in law stood together and said she finally understood the connection between our families.

After the service we said our goodbyes, and I told Dr. Chugh I would see her soon. Ryan and I moved away from the group to wait for his mom to bring the car around for his grandma. But Dr. Chugh came over and told me she wanted to tell me one more thing. She said that she was so happy to see me there at the funeral home and teared up when she told me how bad it was for Maire and how that compared to the horrible shape I was in when we met. Other doctors in my care team had already told us how bleak my future had looked when they first saw my scans and some had flat out told us they didn't expect me to make it. But never Dr. Chugh. Throughout treatment and even in the years afterward when I was out of immediate danger she acknowledged the enormity of my fight but was always optimistic and hopeful.

Last night was the first time I saw the fear she must have had for me and it came as a shock. The longer I have been healthy and the more clear scans I have had, the more I begin to take my miracle for granted. If witnessing what Maire went through and helping her family say goodbye had not been enough to renew my thankfulness, those words from Dr. Chugh certainly are. She said that I was a source of inspiration for her which humbles me beyond words. It must be so difficult and devastating for her to do everything she can for a patient like Maire and still watch her slip away.

It's hard not to feel guilty that each step of my journey was met with healing and success and so many others gain their victory over cancer only in death. But I know that my God had me and Maire in the palm of His hand and while I will never fully understand our different fates and I deeply feel the injustice of the tragic losses cancer brings, I know that God has a bigger plan and He can work good from all things.

I know that Maire's memory and the conversation I had with Dr. Chugh during Maire's final goodbye will never be far from my mind. I pray that I can honor Maire, other sarcoma patients, and all those touched by cancer by living this life I was blessed to keep with purpose and a grateful heart. I feel so fortunate to be here to continue the fight against cancer alongside warriors like Dr. Chugh.

The University of Michigan has set up a memorial fund in Maire's name and I am looking forward to witnessing the positive impact it will have on those who are facing a diagnosis of a rare, poorly understand cancer such as we did.


Rest in Peace with our Lord, Maire. You will not be forgotten.