Staying Present With Laurel May Bond

By on July 15th, 2015 Categories: The Breast Cancer Journey

In April of this year, San Francisco software innovator Brett Bond reached out to Breastcancer.org to find out if there were ways we could work together. Brett runs Concrete Interactive, an agency that develops apps for health, tech, and children’s companies, as well as numerous other clients. Soon we were on the first of many calls, opening up a very cool tech-meets-healthcare dialogue largely inspired by Brett’s wife, Laurel May Bond.

Laurel was the author of the blog Cancer is the New Black. She’d been living with stage IV metastatic breast cancer for 3 years and freelance writing the entire time. Last weekend, on July 5, we lost Laurel. But her self-honest, often hilarious, joy-infused voice is permanent.

When Brett told us about Laurel’s blog, I took one look at her work and knew instantly that it needed to be shared with the world. Breastcancer.org receives 1 million visits per month from 230 countries. We could make this happen. And so we began sharing Laurel’s voice on the site and social media outlets.

It’s not easy to write about breast cancer, or any crisis, as you’re going through it. After being diagnosed with breast cancer twice myself, I can attest to the anvil-like writer’s block that hits when you’re in the throes. But Laurel didn’t have writer’s block. At all. She wrote and wrote her experience, and it moved with an urgency, like Sarah Connor in The Terminator. You could put it on pause if you wanted to — or could you? Nope. You couldn’t. But this was so much more than that. This was real. This was happening, right now, in realtime: fear, euphoria, anger, spit-out-your-drink hilarity, full-on presence — just as it’s happening to thousands of people worldwide, people we know and love, with just that urgency.

So we connected. “Howdy, Claire,” she said in her first email. Her sparkle blew like a breeze through my laptop screen. We talked about ideas and our mutual love of The Smiths. We’d both come of age in the 80s and shared all the same cultural references. “Know what? I think I like you!” she said.

Over the next 48 hours I would read the entire three years’ worth of her blog entries. “Hi, I’m Laurel and I’ve been making metastatic breast cancer cool since 2012. Just kidding. Sort of.”

In those three years of blogging her life, Laurel was expressing what so many people with metastatic breast cancer are feeling, with a determination to remain upbeat and optimistic and damn the consequences. She was right there, dropping illuminated breadcrumbs through an uncertain world and inviting us to follow.

She wrote about the frightening days of diagnosis and figuring out a treatment path — and figuring it out again and again. She wrote about identity shifts, the spirit world, her beloved bulldog, and the scary KISS poster on her wall growing up. She reviewed various holistic medicine experiences, often with a tone of nervous laughter. In her most recent piece, she was still joking after losing her hair. “No more sleepless nights spent wondering, ‘Is my skull as grossly misshapen as the asteroid Vesta?’ (answer: yes).”

She challenged her readers about the willingness to live authentically. An August 2012 entry asked, “What weakness are you hiding? How much energy are you wasting doing this? What would happen if you let down your guard?”

And she was funny. In her June 2014 entry, Confessions of a reluctant stoner, appetite loss and anxiety forced a confrontation with her loathing of all things marijuana. Eventually she picked up some medical cannabis at the local dispensary. “I smoked a bowl and waited to get scared and feel like my legs were 40 feet long and invisible spiders were crawling on my skin but what happened was I ate a leftover steak, a taco, a basket of blueberries, a carton of fried rice and then I took a four-hour nap. […] I still don’t love this idea. I don’t want to like reggae music. I will never own a bong. I’m terrified to take this stuff on the plane with me when I fly later this week…but sweet Jesus, if it gives me back my freshman 15 it will all be worth it. Want to come over for a pizza? I’ll smoke you out and we can practice our hooping.”

A self-described “seasoned, nimble freelance copywriter,” Laurel lived and worked in San Francisco and Scottsdale, Arizona, where she was being treated at Mayo Clinic. As a managing editor at 944 Magazine and marketing content manager at Ustream Inc, she was loved for her far-seeing, rapid-fire, sometimes off-the-wall vision. Coworkers praised her ability to stay impeccably organized. She was credited with boosting the morale of entire companies. She radiated kindness and laugh-riot humor, a light that seemed to be bursting out of her like pixie dust on all cylinders.

