Breast cancer claimed and lost an activist on March 16th, but God Himself knows she was so much more than that. A loving family surrounded by scores of close friends lost a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter and cherished friend. I lost, selfishly, the person who knew me longest and best and most.
Rarely do you see a true force of nature, an epic source of energy in person form. Ann was unlike anyone we'd ever met, nor will come across again.
I've struggled with writing her tribute for days now. How does one write about someone like her? Emmy-nominated TV news reporter? Wife and mom who pushed cancer to its limits for 10 years? Nakedly honest to the core documentarian sharing every intimacy of the 30-something breast cancer journey? Prolific blogger and author and humanitarian with her own foundation? All of that was Ann. She's also the cancer patient who showed up to dance at Fit House, the epicenter gym in Davis, CA the Friday before her death two days later when she couldn't walk unassisted and could barely speak. It was Ann's way of life bombing Webster's Collegiate's definition of courage. She was the Boston Strong Red Sox lover who never missed an opportunity for good humor. You'd struggle to find an easier smile or a quicker wit. Most certainly, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more dedicated, driven, altruistic human being.
Ann's wholehearted documentary, The Breast Cancer Diaries, chronicled her first fight with the disease as a 30-something with a husband and two small children. Why crack open your life in your weakest and most vulnerable moments? To help other people know more and fear less. The film has been seen in over 30 countries and changed countless lives. At that time, no one would have known the movie was simply a warm-up to her super hero life. Even after she was delivered the death sentence of metastatic breast cancer several years later there were blogs and books to write, interviews to give and a one woman show to perform and appearances at M.I.T. and Mass General's prestigious "The 100." (If you want to give yourself an enormous gift, YouTube her speech at The 100). Ann wrote Pink Tips and Words to Live By and founded Project Pink to help others learn how to better navigate their life journeys.
Through it all, Ann spread her positive message. She showed up. She allowed herself to be seen and used her powers for greater good. In her adopted hometown of Davis, CA, she flourished. She and her family made the type of friends people thought only existed in fairy tales. And when she was laid to rest a week after her passing, hundreds of people showed up at an open air memorial to honor her life. Some had only met her by reputation, others new her intimately and held her hands through the worst that cancer had to offer.
On every day of the week of her mourning, a group gathered at her home to walk the beautiful parks of Davis to remember her. Every night, friends bearing food came by the house to check on her beloved husband Sandy and their two children. And on the Friday before her Memorial Service, over 100 people participated in a three home Irish wake.
The casket or "the box" as Sandy described it, was built by a neighbor who wanted to know what he could do for the family. His wife's life had been transformed by Ann's kindness, a common story among those who knew her. When he brought the box to Sandy later in the week, the man asked how he should finish it.
"Don't put a finish on it," Sandy later shared at the wake. "Leave it unfinished. Her life was unfinished. It's up to us to continue on in her honor."
At the memorial, Ann's unfinished box was covered with Sharpies. The hundreds who came to pay their respects on a sun blessed day on a ranch in Davis wrote their promises to her in red and black ink, and declared their love of her life. In true Ann fashion, treasured friendships were made around the box that will last lifetimes. Even in death, she united us. Just ask Sue Singer and Sally and Beth and Mary and Carol and Julia and all of the others.
Ann's husband Sandy implored us to grab a handful of Ann's magic -- her pixie dust -- and use it to better ourselves. He challenged us to take one thing in our lives that we would like to improve and work on it in Ann's honor.
Ann was more than a person, she was a life force. She deserves to be remembered as that, most certainly. Moreover, she deserves to be honored by us walking in her ruby-bedazzled shoes.
Visit Project Pink Diary here.