by Leighanm Sturgin
“Wonder if this will be the last time we’ll all be together?” said my new friend and colon cancer sister, Lindsey. We’d just spent the past 5 days at the 2015 Colondar 2.0 photo shoot with 10 other colon cancer survivors being treated like rock stars by the Colondar staff, many of whom are survivors themselves having modeled in previous Colondars. We were sitting in a Nashville airport restaurant waiting to fly home, back to our real lives. Back to places and people who didn’t understand us.
Lindsey’s question wasn’t referring to whether we could arrange our schedules or afford to meet back together. She was quite literally wondering if we’d all live long enough. I thought, “No, there is a Colondar model reunion in October in Colorado and Fight CRC’s Call on Congress we’d all been invited to in March 2016, surely this first time we’ve come together as a family won’t be the last.”
Sadly, I was wrong.
We all bonded in Nashville. We stayed in one giant house at the beautiful Five Star Retreat. The Colondar staff and models were all together for 5 days. You might think that’s too short a time to form lifelong bonds but it’s amazing how good it feels to be surrounded by people who REALLY understand what you’ve gone through for years. Those shared experiences made us feel like we’d been family forever as soon as we met. Some of us bonded closer than others or more quickly than others. For me and Christy, the bond was deep and instant. I chose to drive 3 hours to fly out of Pittsburgh with Christy instead of a closer airport. You might think both being from the Burgh was what bonded us so quickly but it wasn’t. It wouldn’t have mattered if Christy was from planet Mars. It was her. She was so amazing her eyes sparkled. For real. Her energy was genuine as it was contagious. She was one of those life-of-the-party types. I think everyone she met loved her. She had this unbelievable talent of knowing every word, to every song, in just about every genre. Not just the chorus…but ALL the words! She was a human Karaoke machine. She was strong yet so tenderhearted. The first one in tears when we had to leave each other. She was the last one to go to bed every night in Tennessee, so vibrant and full of life. We joked every night that she was ‘the last Colondar standing!’ I would’ve never pegged her to be the one who wouldn’t make it to see the 2015 Colondar 2.0 in print. Never. Ever. The BeachBody coach and fan of Shakeology, she was in MUCH better shape than me on our 3 mile hike through the woods. I swear it was up hill both ways. Everyone graciously stopped at least twice to let me catch my breath. Scott even offered to carry me on the way back! But Christy had no trouble at all. She even went paddle boating afterwards. If Energizer was looking for a new bunny, she would’ve been perfect for the job. She even had experience as her high school mascot.
A few of us have visited each other here and there. Whenever one of us is near a city another of us lives in we always try to get together. And we’ve all kept in constant contact via social media. I went to Pennsylvania in July to meet with Christy and her sister. We went to get tattoos of the blue colorectal star/ribbons on our wrists but when we got there Christy didn’t get one. I told her my docs wouldn’t let me get a tattoo when I was on chemo so she checked with her docs and they quickly vetoed the tattoo idea because she was in treatment. I still got mine and her sister got the word “LOVE” in Christy’s handwriting on her back. We had lunch and went shopping for the rest of the afternoon. We made plans to get together over Thanksgiving but she called me the day of our meeting and said she wasn’t feeling up to it, which I totally understood because I’ve had to cancel many things I wanted to do but just didn’t feel well enough myself.
Only two of us 2015ers went to the Colondar reunion. Despite Christy’s urgings I didn’t go. She even offered to drive the 1500+ miles with me to get me to go because flying with TPN and a high output ileostomy can be challenging for me. I wanted to see Scott again and meet his beautiful wife. And as fun as I thought a road trip would be with Christy, she couldn’t talk me into going. With marching band, football and soccer season in the fall, I didn’t want to miss any of my kids activities. I didn’t know it at the time when we talked about going together but that weekend ended up being homecoming and my son, a freshman, had his first date to a high school dance. As I stood in the cold, taking pictures of him and his beautiful date, I told my husband how glad I was that I didn’t go with her. I would have been so sad if I had missed seeing him all dressed up for that dance. I’m not even sure he would have asked the girl if I wasn’t home to take him shopping for dress clothes.
But now, today, I’m kicking myself for not going with her. I can’t go back and change my decision so instead, I will cherish the time I did spend with her and be thankful for the short time I knew her. I am positive I will always love her and never forget her.
She fought the good fight. Surrounded by love both near and far, on February 3, 2015 Christy Joyce Schmieler, 33, (aka @flutie75) finished the race.