In A post about my butt, she’s not minding the cancer-related weight loss she’s experiencing — at first. But in a dressing room during a shopping trip with her husband, there’s a change of heart.

Then it happened.

I saw my ass in the mirror.

Wait. Was that really mine? My wonderful, happy American Girl Ass had been replaced. What I saw in the mirror was the rear end of a 75 year-old man wearing a thong. Or was it a dehydrated peach? Reeling with the shock of it all, I tried to sit back down, but the pants around my knees sent me and the stool clattering to the floor. “Is everything okay in there?” chirped the salesgirl. I could see her feet under the door. Oh my lord! What if she uses her key and opens the door? WHAT IF EVERYONE IN LULULEMON SEES MY OLD MAN ASS?”

Narrowly escaping view, Laurel emerged from the dressing room.

“Find anything?” asked [Brett], seeming not to notice how sweaty, pale and breathless I was.

“Yeah. I’m going to get these pants.”

More than anything, Laurel wanted to start a family. She and Brett opted to have a child by surrogate. In early May, she joyfully shared an ultrasound image of her daughter with me. It was heart-melting. I was, and am, excited for her and Brett. Although she and her daughter won’t meet in person, I’m confident that they could be meeting now, as we speak. Back in May, her email was effervescent. A few weeks earlier on a call, I had asked her the tough question, wanting to prepare her for what some readers may ask.

“How do you respond to comments about your decision to do this, in light of the circumstances?”

“My pat answer? No parent knows how long they will be here.”

On May 22, she posted Laurel asks the universe a question; gets answer, in which she receives some bad news but finds a way to stay optimistic:

As a dyed in the wool, former-Dead-following, ecstatic dancing, sage burning hippie, I feel connected to the earth and the stars and the turning of the wheel. I believe in magic and fairies and elemental forces.

I know to some people, these things are mutually exclusive, but this is just my way. I know there is something bigger than us.

And while I might not always know what to call it, I do talk to it every day.

In times of trouble or doubt, I ask for direction and most importantly, I ask for my answers to be delivered in ways that I can easily understand. Then I go and do mountains of research and tap every human resource possible; all the while looking and watching and listening for signs.

And I always get them.

Synchronicity.

American mythologist Joseph Campbell had a well-known line: “Follow your bliss.” His exploration of myth across time provides a narrative context to our most poignant human experiences — birth, life, connection, trauma, joy, uncertainty, death, rebirth, continuation.

When the world
seems to be falling apart,
the rule is to hang onto your own bliss.
It’s that life that survives.

Last week, Brett mentioned that Laurel often had vivid dreams. So much so, in fact, that she would draw cartoons about her dreams, hundreds of them. Day and night, it seemed her mind was like a radio tower, receiving lightning blasts of insight to which most of us don’t have access, instantaneously broadcasting with clarity and a wink.

Laurel had a profound impact. And often with loss comes that risk of a tender part of us traveling off with our loved one. We sometimes allow walls to form, attempting to protect ourselves from future pain. But I’d suggest following Laurel’s lead in staying as open and receptive as possible. If you can feel pain, you can also feel its source: love. If it’s too much to tolerate, seek support. If you can lean into it and stay present, this is where some of the deepest awareness and living can happen, even if you can’t move. This is the space of real magic that hums along, eternally, not requiring our attention. But man, when we pay attention! You know those moments.

So tune in to your dreams, all of them, sleeping and waking. You’ll undoubtedly receive some kind of inspiration, a direction in disguise, a visitation from a friend.

In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell writes, “Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division… is the talent of the master. The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche, does not rest heavily in a single spot, but gaily, lightly, turns and leaps from one position to another.”

I’m pretty sure Nietzsche was talking about Laurel.

Claire Nixon, Editorial Director — Claire directs a team of writers, researchers, content managers, and physicians through the creation of high-integrity web content. She brings 20 years of experience in health communications and journalism to the Breastcancer.org team, as well as the lens of the patient – she was treated for breast cancer in 1998 and again in 2012. In her off-time, Claire enjoys creative writing, independent films, meditation, and the ocean.

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