When bad things happen we can still make choices

Cancer has claimed another life. It wasn’t just cancer. It was pancreatic cancer, which is the particular one that stole life from my husband Jim more than 6 years ago.

This death hit close to home; it happened in the tight New England flyball (think dog relay racing) community I belong to. We all watched Michelle struggle with her illness, for far longer than any doctors thought she would.

We watched her continue to play flyball and to bring her family with her to play the game too. We watched family, friends and the flyball community rally around her to hold fundraisers and support her with shirts and other things bearing witness to her fight against that horrible disease. #GameOn was the slogan.

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Game on indeed.

We watched her fight hard to the very end, bringing dignity to a disease that has none of its own. We watched her squeeze every moment out of her days, fighting way beyond exhaustion.

A wife, a mother, a veterinarian and so much more. Michelle brought so many gifts to the world.

I’m sure her husband and her young daughter won’t remember the fight as much as they will feel the huge hole she left behind. I understand their anguish. I am living with a similar one.

I’m sure the flyball community will not be the same without Michelle in it. She always had a smile and a kind word, and even after her diagnosis and grim prognosis, she lived her life, knowing all the while this was probably not a battle she would win.

I didn’t know Michelle as well as I should have, but I, too, will feel her absence. Her calm demeanor amidst chaos, her regal bearing, her love for family and friends, and her devotion to her sport will be an obvious hole in the fabric of our flyball community.

I enjoyed watching her interact with her little girl; she obviously loved being a mother. And I loved how she could go from loving parent one minute to fierce flyball competitor the next. She had passion for everything she did.

I see an obvious and important lesson in how Michelle lived her life, especially after her diagnosis. None of us know when we will take our last breath, so we should be mindful of how we live. With passion? With grace? With dignity? With love? With kindness? With thankfulness?

It is our choice.

Even when other things happen to us that are out of our control, we can choose HOW we live. We can love our families and friends, choosing time with them over work and the chains of earthly existence that burden all of us. We can make the world better, by helping those who are not as strong.

We can champion causes. They don’t have to be global; small and local is good too.

We can live with honesty and decorum and retire each day knowing we have done something of value.

I have seen a simple smile totally change a stranger’s demeanor. Such a small thing for me to do, yet such a big thing for the person receiving it.

We can choose.

Michelle fought for a longer life, but she did not fight the living of it. She lived each moment in fullness and passion. She chose to leave special memories for her family and friends, even as cancer ravaged her body. She never gave up.

I am a weakling in the face of such strength, yet witnessing a life so lived also makes me feel strong. Even though we barely knew each other, Michelle has left even me a special gift — an example of a life well-lived that gives me inspiration to try to live mine better.

Go with God, Michelle, and rest in the peace you so very much deserve.

JULIE HARRIS

About JULIE HARRIS

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.