Tuesday, April 17, 2012

A Hero for Our Time

Yesterday my family and I returned from our first trip to Boston.  We went there to see some friends--some who we've known for decades, and others we've known for a little less than that--and I came away even more inspired than I already knew I would be.  I came back to Virginia with more than just photographs and great memories.  I came home with a personal hero.

You see that smiling lady in the floppy hat?  That's Rebecca, a friend who lived in our neck of the woods in Thailand.  Last summer Rebecca qualified for the Boston Marathon, an amazing accomplishment by any reckoning.  And then in October, just as she was deciding whether or not she would make the trip from Thailand to run the race, she was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma--breast cancer.

If you were in Rebecca's shoes, what would you do?  I think my first instinct would be to curl into the fetal position at the bottom of my bed and cry.  At some point I'd probably ask, "Why me, Lord?" and probably foolishly shake my fist at the heavens.

But not Rebecca.  There were no tears.  Her first question to the doctor was, "Can I still run?"  As the doctor gave her the standard spiel about conserving your strength to fight the cancer, Rebecca's heart and indomitable spirit told her she needed to run in order to beat this cancer.  Training for a marathon takes time, dedication, and persistence.  It requires endurance and for many people, not a little suffering.  In the best of circumstances it's a challenge.  In simple terms, it's tough.  Add cancer treatment to the equation, and you're talking about serious commitment.  Wimps don't run marathons.

Fast forward to this past weekend, when we met Rebecca, along with her husband and oldest daughter at the Boston Temple on a gorgeous Sunday morning.  Only five weeks removed from her last chemotherapy treatment, Rebecca's hair has yet to grow back.  She had a radiation treatment just three days before the marathon.  And yet, as you see in the picture, she was smiling and happy, and ready to get out there and show the world that cancer would not--could not--keep her down.

This year was one of the hottest Boston Marathons on record, with temperatures reaching the upper 80s.  News reports indicated that about 10 percent of all participants received some kind of medical treatment during or after the race.  Conditions were brutal for all the participants.  And among those 22,000 participants, crossing the finish line and proving to herself and all of us that she deserves to be called a true hero, was Rebecca.

We live in a day and age where we place a lot of people, usually so-called "celebrities," up to an intense amount of scrutiny.  Movie stars, entertainers, athletes, and politicians are examined under the glaring spotlight of public attention, their every move analyzed, debated, and dissected for meaning.  And all too often, these people are the role models for our society, and some people deign to call such public figures "heroes."

Call me old-fashioned, but to me a hero is supposed to be someone who inspires others to go above and beyond, to become better people, and to overcome odds that seem to be stacked against them.  True heroes very rarely make headline news, end up on the cover of People magazine, or get interviewed by Oprah.  True heroes make us believe that we can become so much more than what we are, that we ordinary mortals can do extraordinary things, and quite often without much fanfare or notice.

Rebecca, you are a true hero.  We are honored and humbled to call you "friend."  Thank you, and God bless you and your wonderful family.


  1. Heidi, you can add your name to our list of heroes! We are so much better for knowing folks like you and Rebecca, you are so inspiring to us, and we love you for it!

  2. Brent, I am completely humbled by your tribute because I truly feel that I am just an ordinary girl living life the best way I know how. Your definition of heros is great because in my mind it includes friends like you and your family who inspire me to be a better person simply by the daily life you are living.