Amy Donaldson: Cancer walk offers the chance to honor the life of a beautiful friend
Courtesy Lynn DeBruin
The first time I met Lynn DeBruin, she made me laugh so hard I almost fell down the icy hill we were trying to navigate.
She’d introduced herself to me just a few minutes before our giggle-fest in the pressroom at the Utah Olympic Park. We were both covering a bobsled competition — she for the Associated Press and I for the Deseret News. She was new to Utah and to winter sports, while I’d covered Winter Olympic sports for a couple of years, so I had some idea what we were in for on that frigid December night.
I told her what to expect, when the athletes might be available to us and how we would get results. She told me war stories of covering the NBA, NFL and PGA. She was just six years older than me, but she’d been a sports writer most of her career, while I’d just made the transition from the news desk in 2000.
We chose to skip the shuttle, in part because I convinced her it was good exercise to walk to the top of the bobsled run — or at least the finish area. The hill was steep and the road was icy. The night was dark and bitterly cold. I gave her one of the spikes I put on my shoes to make climbing the steep, snowpacked road a little easier. I slipped the other one on my right shoe and we prepared for our first adventure.
We hadn’t even left the pressroom when she began to tell me about being diagnosed with breast cancer three years earlier. She told me about all the lingering side effects of chemotherapy and radiation. Her skin was so dry, she slathered it in lotion before putting on two different kinds of gloves.
She grinned when she told me about how she’d been given six months to live and how she’d beaten cancer. She talked about being unemployed when the Rocky Mountain News, a paper I’d admired all of my life, went out of business. She talked about the difficulties of the past few years, but with the optimism of someone taking full advantage of new opportunities.
She had to take some breaks on the way up. She said something about still being out of shape because of the brutal treatments that saved her life. She promised this was a temporary state as she was a skier, a hiker, a golfer and a lover of all things outdoors.
When we were clinging to each other on that hillside, she told me about covering the NFL for 10 years, including John Elway’s first Super Bowl win. I told her I owned an Elway jersey, which made her laugh.
We made our way to the finish area, and then we were all business. We each went about doing our own interviews, and we traded information and opinions on what might be of interest to our different audiences.
It was on the trip down that she told me stories of NBA interviews that made me laugh so hard we both had tears streaming down our faces. We inched our way down the ice, cackling, making jokes and sharing a kind of camaraderie I don’t often get to enjoy as a female in a predominantly male profession.
In fact, while I came to know Lynn, her strengths and her weaknesses, I came to admire her more for her grit and toughness than for her sense of humor and endless optimism about beating a disease that has taken a number of my own family members.
She didn’t love being single in Salt Lake. But she did love the mountains, and she was always inviting me to ski, hike or snowshoe with her. We worked together, technically as competitors, but always as friends. A talented writer, we critiqued each others leads, traded transcribing duties and shared rides when we could.
About 18 months ago she told me that her cancer was back. She didn’t cry, and she didn’t ask for anything, although I couldn’t help but hug her and apologize for what seemed to me to be an unfair twist of fate.
She swore me to secrecy, afraid that if her immediate supervisor found out, he’d find a reason to fire her and she’d lose her insurance. She worked too hard, too long and gave our profession too much of herself. That’s the danger of our work. It can be so satisfying, it gobbles up your life before you realize what’s happening.
The last time I saw Lynn was just two weeks before she passed away last month. I picked her up at the airport and she looked so small, so tired and so frail. But she insisted on doing so much more than her friends and family thought she should.
It was her fierce independence that I admired. It’s what helped her survive in a profession that will eat you up and spit you out if you aren't completely sure of yourself. It helped her record and share in beautiful ways historical events. Her work is the only way fans like me, sitting at home in our Elway jerseys, could experience those magical moments.
She asked the questions that were hard to ask and sometimes harder to answer. She was fearless, aggressive and, like a lot of artists, prickly. She took things personally, and sometimes that made her hard to be around. But it is also what made her diligent and thorough.
Cancer ended her life at age 51, but I don't believe it beat her.
On that very first night, she told me how doctors told her she had six months to live.
Then she laughed.
Like any good reporter, she was never deterred by the first disappointment. Failure is simply not an option when you have a purpose. Roadblocks, detours, setbacks, they’re all a necessary part of success. And, of course, they make for much better war stories.
Lynn DeBruin beat cancer because she never succumbed to the self-pity or sadness. She might have a good cry about the tough stuff life gives to all of us, but then she’d follow that up with a hike, a ski trip, a shopping spree or an afternoon at the spa.
Cancer complicated her life, but it never defeated her.
I will honor her life and her spirit by participating in the Making Strides against Breast Cancer 5-mile walk. More than 232,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with breast cancer and, like Lynn, 40,000 of them will die from the disease. The money raised by the event provides research in curing the disease, but also information for those diagnosed with the disease, as well as mammograms for women who can’t afford them.
Registration starts Saturday at 7:30 a.m. at Liberty Park, and the walk begins at 9 a.m. The walk, like my friendship with Lynn, is not a competition.
It’s about camaraderie and supporting those currently fighting for their lives. It’s about clinging to one another when the footing is unsure and making each other laugh when the situation becomes too dark.
And for me, it’s about honoring my brave, beautiful sister.
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