Five years ago today, my coworker and good friend Carly Hughes passed away from cancer at age 24. The day is forever etched into my memory. Part of me still wants to believe that she got better, came back to work, and resumed her life. It still seems inconceivable, even after all this time, that she is actually gone.
This piece was originally written back in 2016.
“Please don’t ever forget her.”
The quivering voice of Carly’s mother, Irene, echoed loudly in my head.
It was November 2014, and I had just finished giving a speech to my classmates in the Boston College MBA program. The topic of my TED-style talk was my transition from ability to disability over the previous eight years of my life. Classmates were coming up to congratulate me on a job well done, yet I couldn’t shake the fact that, when speaking about my friend Carly and the impact she had on my life, I had forgotten key details of our time together.
Ever since I started business school three months earlier, I had longed for an opportunity to tell my new group of friends about my journey living with Miyoshi Myopathy, a form of muscular dystrophy that had turned my life upside down. I wanted to answer the questions they never asked me, but knew they had. More than anything, I wanted them to know that I was not always disabled, and that I was not ashamed of the person I had become.
In the rehearsals leading up to my talk, I barely mentioned Carly in my story, for fear that I would run over my time allotment. However, in the heat of the moment, in front of an audience of sixty classmates and professors, I realized that I couldn’t tell my story – especially the part about how I was able to turn my life around – without mentioning Carly. To leave her out would be an injustice.
Before I knew it, I was gushing about her bravery and how her cancer battle inspired me to reexamine my attitude toward my own disease. I knew I succeeded in conveying how she made me feel, which at the end of the day is what was important to share. But when it came time to talk about her joyful personality and the many laughs we shared, I blanked on specifics.
I realized that some of the details of our friendship – actual events that took place and conversations we had before she got sick – were starting to fade from my memory. I felt guilty, as if I had abandoned a friend.
Last December, I wrote about the passing of long-time sports commentator Craig Sager. I grew up watching him on TV, and I always enjoyed both his pointed questions and his fancy, often colorful, wardrobe choices. He lovingly brought fun and wit to an otherwise monotonous profession. Sager was synonymous with The NBA on TNT, so when I found out that he had lost his battle with leukemia (if you can call surviving three bone marrow transplants, working in-between treatments and remaining positive to the very end “losing”), it felt like I had lost a friend. Continue reading “Book Review: Living Out Loud, by Craig Sager”
It has been almost two years since Stuart Scott passed away, an event that compelled me to write a blog post on his impact in my life growing up as a sports fan.
Today, unfortunately, we lost another sports broadcasting icon in Craig Sager.
2016 has been a rough year for celebrity deaths, but this one might have impacted me the most. This hurt. Sager was a fixture for me growing up as I watched the NBA on TV. If Uconn basketball wasn’t playing, I was probably watching the NBA. Basketball was, and still is, my favorite sport, so inevitably over the years I have gotten to know all the sportscasters and sideline reporters who call the games.
Sager was a larger than life personality. His questions were always on point, even if his clothing choices were, let’s just say, not.
This is my favorite Sager video, an interview with Kevin Garnett who goes off on a tangent about Sager’s suit:
Although Sager’s outfits were goofy, his courageous battle with leukemia these last two-plus years was anything but. Even through rounds of treatment – including three stem cell transplants – Sager was fiercely dedicated to his job, working the sidelines even while receiving treatment. He lived for broadcasting.
Like Stuart Scott, Sager was the recipient of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYs earlier this year. His speech was, like Scott’s, incredibly moving. I don’t throw the term “inspirational” around lightly – it seems to be overused these days – but his eloquence and perspective on life was an inspiration to anyone who has been dealt a cruel hand.
His passing was especially difficult today because I was finding myself a bit down. Although my struggles with muscular dystrophy pale in comparison to what Sager had to endure, his example is a reminder to us all to cherish each day no matter what your circumstances may be. Nothing is guaranteed.
Well, almost nothing is guaranteed. I can guarantee that the NBA on TNT will never be same. Although I don’t watch the NBA as much as I used to, I still follow the sport, and tune in to the big games from time to time. Half the fun was tuning in to see what Craig Sager was wearing as he roamed the sidelines.
The best tribute to Sager has been, ironically, on Twitter. With a platform like Twitter, as you know, even the most noble, uplifting, genuine people seem to get knocked off their pedestal by hate-filled commenters. Not today. Not with Sager.
