Terri Wingham is easily one of the most impressive people I have ever met. A cancer survivor, a lioness–both gentle and fierce, and a visionary, Terri’s life mission has become to help people living with cancer, survivors and caregivers. I wrote about her non-profit, A Fresh Chapter, in a previous blog and had the pleasure of writing a blog for AFC’s website about a woman I interviewed who’d taken part in one of non-profit’s life-changing excursions. But Terri and I had only spoken on the phone a couple of times and exchanged emails.
So, on Saturday I made my way to see Terri only after accidentally seeing on Facebook that she had “checked in” at O’Hare–to attend a conference here in Chicago. Not of Facebook nation for a while now, it was a great coincidence. And after exchanging a few messages, we set up a time to meet.
It was as thrilling…as it wasn’t. I wasn’t excited to “meet” her–though I’d never done so. I was looking forward to talking with her and catching up. To me–Terri and I were already old friends (and the feeling was mutual.) Kindred spirits. Members of the same scattered tribe who had been reunited a year ago when I explored how A Fresh Chapter might help me. And how I might help it.
I felt an undeniable connection with her when we spoke on the phone the first time. There’s a shorthand that exists sometimes between strangers who have experienced something similar, allowing us each to brush past defenses and feel safe in revealing our true selves to the other. Without hesitation.
When I walked into the restaurant, I saw Terri—unmistakably working—on her Mac at the bar. (Time is a commodity I don’t believe she is capable of squandering.) She waved at me as I approached and closed her computer before standing up to hug me.
“I thought about you recently,” she began as she launched into a story about the widowed husband of someone she knew. She talked about a recent visit with him, and the struggles he’s having two years out from his spouse’s death. And wanted my opinion–as a caregiver six years out from mine. Though A Fresh Chapter’s initial focus was on survivors and people living with cancer, recently its programs and scope have grown to include caregivers–spouses and loved ones of people who lived with or are living with cancer.
It’s very special people like Terri who create a framework–that, for me–when talking about Ken, his battle with cancer, and the aftermath of his death, reassure me I can use my experience to help others–which gives it unmistakable value and revokes any possibility that it happened in vain. My need to write about it is a part of that same kind of framework. Kindred spirits, indeed.
It was exciting to hear her talk about how she is building AFC, knowing what a difference it makes in people’s lives–what a difference it has made in my life just knowing her. And sitting there, at an open-air bar in a restaurant along the river on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon with this old friend, was like sitting there with any of the other old friends I’m so lucky to have. Easy. Laughter-filled. And important.
“I look forward to future adventures with you,” she said just before we parted. “Whatever they may be.”
So do I, Terri.
Also published on Medium.