My Cancer Story: Losing Paul Nichols
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From the title of this post, you can gather that Paul Nichols is no longer alive. I've blogged about him before but it's always been hard for me to talk about. This will be the first time I go into detail. I heard a song that reminded me of him recently. It's called The Fight by Taboo. I miss Paul so much and hope there's WIFI in heaven so he can read this. It's an understatement to say he changed my life because he did so much more than that. He became like a father to me in a city where I was thousands of miles away from my real dad or any family for that matter.
The story goes like this... One day at work, back when I was a creative art director at TBWA/Chiat Day working on Madison Avenue, I received an email from a co-worker saying she was running the New York Marathon with an organization that was very special to her. I had always wanted to run a marathon. Intrigued, I read each word of her fundraising email very carefully. She was asking for a donation for an organization that raised money for cancer fighters (many with terminal cancer) and their treatment. It wasn't about research, it was about making sure these people were getting the care, comfort and medicine they needed to keep fighting for as long as they could. I found the cause to be tearfully beautiful. I immediately donated to my co-worker's run and then applied to run with the organization.
My application was answered by Mr. Paul Nichols, the founder. He invited me to his home, explained how everything worked, invited me to all the training events and became a friend, mentor and 2nd father to me over the years. I ran 4 marathons for Paul's marathon team before he died. When I met him he told me he'd been diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and was given less than a year to live. But 3 years later he was still alive, had founded a cancer organization, was saving lives and had even run in the New York marathon himself. What a force of nature! I couldn't resist his greater-than-life enthusiasm and positivity. He was a magnet you wanted to stick to all day long. Everything about him was something you wanted to be, and I became a better person every second I spent with him.
While Paul was saving lives by organizing runners and teaching us how to fundraise, he was forging his own fight against cancer. For some people, sadly, cancer never goes away...even if they're able to beat the odds or their doctor's prognosis. For these people, cancer is their fate. And my darling Paul used the reality of his disease to show people how important it is to join the fight and share their strength. He wanted to prove that just because you're terribly sick doesn't mean you can't make miracles happen. In doing so, he inspired thousands who weren't sick to put on their running shoes and go the distance for complete strangers fighting for their lives. We've got to do this together, he used to say. It's the only way.
I have so many memories of Paul. Dinners full of laughter, training sessions full of encouragement, and then, the last time I saw him before he died. He brought together so many of us looking for meaning in our lives. We were runners bonded by hope and determination. I loved Paul and the circle he brought me into. He brought awareness and selflessness to my life at a time when I so desperately needed it. He saved me...and then he left me.
The morning Paul died, I cried. There was some kind of spiritual connection between he and I because I woke up out of sound sleep in tears and knew he was gone. I got the call several hours later informing me he had passed away, resiliently proclaiming he would never stop fighting. While I don't love this picture of him because he's rather thin and pale, but it was taken around that time. I can't get over the smile. That was him.
My friend...my hero....he left a beautiful scar on my heart. As you can imagine, it took a while for me to deal with the loss. I couldn't train for months but I was finally able to run my last race through his organization. I decided I had to move on after that and find new charities and organizations to give my time to. I needed to refocus my passion and be uplifted once again so I could give MY BEST. It was hard leaving an organization I spent years with, tied to the memory of my dear friend, but I know it's something he would've wanted me to do.
I went on to race for more cancer organizations, always with Paul in my heart and his name on the back of my racing tee. He used to tell me I was "unstoppable". I know he'd be proud to see the things I've accomplished and the charities I've fallen in love with and now help. Like I said, Paul changed me. He showed me his will to live and fight for others, and it set off an explosion of purpose in my life. My dream is to make an impact on the world like he did...and that's a path I continue hiking along.
Given my story, I think it's important to talk about Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas. His new single, The Fight, is about survival and making the most out of your sacred time on this earth. You can download and listen to it here: http://cbi.as/69j1q on iTunes. Also, watch the video below for the story behind the song in his own words.
Intrigued? How could you not be, right? You can learn more about Taboo's fight here: http://cbi.as/6905d.
A lot of celebrities and musicians tend to keep quiet about their struggles or health issues. I respect that completely but on the flip side it's humanizing and relatable for these influencers to share, and let us inside their world so we can see how they cope. It's incredibly inspiring and puts us all on the same plane. Fame doesn't save you from cancer. But other things like love, support, research, education, faith and empowerment CAN. It's a very positive thing for role models to spread the message that challenges can be faced and overcome. And when it comes in the form of amazing lyrics, we need to listen and share it!
Learning about Taboo and listening to The Fight reminds me so much of Paul. I know if Paul was still alive he would've reached out to Taboo, proposed some type of cool collaboration or asked him to visit some of the kids in the hospital that the team supported. So it means a lot to me to write this blog post. Please visit the American Cancer Society, check out Taboo's FB page, listen to The Fight and find away to throw your own punches against cancer. WE NEED YOU.
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