Thursday, December 06, 2007

Inspiration in a Name

And that name is Kristin.

I met Kristin when I was 11 and she was 19. Like many before her, Kristin answered the ad that my parents had placed in The Daily Californian, the UC Berkeley student newspaper. Since I can remember, a Cal student had lived in the "servant's" bedroom off the kitchen in our 1906 Craftsman house near the Cal campus. The student received free room and board in exchange for about 15 or 20 hours of household help and babysitting. Although I'm sure I spent substantial time under their care, I couldn't tell you the name of a single one of those students.

And then came Kristin. From the very beginning, Kristin was different. From her hearty laugh to her silliness to her long straight blond hair that I envied, Kristin was completely different than the others. She loved her time with us kids and I'm sure she spent far more than 20 hours a week with us. I remember sitting in her room, admiring all her jewelry, perfumes and lotions, but especially admiring the lemon scented creme shampoo that came in the pot with the twist-off lid. That fragrance has came to define the Kristin who I knew then.

Kristin was more than fun. She was downright goofy. One night, when Mom and Dad went out, Kristin announced that we were gonna "go ice skating in the kitchen." Almost covertly, as if she were afraid of getting in trouble, Kristin removed all the ice cube trays from the freezer and dumped them into a bowl, telling each of us to take off our shoes, grab a bunch of cie cubes, step on them and "go for a spin." Within a few moments, all five of us were skating on our kitchen floor as if it were an Olympic ice stadium! Kristin whooped and hollered and sang as she glided and hopped and hustled across the floor, losing and retrieving ice cubes as she went. The rest of us followed suit, of course, exhausting us into a great night's sleep. Rumor even has it that she greeted my parents with the good news that the "kids had helped (her) wash the floor"!

A few weeks later, Kristin initiated a game of "tummy wars," in which one kneels on the floor, grasping hands behind them and then "walks" toward their opponent trying to push them over using only one's tummy. The laughs were hearty and the giggles were endless as we bumped and bounced our tummies for hours, all of us, from age 8 to age 19, having the time of our lives -- and all because of Kristin, our own personal Mary Poppins.

Fast-forward about 20 years. Kristin, who had been like a (really fun) mother to me when I was young, becomes much more of the sister I've always wanted. When I was traveling regularly to the Bay Area during the production of FUEL and CHILL a few years ago, I often stayed with Kristin at her house in Berkeley. She and her husband had built a small cottage with a fireplace in their backyard and during those production trips, Kristin and I would sit in her antique kids' rocking chairs in front of the fire and talk for hours. Kristin is the one person in the world who knows all my secrets, all my joys, and all my fears.

Kritin was never home for long, always traveling to remote parts of the world to do crazy things. Whether kayaking near Antarctica, hiking in Patagonia, or walking Death Valley, Kristin's energy was endless and robust.

Until.

Until she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in September, 2004. Kaiser, her insurance company, pretty much said sorry, this will be fatal; have a nice death. She was encouraged to look into Hospice. Little did they know who they were dealing with!

Now, I have to mention here that, not only does Kristin have an amazing spirit, she also has the means to take her health decisions into her own hands rather than rely on her insurance company. Kristin had given of both her time and her money in the past to contribute significantly to educational organizations, helping scores of disadvantaged kids and families, but now she was finding that her wealth was actually keeping her alive. She was both grateful and pissed off. Shouldn't all people have the health care choices she has? It's been an on-going concern, and worth a post in itself.

After having a very complicated initial surgery (the "Whipple" procedure) at Johns Hopkins in 2004, Kritin's cancer returned last summer, this time in her lungs. Again, the insurance company told her that they wouldn't cover any further treatment and that it was time for Hospice. And again, Krisitin insisted, "Nuh-uh! Not me!" She fought hard for a double lung resection -- and won, having the two surgeries last summer. Within a few weeks, she was backpacking with her two twenty-something sons! Who said it was time to go off and die?!

This is Kristin!

Now, three years after the diagnosis of the deadliest of cancers, Kristin, who is often in Seattle for her chemo treatments, called me to ask if I wanted to spend a day at the spa, swimming and working out, then massaging and eating. The last two sounded great, but the first two sounded awful. See, I've been feeling sorry for myself for the past seven months, sitting at my laptop and getting fat. So... working out? No can do!

Wait. Did I just tell Kristin, who has pancreatic cancer, yet swims for an hour a day and hikes vigorously every chance she gets, that I can't work out with her?

Yeah, I did.

How dare I? I may be acting lazy and fat, but I'm basically healthy. And instead of revering my healthy body, I've been ignoring it -- no, I abusing it -- choosing instead to just sit and do nothing but fret about unemployment and the pesky parts of life. How dare I?

So today I went to the gym and for the first time in the five years we've been members, I swam for 30 minutes, thinking about Kristin and how much I love and revere and admire her and how her gift to me is now becoming my gift to myself. Gliding rhythmically through the water felt wonderful, and I remembered how much I loved to swim when I was in grad school -- daily, religiously, fervently. I felt great then. And I'm determined to feel great again now -- even at 51.

Kristin will always inspire me, even if she goes away. (And last night I promised her that I'd hold her hand to the very end if and when she needs me by her side.) When I was a young girl, her inspiration took the form of ice cube skating and silly girls' chats. Now, Kristin's courage and grace has inspired me to take action on my own gratitude and to nurture the health I'm so lucky to have.

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5 comments:

Maria said...

Beautiful post.

Snooker said...

I've said it before about your work, and I'll say it again... wonderful post.

Blog Antagonist said...

She sounds like an extremely cool person. We should all be so lucky to have someone like that in our lives.

Good for you for you for getting motivated! Send some of that my way, wouldja?

Rositta said...

Please continue exercising, but try to have fun with it. I abused my body but not with food or alcohol. Good health is something I always took for granted. I was always the "pull yourself up by the bootstraps" type of person and it sounds like your friend is too. She will put up the good fight. I have heard about insurance companies in the U.S., I hate all insurance companies on principle, I had my own battle with them. Good thing that she had the financial ability to save herself...ciao and sending good vibes and hugs.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Amazing post. You are both lucky to have each other.

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