Johns Hopkins honored the memory of those lost to cancer over the past year last night with their second annual “Night of Remembrance.”  It’s a very special evening where friends and family members are invited to gather, sharing their sorrow, but also gaining strength from each other.

I was asked to be a guest speaker.  I’d like to share my words with all of you on this day after an emotional night for the more than 400 who gathered to “remember.”

EVERY TIME I WALK THROUGH THIS LOBBY, I REMEMBER.

I RMEMBER THE FIRST TIME LEROY AND I DROVE INTO THE PARKING LOT, HERE AT WEINBERG.  THERE WERE SO MANY CARS, WE FOUND A SPOT ON THE THIRD LEVEL AND FROM SOME CRAZY, SUPERSTITIOUS REASON, THAT’S WHERE WE WOULD PARK FOR EVERY APPOINTMENT HE EVER HAD HERE.

THAT’S WHERE I STILL PARK, TO THIS DAY.

IT’S BEEN 32 MONTHS AND 19 DAYS SINCE THIS NASTY BEAST WE CALL CANCER, TOOK HIS LIFE.

HE’S IN MY HEAD AND IN MY HEART EVERY, SINGLE, DAY.

LEROY SIEVERS WAS AN INDEPENTENT MAN. HE WAS A BIG MAN, IN MANY WAYS, HE USED EVERY BIT OF HIS 6-FOOT 5-INCH FRAME TO MAKE HIS POINT.

LEROY WAS A FIRST CLASS JOURNALIST.  HE TRAVELED THE WORLD STOPPING AT JUST ABOUT EVERY HELL-HOLE YOU CAN IMAGINE TO COVER WAR…15 OF THEM, AS A MATTER OF FACT…FROM CENTRAL AMERICA, TO THE BALKANS, RWANDA, THE INVASION OF IRAQ AND BEYOND.  OVER 30 YEARS IN THE TELEVISION NEWS BUSINESS.

HE WAS GOOD AT WHAT HE DID TOO.

AS EXECUTIVE PRODUCER OF THE ABC NEWS PROGRAMS, “NIGHTLINE” HE COLLECTED A SLEW OF AWARDS…COLUMBIA-DUPONT SILVER BATONS, PEABODYS, AND A DOZEN NATIONAL NEWS EMMYS.  HE HAD A POSSE OF PRODUCERS, CORRESPONDENTS, EDITORS AND CAMERA CREWS WHO WOULD FOLLOW HIM ANYWHERE, JUST KNOWING IT WAS LEROY WHO HAD THEIR BACK.

THOSE LIFE EXPERIENCES WOULD PREPARE HIM FOR WHAT WAS TO COME.  FINDING HIS OWN SENSE OF PEACE AND MEANING, AND FACING HIS OWN MORTALITY.

IN A STRANGE SORT OF WAY, AND I DIDN’T REALIZE IT AT THE TIME, I WAS “IN-TRAINING” TOO…TO BECOME A CAREGIVER.

THERE WASN’T A STORY HE TRAVELED TO WHERE I HADN’T PACKED GATORADE, GUM ALMONDS, HANDI-WIPES AND LET’S NOT FORGET THE CHOCOLATE…I LEARNED EARY ONE, YOU CAN’T COVER CONFLICT WITHOUT CHOCOLATE.

ALL OF THOSE THINGS WENT INTO HIS TRAVEL GEAR ALONG WITH LITTLE PIECES OF PAPER STUCK INTO HIS SOCKS. LITTLE NOTES THAT SAID, “COME HOME SOON,”…”BE SAFE”…OR “I LOVE YOU.”

A CARE-GIVER IN TRAINING.

OUR FIRST STEP INTO CANCER WORLD CAME IN 2001.  IT WAS A “ROUTINE” COLONOSCOPY, THAT WASN’T.

SURGERY MEANT A LENGTHY RECOVERY AT HOME.

LEROY WAS NOT A “PATIENT” PATIENT.

BUT LIFE, EVENTUALLY, RETURNED TO NORMAL.

CANCER..THE WORD, THE THOUGHT, THE DISEASE, EXCEPT FOR THE CHECK-UPS, REALLY DIDN’T HAVE A PLACE IN OUR LIVES.

