I had so much to come back and write about. Past couple of weeks filled with ups and downs, and all kindsa in-betweens. But, I think this entry needs to be saved soley for the purposes of remembering a great great woman.
A dear friend, fellow calendar model, fellow colon cancer patient, and just all around goofy gal, Heather Maes, passed away wednesday, August 20th.
When I flew in to Albany New York last year in june for the Colondar photoshoot, I have to admit, I was kinda dreading it. A whole weekend up in the boonies with a buncha cancerous people? Blech. Not my idea of relaxing. Sounded more like it'd be a weekend of prayer-ful "oh god lets be thankful that we have this blessing of being able to appreciate life" and wallowing in our pitiful cancer-infested lives. No thanks.
The moment I stepped off the plane, I headed straight for the bathroom (those of you that know me know this is always the first, and last stop for me before and after getting on planes). I had the cell phones numbers of the three other models who were flying in that day with me. We were all supposed to meet up for each other and wait til the last person got in, so we could all ride up to Lake George together.
But I thought "well, I don't really care to hang out so much, I'll just go do my thang in the bathroom, go grab some coffee, and act like I forgot the numbers."
While setting down my bags in the stall, my cell phone started going off. I didn't recognize the number, and figured it may be one of the other models. So i ignored it. A minute or two later, it rang again. This time, catheter in hand, and annoyed, I answered.
The voice on the other end was Heather. I didn't want to let on that I was currently standing with a tube about to poke it into my stomach in order to poop...hell, I didn't even know this woman. I simply said "Um, Hey, yea, I'm here, I'm actually in the bathroom...I'll meet up with you in bout 20 min." and thus began my friendship with Heather.
When I emerged all flushed and empty feeling, I found Heather sitting atop her bright pink suitcase at the bottom of the escalator, in her bright pink Victoria's Secret sweatpants suit. (how DO i remember these things?). Perfectly made-up face, and perfectly coifed hair. (i've never used the word "coifed" but if ANYone ever deserved it, it was Heather).
We clicked immediately. She instantly made me feel at ease that this girl was real. And that meant it probably wasn't gonna be a weekend full of singing "kumbaya" in front of a firepit.
She let on right away that she had an ostomy. So we got busy talking bout how we cope with air travel and an ostomy. We sat and drank coffee and made fun of the absurdly athletically-fit, super-toned and tan woman that randomly kept passing by our little table. (come to find out later that woman was another fellow colondar model. But at the time, Heather and I, both decidedly NOT as in shape, busied ourselves with being catty about her).
That weekend I got to know all my fellow models pretty intimately. And I made friends that not only will last a lifetime, and not only are like family...friends that have already proven to be miracle-workers, life-supports, and the best shoulders to lean on anywhere. I admired Heather, she was brave enough to bare her ileostomy bag to all the world to see. I know I bare my stoma all day long, but it's different than having a bag attached to that stoma. And for that, I thought she was amazing. Not only did she bare it on her photo, but when she caught flack for it later, she dared people to challenge her. I admired her, and then, I was proud of her. She was so regal and noble looking in her photo. So elegant.
I got to reunite with her again in person in Baltimore at the Colon Cancer Alliance conference. Her in her signature Victoria Secrets sweatpants suits :)
There was a costume party on opening night. And we were to dress as someone from our favorite decade. Who did both Heather and I show up dressed as? Why, Madonna(s) of course!
Like-a-Virgin and Vogue in the same room at the same time! It was obvious then how we were kindred spirits then. She also loaned me that wig and schooled me as to why blondes DO have more fun (well...sometimes)
That weekend was also Heathers birthday. We all felt so lucky that we could celebrate with her. Mark, one of the other models who couldn't be there, even Fedex'ed one of his cakes to the hotel room! (we made the girl at the front desk smell the box to make sure what it was!).
The next time I saw Heather was just a few months back, in March, for the Flush Out! colon cancer event in Indiana. She was looking fabulous as always. If anything, Heather was always our glam-girl. She knew how to work it, and work it well. She was always 10 times more pulled together than any of us. This photo was taken inside the limo ride to the survivors dinner we attended that weekend
(can we say Va-Va-VOOM!)
That weekend in Indiana, my world kinda came crashing down. I got alot of bad news all at once. And Heather was right there to pep-talk me through it all. Despite of how much of a sourpuss super-bitch I was being.
Later, in May, when I got word that I had a reoccurance. When getting the word out to my extended 'colon-fam', Heather was one of the first to reply to me. She knew exactly what I was feeling, and had the right things to say (which was to not really say anything at all, just know that I was angry, and had a right to be).
When hearing that Heather was not doing well and going into hospice care I had only one immediate ringing thought.
I had to see her.
Nevermind that I was going through chemo and about to have surgery. Nevermind that she lived clear across the country from me. Nevermind that she wasn't expected to make it very much longer. I just didn't care. I didn't know exactly why I needed to see her. I didn't know exactly what I would get from being there. I was cautioned by alot of people to rethink going. Besides I don't really have the money, and airfare to San Francisco was NOT cheap. Nevermind it all. I had one driving thought.
I had to see her.
One of my fellow colondar models Ray (see how everyone of these guys is just a lifesaver?) generously donated some money to me so that I could get the flight. And another friend of Heathers, Krista, and I flew out there last week. We visited Heather once last week, and once this week just before leaving. Again, I don't know what I expected, or what I wanted from the visit. I didn't know if it was purely selfish, or selfless. But I do know, that being able to hold her hand, and talk to her one last time, made the news that came this wednesday night just that much easier.
Heather is no longer in pain. She no longer has to put up the fight of her life. She did worlds of good in everyones life that she touched. And the title she recieved at the Relay for Life in may of "Survivor of the Year" couldn't have been given to a better woman. I want Heather around to make fart jokes and sing badly to Bon Jovi, for years and years to come. Alas, we don't always get what we want. And just knowing that I got to know her at all, will be good enough and yet never enough for me.
For now, These photos are how she'll always remain in my mind. The fiery attitude. That incredible poise and grace. And that awesome contagious smile and laugh. Heather...Hope you're reading my words somewhere in an internet cafe in heaven...send a shout out whenever you can, k?