I scrolled through hundreds of tweets, and saw the love from all walks of life – fans, current and former NBA players, even Vice President Biden. Everyone memorialized him, grieved him, cherished him.
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment was when he got notorious curmudgeon Gregg Popovich to crack a smile, which is no small feat:
Sager leaves an indelible, colorful void. He was one-of-a-kind, a decent man in a world that needs more of them.
I woke up Sunday morning to the awful news of Stuart Scott’s passing. Although any death is tragic, his especially hurt. He was an influential figure for me growing up, as I transformed into the ravenous sports fan that I am today. Scott’s tenure on SportsCenter coincided with my coming of age. Every time I flipped over the pillow and felt the coolness against my face, his iconic catchphrase came to mind. Every time I held a roll in my hand and reached for the butter, I cracked a smile. The entertainment factor he brought to SportsCenter was unlike any other anchor to set foot in Bristol. Sure, some anchors are entertaining, but their personalities are merely an evolution of Scott’s. He was the reason they crack the jokes they do today. He was the trailblazer. Any time Stuart Scott hosted, it became must-see TV, even if SportsCenter came on at 1am on a school night.
I will remember him for the laughs he provided, but more importantly, for how he conducted himself in his final years battling cancer. Since 2007, his legacy transformed from being a source of humor to being a source of courage. Reading his obituary on Sunday, I learned that he worked out at an MMA gym in my hometown of West Hartford, CT. That brought chills down my spine. I am honored that he chose to battle back against this awful disease in West Hartford, and fought his fate in my hometown until the very end.
His ESPYs speech last year was one for the ages. Like Jim Valvano in 1993, it would be a speech that unfortunately preceded a passing a few short months later. Scott’s words inspired me that night, just like they inspired millions of others.
I have learned a lot from people fighting cancer. I hope it is a fight I never have to face. Their battle puts into perspective how insignificant my fight is every day with a muscle disease. Looking back on the blog post I recently wrote about pain, my troubles feel so small compared to what cancer patients have to go through. My situation is quality of life threatening; theirs is life-threatening. Yet, between Scott, Valvano, and other heroes of mine such as Randy Pausch and my dear friend Carly Hughes, I have shining examples of how to live life. When people are faced with a life-threatening illness, it is easy to give up. Instead, more often than not, you see someone who truly values each and every day, down to the most minute detail. Sunshine. A warm breeze through an open window. The taste of ice cream. Things we take for granted, valued to the utmost. That is the attitude of someone who has learned the meaning of life.
To fight cancer with a positive attitude is to personify the meaning of courage. Stuart Scott believed until the day he died that he was going to beat this disease, never caring to know what stage he was in, because he didn’t want to change his approach to fighting it. Carly knew she was going to win up until the final moments. It’s funny; we always seem to read that someone “has lost their battle with cancer”.
I don’t see it that way at all.
Stuart Scott would also disagree. “When you die,” he would say in his speech, “it does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.” If you live to be 100 but you don’t live a meaningful life, with treasured relationships and genuine love, is that better than living to be 49, and truly understanding the beauty of every moment?
There are few diseases in which there is a tangible, physical cure. To cure a disease mentally is even tougher. There is no doubt that in the way Stuart Scott lived, he cured cancer in his mind.
His attitude applies to any disease, whether or not it’s life-threatening. For people afflicted with a disease, too often we see our lives through a distorted, demented lens. It is easy to let life be defined by this lens; I can attest to that. To be able to come to peace with your circumstances, and to accept that your disease is a fact of life comparable to your age, or to the color of the sky – that is winning the battle. As Valvano said at the end of his iconic speech, “Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”
At the conclusion of his own iconic speech, Scott said something that particularly resonates with me to this day: “Live! Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”
He has joined the hallowed group of people who have won their battle, even if they are not here on this Earth in the physical form. On the days where I need that extra push, or feel that I can’t get through the day, they fight my disease when I am down and help me make it to the next day in one piece. They are my inspiration to keep moving forward on this bewildering, sometimes lonesome road I find myself on.
Stuart Scott has left behind many catchphrases and quotes that I will recite for years to come, but when I think of him going forward, on those days where I feel bad for myself or fall down or am in a great deal of pain, two words will stand out above all else:
Stuart Scott’s speech:
Jim Valvano’s speech: