This year I won’t be running the Goodlife Half Marathon. I’m a little sad, as I love that race a lot, but I’m getting over an injury and need some more time to get back into training. Instead of racing and training this summer, I put some time into starting a girls running group, and we are now a small and mighty group of 9-13 year olds called Up and Running. I am passionate about teaching people how to run well and learn a lifelong skill of fitness. Today however, I also am remembering a beautiful person.
A year ago, our dear friend Laura Graham passed away from cancer. (I say 'our', because Laura had so many friends, and I was just one person who was affected by her awesome zest.) She had incurable lung cancer that metastasized and eventually spread to her brain. She lived fully for just over a year and a half, from the date she learned her diagnosis. She lived with uncertainty and fear and anger, and she also lived with joy and love and appreciation. For those of us who knew her as children (and she was a well loved childhood playmate for a lot of people!), her hilarious sense of deadpan humour, and her lack of drama came back in full force at the end of her too short life.
Laura was a healthy 49 year old woman with 2 children and a close knit extended family. I am 49 and have 2 children. It is still inconceivable at times that she is not here. She took care of herself, ate well, got plenty of exercise and never was a smoker. She laughed and loved life. That she got lung cancer was both startling and plain bad luck. There was no cure and there were simply no reasons that this beautiful, vivacious, funny and caring person should have been given the horrible news of terminal cancer.
During the first year of her treatment, Laura seemed well, the drugs appeared to be working and her life continued along, in and around the now regular hospital visits. We spoke on the phone (she was in Halifax, and I now live in Victoria) and she said, “Lucy I just want to see if I can run again!’. I told her I would coach her, that we would do it right and with a schedule, as long as the doctors were ok. And we would set our sights on the Bluenose 10k in early May 2015. She was thrilled at having a coach; I was thrilled that we would connect over something positive during such a difficult time.
By May, Laura had done a walk run program throughout the terrible Nova Scotia winter, doggedly pursuing her goal of the 10k, determined to follow the schedule and I loved our simple conversations that revolved around normal things: how hard running can feel, how being a mom can make you feel like a short order cook/taxi driver/counsellor (and how much we both really actually loved that!) and whether I could add some hills into her program because she wanted more challenge. Laura never let cancer define her or limit her life.
I flew out to Halifax for the race in May, and when I met with Laura, when we finally met face to face, after years of being apart and on different coasts, with our busy lives raising children and working and all that stuff that fills your life from 30-45, it was like no time at all had passed. We went for coffee at Just Us, her favourite cafe. We went for our pre race walk/run over in Dartmouth along the new trail that heads towards the mouth of the harbour, The walk breaks extended as we chatted non stop, Laura being incredibly frank with me about the cancer treatment, the prognosis and the emotional challenge of living with uncertainty. At the same time, we marvelled at the beauty of the day, the cool perspective of Halifax from this side of the harbour and we laughed a lot about silly stuff. I learned the awful truth about lung cancer too, and I really learned about how Laura wanted people to see her and treat her. That was how powerful her living was. She was frank, honest with those who loved her, and tough as nails.
On the race Sunday we were joined by her sister Maria and our friend Laura Brock and we walked and ran the BlueNose 10k together.
It was one of the most incredible races I have ever run. We were just runners and friends, and Laura was accomplishing something that the cancer couldn’t take from her. Running couldn’t beat the cancer, but it sure made a huge difference in her life as she lived with it.
After that weekend, Laura and I kept in touch, and talked about how to continue the running program but it started to slowly fade from her routine. It was something normal in a life that had been altered by cancer and treatment. We texted and emailed, and then the communication became less frequent as the cancer began to spread through her body. On October 9th, 2015 Laura passed away in Palliative care in Halifax with her husband by her side. Two days later I ran the Goodlife ½ Marathon in Victoria, with her fully present in my heart. I ran 1 hour and 20 minutes, which, incidentally, was the same time that we ran and walked through the Bluenose 10k earlier that year.
A year has gone by and I know that I think of Laura all the time, often with happiness and sometimes with tears. I will never forget forget her. She had a personality and style, and a terrific sense of humour, She also had a frankness and a compassion, that was incomparable.
Lucy Smith, October 2016
Below: At the finish with Maria, Laura B, Laura and I.
Running found me, seeped into my bones one year and spread into my heart.