How will I be a contribution today?

What if we were to ask ourselves that question everyday?

What if we were to throw ourselves into life as people who make a difference, accepting that we may not understand how or why?

This past weekend, I was part of a special group of people who were a contribution and made a difference.

Earlier this year, my brother’s mother-in-law, Patti, was diagnosed with brain cancer.

Always the one to take care of others and put their needs first, she was suddenly thrust into a new reality that she, the perpetual caregiver, would have to become the receiver.

layne patti2

It came as a particularly tough blow because her daughter, Layne, my brother’s wife, was one month from her daughter Raleigh’s due date. Not only that, but Patti’s sister Diane, who coached lacrosse at Loyola University for years, passed away from brain cancer over a decade ago.

This is the worst kind of de ja vu.

Two women in the same family – sisters. What are the odds??

Each year in September, our family takes part in a memorial 5k at Loyola University to support Aunt Di, as she is lovingly remembered.

But this weekend was about Patti.

Over two dozen friends and family showed up at Goucher College to rally around Patti for the Keep Punching 5k, a race focused on raising money and support to prevent and eradicate brain cancer.

team patti

My family is pretty competitive, so my parents, husband, and brother and a bunch of other friends were all racing, but a recent foot injury sidelined me.

As I was leaving the house that¬†morning, the words from a book I’m reading called The Art of Possibility, came to¬†mind.

Instead of being bummed out about not being able to run the 5k and compete, I thought to myself, “How can I be a contribution today?”¬†

I grabbed my camera.

I knew Patti would be at the race and that it would be the first time I would see her since her diagnosis. She would be surrounded by friends and family, including her grandchildren and our niece and nephew – Raleigh & Braxton.

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What better opportunity than this to capture the support, love, and joy that would be sure to characterize the day?

It was a humid morning, and our team of over two dozen supporters – “Punchin’ for Patti” – trickled into the race start. Friends, co-workers, and family showed up to support the cause.

And then the guest of honor arrived. 

Seeing such a vibrant woman who has always been full of life and energy confined to a wheelchair took me aback at first. It’s one thing to hear about what someone is going through when they’re battling cancer.

It’s another thing entirely to see them.

The first round of radiation and chemo caused her to lose her signature blond hair, but I was only momentarily distracted by that as her radiant smile emerged.

She showed determination almost immediately, as she rose out of her chair, so she could walk with the support of her cane.

patti pops

Patti is a fighter, and she wanted to show us how far she’s come.

You couldn’t help but smile and cheer her on in that moment!

“F*ck cancer!” she declared, as¬†she started on the first of what would be many loops around the track, alternating between walking and being pushed¬†around in her wheelchair.

I had the opportunity to walk with her and capture these moments by camera.

patti girls layne pattigma and brax victory

Once the race was finished, the awards ceremony began. My parents each won their age group and gave their medals to Patti.

After all, everyone was running for her. We all knew that she was the real winner that day.

Just as the ceremony was wrapping up, it was announced that there would be two awards given to the most spirited teams.

Punchin’ for Patti came in second!

We all cheered as she went up to accept her award.

She beamed with pride as she held up her plaque.

patti handshake patti plaque

Never one to take herself too seriously and always a woman with a sense of humor, Patti looked at her plaque and laughing and smiling said,

“I never win anything. I had to get brain cancer to win an award!”

We all had a laugh with her, and then I took a few moments to ask her how she was really doing.

She told me how she spent months feeling angry, confused, and upset about her diagnosis and what she was going through. Her voice cracked as she shared the guilt and sadness she felt¬†that she couldn’t be with her daughter for the birth of her granddaughter. She expressed fear that her grandchildren wouldn’t know her.

She said everything really brought her down for a while.

But on Sunday, you could tell something in her had changed.

She had hope.

With renewed determination and a new¬†lease on life, she said she’s¬†committed to doing everything she can to fight this. While she knows it will never go away, she’s going to make the best of it. She told me even if she has another 5, 10, 15 good years left, she wants to be here for her¬†kids and grandkids as long as she can.

You couldn’t help but tear up as you watched her hold her granddaughter. She worked hard in physical therapy, so she would be able to hold Raleigh in her arms.

Her grandson, Braxton, looked like a king on his throne as he sat on her lap while she was pushed around the track.

3 girls 3 generations

What an incredibly inspiring and emotional day.

All because a group of people decided to be a contribution.

Sometimes we’re the giver. Other times, we’re the receiver.

Sometimes we’re the medal winner. Other times, we’re the cheerleader.

Sometimes we feel strong and determined. Other times, we feel weak and defeated.

But no matter what we are or how we’re feeling, we can make a difference in someone else’s life.

As we were leaving, I hugged Patti and¬†told her¬†she’s an inspiration. I told her how many people love¬†and care about her.¬†She said it took her a long time to realize how many people love her and how much, regardless of whether she is taking care of them or doing something for them.

She is loved simply because she is.

Don’t all of us need that reminder sometimes?

So, Patti, from all of us who love and care about you and see the feisty fighter in you:

“Keep punching. Keep fighting. And know how very much you are loved.”

patti smile

If you want to donate to Keep Punching to support the fight against brain cancer, click here.