Dear Friends of Spirit,
When I first met Teresa it was during a job interview
near Washington, DC. She was the Operations Manager leading a team of
inquisitors on their quest for finding the right Managing Director for their
technical staffing firm. Questions fired away, answers were delivered and it
became clear to me that the reason I wanted to work for this company had almost
everything to do with Teresa.
She sparkled. She was the competitive, athletic type, driven
with intelligence, style and humor. She was a bit of a perfectionist and
certainly knew where the company was headed and what it needed to succeed. What
impressed me most, in that first meeting with her was her forthright honesty.
One by one, she laid all the cards on the table insuring there would be no
surprises later. It was her trademark. She was also a spunky one. Full of fire,
she would fight, when necessary, for what she believed in and rarely, if ever,
did she back down. She had the gift of being able to skillfully work with some
of the most difficult people I've ever met. The staff that reported to her
trusted her. We worked well together, learning much from each other and having
many discussions concerning life philosophies over
.shall I say it
few glasses of wine after work. She always seemed to have too many headaches
which we decided was her way of processing stress.
As life would have it, our time there together was short. I
returned to New York to care for my elderly mother who had been diagnosed with
Alzheimer's and Teresa remained in Northern Virginia temporarily. For a brief
period of time we lost track of each other, each being busy with our own stuff
until one day, three months after we had tearfully hugged each other goodbye, I
received a devastating, life changing e-mail from her.
Still in Northern Virginia, Teresa had just begun a new
position at a very promising company. She was pleased by this new career
opportunity and life seemed to be offering exciting possibilities for her
future. Yet there was another, greater plan already in place. On her second day
of employment and without warning Teresa experienced a massive seizure,
followed by four others within 45 minutes. She told me later that she didn't
know what was happening to her and in her fear she began banging on her desk
for help. By the time staff members arrived she had begun to regain her
composure when another seizure and another and another took over her body and
her speech. She said she was completely terrorized as she felt bile coming up
through her throat. Teresa knew she was dying and she was only 43 years old.
She was taken immediately to a local hospital where she seized again in the
emergency room waiting to be seen.
scans, MRIs and a brain biopsy confirmed Teresa had a cancerous brain tumor,
Astro 3, known as a fast growing brain cancer. Doctors explained to Teresa that
it had begun to grow in her brain 10 years previously. Normally the message
from the brain would have been for the cells to stop growing, however, in this
case, the cells continued to grow as if she were carrying a baby in her head.
The messages are carried through the DNA and this is why, without a miracle,
the tumor will grow back again. Initially she was set up for a craniotomy;
however, because of the location of the tumor, and the strong possibility of
her being paralyzed on her left side, the doctors in Virginia refused to
perform the surgery at the last moment. In her forthright way, Teresa made an
instant decision as only she could do, to immediately move back to Seattle
where she had originally come from. She had previously worked at the University
Washington Medical Center for 18 years and still had connections
Teresa said as her family members
and friends began to arrive in Virginia and she began packing up her
belongings, a million thoughts and emotions went through her mind. The first
was denial that any of this was actually happening and couldn't be fixed, then
raging anger that she was too young to die and, "Why me? Why now?" In her
heart, she knew her time was short. She couldn't live alone and was going to be
forced to live with her mother who would have to feed her and help her do the
most basic activities. She could no longer drive and her fierce independence
had just been ruthlessly taken from her. She was headed directly into an abyss
of the unknown. Teresa was about to enter major upheaval to include intensive
surgery and loss of a lucrative career she had spent her entire life building.
She grieved as she had to give away her beloved cats that she loved and were as
children to her. Suddenly and without proper notice, Teresa had lost all
control over her life and now she found herself just trying to survive one
moment at a time.
Upon arrival in Washington, Teresa
immediately met with Dr. Silbergeld at UWMC. After another array of tests had
been completed, surgery was performed successfully removing 75% of the tumor
and leaving 25% which had become intertwined with the motor strip in her brain.
The tumor was then classified as Oligodendroglimo which gave her the
possibility of living for five more years, but first, 27 rounds of radiation.
They would save chemo for later if
The radiation experience was the next
complicated phase to be dealt with. A mask of Teresa's face was created by
molding material to her skin. She was instructed not to move during this
process. Once the mask had dried, which took two days, lines and dots were
drawn to tell the machine exactly where to point the radiation. Those points
were already matched in the computer. Every day, Monday through Friday for
seven weeks Teresa would go in and lie perfectly still for 30 minutes while she
listened to this robotic machine moving about her head making all sorts of
sounds. Every ten minutes or so, technicians would move the computer to another
location. They were shooting her with radiation in three different locations.
It was a delicate procedure, trying to avoid the motor strip area that
controlled movement in her body. The treatments made her very ill and she found
it exhausting to go back there every day. Yet, if she wanted to extend her
life, she had no other choice but to continue. It was Teresa's step father who
patiently took her to UWMC for treatments every day. Many are not as fortunate
to have private transportation and must seek public means.
While going through this necessary torture, Teresa told me she
had met a young man who had the same type and stage of cancer as she did. They
had received the same treatments. She happened to see him just recently. He had
experienced a bleed out and she could barely recognize him. He was confined to
a wheel chair. There would be no more radiation, no more chemo, no more
opportunities to extend his life, just confinement in a wheel chair until it
was all over. While she was deeply saddened by the condition he was in, she
realized Spirit had given her a gift of life, for however long it was, she
still had some time left to accomplish goals she had created.