WE WERE FINISHED WITH IT.

IT WASN’T FINISHED WITH US.

WHO KNOWS WHERE CANCER GOES WHEN IT DISAPPEARS OFF THE SCANS. IT CAME OUT OF HIDING IN 2005, AS AN EXPLOSION OF DISEASE INSIDE LEROY.

HE WAS IN FOR THE FIGHT OF HIS LIFE.  HIS FINAL WAR. I WAS NO LONGER A CAREGIVER IN TRAINING..

THIS WAS THE REAL DEAL.

ALL OF US WHO HAVE LIVED OURLIVES AS CAREGIVERS WEAR THE HAT DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE OUR SITUATIONS ARE ALL DIFFERENT.

BUT THERE ARE A FEW CONSTANTS.

WE ARE THE ADVOCATES.  FIERCE, STRONG, UNWAVERING ADVOCATES.  IN CANCER WORLD, WHEN THE DISEASE IS ON THE MARCH, IT IS THE CAREGIVER WHO NEEDS TO STAND UP AND ADVOCATE FOR THEIR LOVED-ONE.

BUT WE NEED SUPPORT TOO.  NO ONE HAD BETTER FRIENDS IN THIS FIGHT, THAN LEROY.  THEY KEPT HIM IN THE GAME…THE KEPT HIM ENGAGED IN LIFE.  I WAS IN AWE OF THEIR POWER OVER THIS DISEASE.

I LEARNED EARLY ON, IN OUR BATTLE, I COULD NOT BE THE ONLY CAREGIVER.  FRIENDS AND FAMILY NOT ONLY HELPED LEROY, BUT THEIR SUPPORT LIFTED ME UP, MORE TIMES THAN I COULD COUNT.

AND REMEMBER, CAREGIVERS ARE THE “HEART” IN THIS FIGHT.

IT IS OUR COMPASSION AND OUR CARING THAT MAKES EACH DAY WORTH FIGHTING FOR.  WE TRY EVERY DAY TO FIND A LITTLE BIT OF “POSITIVE”..EVEN ON THE WORST DAYS.

WHEN MY HEART WAS BREAKING, I WOULD RETREAT SOMEWHERE PRIVATELY, TO CRY AND ACHE ALONE.  I WANTED LEROY TO THINK ABOUT LIVING…MY CAREGIVING WAS “LIFE-GIVING” SO I TRIED NOT TO SHOW MY HEART BREAK.

MANY NIGHTS, I WOULD STNAD BY THE DOOR AND JUST LISTEN TO HIM BREATHE. I KNEW I WAS GOING TO LOSE HIM. I FELT IF I COULD JUST RECORD THAT SOUND IN MY HEAD, I WOULD BE ABLE TO PALY IT BACK FOR MY HEART ON THE DAYS I NEEDED IT MOST.

CAREGIVING WAS HARD WORK.

IT TOOK THE “ME” OUR OF ME…

IT CREATED A DIFFERENT “ME”..

A CHANGED FOREVER “ME”…

BUT YOU KNOW, AS I THINK ABOUT IT NOW,32 MONTHS AND 19 DAYS LATER, AND IT’S TAKEN ME THIS LONG TO REALIZE IT, I’M A STRONGER ME.

I’M BETTING ALL OF US WHO HAVE COME THROUGH THIS HELL, ARE STRONGER TOO.

CAREGIVING GAVE US A NEW SET OF TOOLS TO WORK WITH IN THIS LIFE.

NONE OF US WOULD EVER HAVE CHOSEN THIS PATH..WEMISS OURLOVED ONES BEYOND WORDS, THAT’S WHY WE’RE HERE TONIGHT…TO REMEMBER.

AND THAT’S WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO PARK ON THE SAME LEVEL IN THE LOT BELOW.

IT’S IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER ALL THE WALKS THROUGH THIS LOBBY.

AND , IT’S IMPORTANT TO “REMEMBER THEM” AND REMEMBER OUR ROLE IN THE FINAL PHASE OF THEIR LIVES…

FROM ONE CAREGIVER TO ANOTHER…I SALUTE YOU ON A JOB WELL DONE.

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