How do you handle grief when you work with the killer every day?

At 2:00 am on Saturday, April 24, 2021, the world lost an amazing soul and Heaven gained an Angel. Cancer took the life of one of my mentors, Becky Olson, and it hurts.  We knew it was coming, but it is still heartbreaking.  My head is swirling with emotions.  Honestly, she and I were not close, like best friends close, but she was an amazing mentor to me. I admired and cared for her so much. My deep grief is for her husband and family. For the organization she founded with her lifelong friend, Sharon Henifin and for Sharon herself.  For her beloved dog Swayze who used to come to the office with her for meetings and would “sing” with her.  For those who no longer will be able to hear her magical voice or be inspired by her words from the stage.  For me finally, who only received a small amount of her teachings and guidance on how to speak to an audience or host a show.

Becky had the magical quality to engage people and inspired so many.  I only know small parts of her story and she had ups and downs like we all do, but she lived life large and deeply.  She battled breast cancer 5 times over 20 + years, but this last time, her body decided it needed peace.  She went into the light with grace and had her family by her side. Faith was a large part of her life and she knew that God was waiting for her which does bring comfort. 

But how do I and my friends at work go on?  We deal with cancer every day, supporting the new women who come through our doors and providing them support, hope and inspiration.  With such a loss, it is tough.

How we continue on is to keep up with the amazing work she has done.  A few months ago, I was really struggling at work.  On top of COVID, there was a lot of family issues going on and I almost took a step back from Breast Friends.  I was not sure if I had anything left to give.  Becky reached out to me and asked if I would like to be her co-host for Breast Friends Cancer Support Radio and to eventually take it over.  Unfortunately, we did not get to host together, but I am so thankful that she chose me to carry on. I was and am so honored to continue on with something she loved so much and will strive every day to fill her shoes.

Being women impacted by breast cancer, this is a part of what we have to face.  We have hearts to serve; the work we do is incredibly impactful and fulfilling.  But on the flip side of that is that some will die, much younger than we think is acceptable and before they have been able to live what we consider a “full life.”  It is so unfair.  Yet, I will be back “at work” on Monday doing my best to support the women in our programs with my “sisters.” My heart will be heavier, and I will cry during our staff meeting for we have lost one of our own. Breast Friends would not be here today without Becky.  Sharon and Becky made this happen over 2 decades ago and now she is gone.  Gone, but definitely not forgotten.  Her spirit will drive us each day.

It is also a reminder of my own mortality.  I have had cancer twice and while I take the daily medication with awful side effects to help prevent it from finding its way back into my body, I cannot get the “what if” out of my head.  Most days, I push it to the back of my head and continue to do the work. I have so much life to live.  I have a 10 year old son who I need to see grow up and have his own children.  I have bonus kids and while some are grown, I need to be here to support them and encourage them to live life to the fullest.  I have a husband that I have not had enough time with yet. We are already talking about our 20 year wedding anniversary. “20 days in Italy” as a follow-up to last years “10 days in Mexico.”  I have my parents and siblings who need me and I need them. I have a beautiful niece who is turning 1 soon and I know more nieces and nephews will come that I can spoil.

So I wake up every morning and do my best to be positive and appreciate what I have. Each day is a blessing.  Every day that I wake up is a good day even if my body aches and my heart hurts.  While cancer has taken another angel today, if I have learned anything from Becky, it is to live every moment as if it could be your last. Say all of the things you mean.  Tell your friends and family how you feel even if you can’t find the right words. Becky said recently: “It is better to say the wrong thing than to say nothing at all.”

Rest in Peace Becky.   I will strive every day to honor you and the amazing legacy that you have created.

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