In a boat on the Bosphorus, Istanbul, Turkey
I am alive today because of love. That’s true for all of us. At least one person loved us into being, growing, and sticking around for the fun. Parents. Spouses. Children. Friends. They give us empathy which is how we internalize the practice for ourselves before we have words…and also when words fail us. Empathy starts at home and is a gateway to love. But it’s especially true for me now. Since my ovarian cancer diagnosis, the epicenter of my healing and living has been our family: Grant, Sophie, and John LeMay. Being together in Istanbul this last week is the best medicine I could have.
Our son Grant (soon to be 18) loves life. His enthusiasm is reminiscent of the character Dani Rojas in Ted Lasso, not just because he loves futbol/soccer too, and we have enjoyed watching him play all these years. Grant does everything with a joie de vivre that makes you not want to miss out. He loves his family, friends, good food, sports, music…life. And he’s a realistic optimist. It’s a great way to be. When things got as low as we can imagine for me health-wise, we were all crying. It was Grant who suddenly got very calm and said, “no, this is not part of my story. My mom does not die early. I know it. You will be okay.” And I believed him, and we got on a plane to Turkey, and…so far, he has been right. But part of his being right was convincing me from the inside out. It’s the ultimate form of what we like to think of as leadership really, to be able to inspire someone to do the impossible. Out of love. What a gift.
Our daughter Sophie (19) is brave and powerful. Everything important I’ve learned about the natural healing and adjuvant care that’s kept me feeling unusually well during brutal cancer treatments and alive longer than I should be, I learned in partnership with Sophie. When she got hemiplegic migraines at age 11, we realized western medicine had nothing good for her. We embarked on a natural healing journey that would take us through many, many philosophies, practitioners, and healing modalities. We adjusted. We shifted. We learned how to discern dogma from what worked in our own bodies. We worked hard to continue to make eating healthy food and taking good care of ourselves fun rather than deprivation and a burden, even as she watched friends eat school lunch while bringing her own for years. We did it. She lives migraine-free, healthy, and happy. She’s studying biology/narrative journalism/anthropology/sociology and is interested in Blue Zones and healthy living. One of the dreams sustaining me through treatment is getting to go to Ikaria, Greece with our family. The power of learning and practicing all of that good living as a teenager is astonishing to me, both in that she managed to go against the grain yet maintain great friends during a difficult time, and that she now has it inside of her. Her unwavering faith in our ability to figure out this challenging cancer situation makes me a believer too.
My husband John never ever gives up, even when I kinda do. He is researching options and thinking ahead. Discerning the good from the bad. Protecting me from the latter. Gently nudging me toward treatments that have a chance of working. Oh, he was right there with me when hospice came to call, ready to “walk me home” if that’s what I was ready to do. If that’s where I was. He was also right there when I knew it was time to come to Istanbul. We were on a plane within 2 weeks. Kids. Jobs. A house. A dog. A world away. It seemed crazy, but also, it was my best shot at living, and we both realized it. John LeMay is McGuyver. He makes s*&t happen like no one I’ve ever known. It’s such a comfort to be in a partnership with someone you can trust completely, who figures everything out somehow, grows along with you, and holds you up when you can’t do that for yourself. We had a peaceful and loving marriage before all of this went down, but going through this fire has left us both with a sense of the depth of our love and commitment that we hope to enjoy for a long time to come. We’ve worked really hard. Sometimes, I felt guilty about that…like, maybe it would be easier for him/them if I weren’t here anymore. I’ve even said that out loud. The look on his face shows me how out of the realm of possibility that is for him. Incredibly, somehow I still feel beautiful in his eyes…bald, wasting away, swollen with fluid in places it shouldn’t be. I don’t understand it, but I’ll take it. All. Day. Long. Oh, we have our moments, like any two people together 24/7, though thick, thin, and a pandemic! Through it all though, I really, really, really want to stick around for the fun part with John.
Outside of this epicenter, we are surrounded by you. Family. Longtime friends. Colleagues. New friends in Istanbul. Showering us all with love and affection from near and far. Physically helping us with our kids, our dog, our home. Feeding us literally, emotionally, and spiritually. So much encouragement. So many prayers. There simply aren’t enough words to express how deeply we appreciate it all. You sustain us. Your words and care breathe life into us. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Does all of this love guarantee that I will live? Not necessarily. Does it mean that I will feel exquisitely beloved until the end, hopefully, many years from now? Yes. Does it make me well and whole in all the ways that really matter, no matter what happens in my physical body? Yes. Even after people pass from this earth, they live on in our loving memories and stories. I find comfort and inspiration in that. For all we know, life beyond this physical plane IS pure love. There sure would be less to fight about without any bodily needs, hurts, or pains.
I’m 20% through this treatment in Istanbul, my second round of chemotherapy. It’s not easy, but it’s working. Sometimes, I realize what a long-haul I’m in and get down. It can be difficult to take the long-view when the finish line is both uncertain and months away. I’m not expecting to be back home until late May or early June. There’s so much to appreciate here, but there is no place like home…where our kids are.
This past week, our family has been enjoying Istanbul altogether! It felt magical to me. Our teenagers flew across the world to bring home to us!! We enjoyed great meals together, and a cruise on the Bosporus, offering the best perspective on this amazing and beautiful city. It was a spiritual experience to be with our grown children in the Hagia Sophia where we were inspired to name our daughter more than 20 years ago. We drank in sights full of wonder, rich history, and a sense of this place as a cradle of humanity, as well as central to our own Chaldean heritage. And there were a few memorable purchases for Sophie at the Grand Bazaar. The best part was Just. Being. Together. Was it easy for me physically? No. Sometimes getting around was very difficult, but we figured out how to manage it. I didn’t miss a thing. Having fun together filled me up. A booster shot of love that will see me through the rest of my time here. Sophie and Grant also got to visit the clinic and take comfort in the kind and effective treatment I’m receiving. As sorry as I am that this cancer journey is part of our family story, I also know that, even now, we appreciate everything – especially each other – so much.
Below are some highlights from our time together. Enjoy!
Visiting the Hagia Sophia, Sophie’s namesake. It’s been a church, a museum, and a mosque. The central mural is of the Virgin Mary holding Jesus, with “God” written on the right, and “Muhammad “on the left. We enjoyed Turkish coffee, Turkish Delight, and Apple Tea in front of the mosque while learning some of its history.
Topkapi Sarayi/Palace included a traditional Ottoman lunch overlooking the Golden Horn (braised lamb over pureed eggplant)
Getting ready to negotiate at the Grand Bazaar!
Another beautiful dinner at Sunset Grill and Bar, overlooking the Bosporus and the Asian side of Istanbul
Heartfelt thanks to Hakan Gurger https://www.facebook.com/hakangurgertravelagency. He is more than a tour guide. Hakan is a portal to the past, present, and future of Istanbul, a cradle of civilization in so many ways. Best tour we’ve ever had. A beautiful, wonder-full, magical, even spiritual experience. His knowledge is extensive, and his language skills are top-notch. He’s also highly empathetic, getting to know his clients, of all ages, and their lives and interests. Hakan gave us new perspectives and insights on Istanbul from so many angles, including the water – the best! Thank you, Hakan! And thanks to former McKinsey colleague Ogeday Karahan for connecting us.
Standing in Asia, next to the Sea of Marmara
For those of you curious about visiting Istanbul, come!
https://www.cntraveler.com/story/why-istanbul-should-be-on-every-travelers-radar-in-2022 (thanks Lisa Levine for sharing)
Photo credits: John LeMay, Sophie LeMay, and Hakan Gurger