Only those who have experienced this
horrendous disease can fully appreciate the fear, the torturous treatments and
the devastation that wreaks havoc on the mind and the body. The hours of agony
physically and emotionally seem to consume every waking moment and every ounce
Yet at the same time, another
form of torture was taking place. Teresa, fighting for her life, without any
form of income whatsoever, was being denied by Social Security for benefits.
The original disability adjustor approved her claim; however the case was
pulled for Q&A. It was stated she was being denied until they could gather
further medical evidence. They already had all the medical records, test
results, treatments and doctor's statements. She became lost in a system of
ridiculous governmental red tape that only recognized her as a number and
another expense. Teresa had terminal cancer. Eventually she was going to die
from this disease. In the preceding months she had experienced seizures,
biopsies, a craniotomy, 27 rounds of radiation, lost her hair, lost her
dignity, was experiencing short term memory loss, anxiety, depression and
extreme exhaustion. She could not work and she desperately needed support from
the very system she had already paid over $70,000 to in Social Security taxes,
yet it eluded her as if she were a stranger from another planet.
Remember, Teresa is a fighter and she was not about to let this
situation rest. She wrote to Senator Murray, Congressman Reichert and Senator
Ted Kennedy, who himself, had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. She
received the standard replies from all however, it was Congressman Reichert who
really followed through for her. Because of his efforts, Teresa finally
received her Social Security benefits payments but still no medical coverage.
During this time her Cobra has been exhausted and she currently continues to
pay a substantial amount for insurance each month out of her Social Security
allotment. She will not qualify for Medicaid until 2010.
All of this seems more than one should ever have to bear. For
those of us who have not been exposed to this on a personal level, we should be
extremely thankful. Perhaps Spirit allows us to observe such atrocities so in
our gratitude we can reach out to others who struggle to
In the midst of all the fear, all the anger and all the
unnecessary chaos, something beautiful took place within Teresa's spirit. I
asked my friend what had happened and she explained it to me like this. She
said, "I realized I could live my life to the fullest and take back some
control or remain angry at life. I also acknowledged that I have been blessed
in many ways. My family and friends have surrounded me with love and endless
support. My brother has continuously stepped in on countless occasions to
personally take care of my financial matters. I cannot imagine how terrible it
could have been without him. Every day, really, I still have time to be with my
soul mate, the one I had waited for, for so many years." They reunited when she
moved back to Washington for treatment and share a loving home together. She
said he was her rock. During this time she was also able to renew old
friendships she'd lost somehow on her journey. "I've been given the gift of
time and have been allowed to heal old sorrows and relationships of the past.
I've accepted that I'm going to die. I cry at times when I think of not being
with my loved ones as they go on without me, of not being able to share
holidays or even just having the opportunity to come and go. Yet when this
occurred, I told myself, I have loved, I have been loved and I still have time
left to make a difference."
Teresa had always wanted to go to
Italy for as long as she could remember. When she was first diagnosed and
realized she had less than five years to live, she cashed in her retirement,
paid off all her bills and planned a trip to Italy. She spent one month in
Tuscany with friends and family visiting at various times. It had been
something she'd always wanted to do but had never had the time. She always had
to work and couldn't really afford it. These excuses no longer had any merit
for her. She realized she had to live her life as if each day could be her
last. There would not be much time left to create memories. In retrospect, she
says she wouldn't have traded one moment of that trip. It was healing for her
soul and as she meditated in the beauty and the love, it was there she found
her final purpose.
Teresa made a hero's decision. In the midst of all her pain and
her own personal loss, she wanted to give to those whose lives had been turned
upside down as hers had been. She wanted to provide a place to turn to for
support when one couldn't work and found themselves under great financial and
mental stress. It became her desire to provide comfort and guidance when there
was no relief in sight. A fire rose from within her to give hope to the
hopeless. In that one moment in time, Teresa's heart gave birth to a gift of
love for all those who would unfortunately follow her path. In her decision to
live life as best she could until it was over, Teresa and dedicated friends who
joined her cause, created The Gregorio Foundation, a non-profit organization
that would provide guidance and financial assistance to those who were
struggling to live with brain cancer. Realizing she has only a short time to
make a difference for those she leaves behind, Teresa has dedicated the
remainder of her life to those who will
Teresa is my hero. She teaches us that no matter how sorrowful
our song may be no matter how tragic our circumstances, we still have a song to
sing. It begins within us. As long as we have breath, we still have the right
and the ability to make our choices. We can accept our lot in life and continue
to move on in spite of our challenges or we can simply give up and disappear.
Someone once said, "We define ourselves by the fork we take in the road".
Teresa has intentionally given purpose to her journey. In the most trying of
circumstances, she has made a commitment to leave something behind for others
who find themselves on a similar path.
No matter how long my friend
remains on this earth, she has lit a candle whose light will never go out. She
will continue to live long after her body has found
...know that you are never alone and that the Great Mystery
walks beside you and is with you on your journey.
Ted and I send our love to you and your
Walk in Power! Many