Tuesday, November 9, 2010 arrived with a clear early morning that promised to become a chilly, sunny, and typically autumn day. I zipped my coat, buckled my helmet strap, unlocked my bike, and headed off to work. A few minutes later, a garbage truck crossed a bike lane to make a right turn. I was in that bike lane. The tires of the truck crushed my left leg and caused other internal injuries. An amazing team of trauma surgeons saved my life, but they had to amputate my leg to do so.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step. Confucius.

In July 2011, I set off to walk a thousand miles as an above-knee amputee in my new prosthesis. The journey has held more twists, turns, and detours than I ever imagined.

I reached Mile 1000 on March 30, 2013.

But of course, that wasn't the end.

I'll keep walking!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Coldest Day of the Year

Mile Marker 1510:

The news says today will be the coldest day of the year.

But daybreak is eerily warm.  Fog floats gently outside my window.  Sunrise isn’t sunrise, just a misty gray lightening of the sky.

As I leave for work, the rain turns torrential and steady.  Arch Street is a mess of puddles and potholes.  One brave soul -- green bike, black poncho -- pedals slowly into the wind.  

It feels like the whole world is crying.


Early in the morning, at Mile Marker 1510, my phone rings.   It's PT Deb.  She tells me Jen has passed away.

Today -- on the coldest day of the year -- my mind is numb.

When I chose the photos for my New Year's blog post, Jen was a natural.  Of all the friends of 2013, she truly exemplified the spirit of WALKING ON.  Of pushing ahead even when the odds were most challenging.

I met Jen when she was a brand new amputee, having lost her leg to cancer.   I watched as she regained her balance, stood on one leg, hopped with a walker.

In the beginning, she reminded me of myself:  scared but determined.  She named her leg “little leg,” like mine.  When she could walk on her prosthesis, she measured miles.   And told me about her adventures...

So I am walking down the street and a man starts talking to me about my leg.  Out of nowhere he kicks it to see if I could feel it.  I didn’t stumble but I thought that was nuts!

She even made the Magee calendar this year!
Yet over time, I learned how much STRONGER she was.  

Through complications and chemo, she pushed onward -- bought sandals, wore skirts, painted her toenails.  With help from her boyfriend Ken, she jury-rigged gadgets to meet every need: flashlights for dark hallways, pouches for water bottles, straps to carry her walker up the stairs.  She braved those South Philly sidewalks on her own, with or without her prosthesis.

When I needed COURAGE, I channeled my inner Jen.  Especially when I had to go legless.


Last September as I met Jen for a walk, I spotted her on the sidewalk with her new PINK HAIR. 

“I love it!!” I yelled, getting out of the car.

“People are always staring at my leg,” she said.  “I figured I'd give them something better to stare at!”

We practiced walking in the supermarket that day.  Jen tossed her crutches into the cart and tried using only her cane.  We made U-turns and reached for cereal boxes from high and low shelves.  Her appetite was returning, so we headed to the chip aisle.  At checkout, the clerk was so taken by our twin robot legs, she offered to snap a photo! 

(And I thought yellow sneakers were cool...)


Today – on the coldest day of the year – the wind chills warm memories.  I think how deceptive sunshine can be.   How it can brighten one land, while in another, a dark and dangerous storm rages.  Why was my body getting better while Jen’s was getting worse?

I am ANGRY.  Angry that Jen won’t be able to pursue her goals:  being an art therapist, turning a cartwheel, spending time with family and friends, living her life.

I am SAD.  Sad that Jen and I were just starting out.  I wish I'd done more.  Friendship grows slowly, but there’s not always as much time as you think.

Mostly, I am shocked by the UNFAIRNESS of it all.  Jen was kind and funny, optimistic and determined.  With a zest for life, she pushed past every limit.  After all the battles she faced, it’s most unfair not to win the war.


Today – on the coldest day of the year -- the temperature plummets.  Sixty degrees in the morning dips to 5 degrees overnight. 

We are huddled in a 4-door Subaru, heading north up the NJ Turnpike.   Julie’s at the wheel, Deb rides shotgun, and Lori is in the backseat with me.   They're all Magee therapists, but tonight we’re simply FRIENDS.  

Above the highway, the sky is clear and filled with stars. 

I think about Jen.  I wonder how she felt at the end of her journey.  I wonder how she feels now.  For the first time in my life, I wonder what comes after

At the funeral home, a fireplace heats up the foyer.  The room is crowded with family and friends.  Conversation and laughter reverberates.  There are posterboards of photos, frames on the tables, a patchwork of Jen’s 36 years.  As we make our way around, we discover easels of Jen’s artwork, as vibrant and colorful as she was.   

Jen’s family and her boyfriend Ken embrace us.  They feel like old friends, as warm and welcoming as Jen.

I follow Julie, Deb, and Lori toward Jen’s casket.  I don't have much experience with viewings, and I'm nervous about this part.  When it’s my turn, I take a long, quiet look at Jen.  In a beautiful yellow blouse, she looks just like herself -- porcelain skin, freckles, pink hair.  Her little leg is hidden.

I lean closer.   And somehow, like a whisper, the words come.

I’ll miss you.

I wish we could walk together.  Now your strength will move me forward.   I'll power my steps with your indomitable spirit.   I'll mark my miles with your creativity.  When I need adventure, I'll seek out cartwheels and pink hair.

Your impact will always be with me.


Even on the coldest days of the year. 


My heart goes out to Jen's family and friends.  Wishing you peace, love, and healing in the days ahead.  xo

To read Jen's blog, click here.

7 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I know it must have been emotionally draining to write, but you've captured her beautifully---I feel like I know her even though I never met her. Her spirit lives on in you and even all of us who read this. I think the line you wrote "it feels like the whole world is crying" really captures how the world feels when such a bright spirit passes on.
    Big hug to you....
    (and oh, how I love that mug she's holding in the last picture!)

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    1. Thanks Shell. Ken told us how much she laughed when she opened that mug this year on Christmas. I just had to include it because it captures Jen and her outlook on life so perfectly!

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  2. What a beautiful post. So sorry for your loss. Chad pukes every New Year and you experience and great loss. 2015 is the time for change. New traditions. When some close to our age days, not only is it tragic but also makes us feel so vulnerable. Jen seemed like she had a great spirit and sense of humor. It only makes sense that you were friends. I am truly sorry for your pain and loss of someone so special.

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  3. Very sorry for the loss of your friend. She sounds like a unique person. With your memories of her , she will always be with you.

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  4. I am so glad that you knew and met her and were able to go to her funeral. I knew Jen too, by blog, and was saddened by her death. Somehow it is good for me to know that you were there at the service.

    Thanks for your interesting and beautifully written blog.

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  5. Sometimes I am shocked by the unfairness of it all too. Thanks for telling part of Jen's story.

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  6. This post touched my heart on so many levels. Although your introduction to Jen came about because of your mutual "disability," the friendship between you continued to grow because of your mutual ABILITY... to remain determined, to love and appreciate others and to find light and hope in the smallest (and sometimes the darkest) places. Jen's spirit will always help you to stay strong, embrace possibility, celebrate life and keep moving forward... all the things that she would have done, too. What a blessing that she was a part of your life, and that you were a part of hers.

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