For the CTBTA's last post during Brain Tumor Awareness Month, here is a story that I've been saving since April 20th of this year. A real life fairy tale of triumph and love. A story about life.
Sure, its heroine, CTBTA President, Tracey Gamer-Fanning, happens to have a brain tumor, but this is really a story about a wedding, a marriage, and love. When looking at the beautiful bride who spent the night dancing with friends and family, her brain tumor seemed incidental to all that she is. And yet, she didn't shy away from telling her assembled guests on that late April evening that as difficult as her journey has been at times, she wouldn't change a thing because it's what brought her to this moment with Greg and what brought all of us together. Witnessing one of the truest forms of love possible.
You see, her groom, the dashing Gregory Shimer, was in the right place at the right time — with a single white rose and a promise that he made when they reunited several years ago, that he would stay by her side. Life had already shown that sometimes things don't go as planned. Divorce. A young mother facing a brain tumor diagnosis. "Challenging" seems like a gross understatement. But Greg didn't run from that; rather, he embraced the chance to blend their families and include them in a love story that began when he and Tracey first met many years prior. Their wedding cake, which included photos of Tracey and Greg and their children, said it all: "Once upon a time started twenty-three years ago. Happily ever after starts Today!" The whole evening was a celebration of life and love and a reminder that in those moments when life changes from our plan, it may also provide tremendous opportunities for love, faith, and hope.
"Look at them dancing! They haven't stopped all night!" a gentleman guest at the wedding exclaimed as he noted a well-represented group from the CTBTA, which included all of the Board Members and me, its Executive Director. "You would never know that some of them have brain tumors," he added. "It's just wonderful!"
"That's because they know how to live," I replied.
And Tracey — wife, mother, advocate, co-founder of the CTBTA [established to provide hope and support to other brain tumor patients], and the maker of a mean chocolate chip cookie, knows a little something about life. Herself, a six-and-a-half year brain-tumor fighter, after originally given a prognosis of three to five years, Tracey has some sage words for others who happen to live with cancer: "When someone gives you a life-expectancy, the only thing you should expect is more life."
When I get down and out, I think about Tracey's infectious smile, incredible hug, and indelible spirit, and I can't help but feel uplifted. I feel so privileged to have been at her wedding and to have witnessed her marriage to Greg, her beautiful immediate and extended family, the smiles and cheers of her friends, and a rare opportunity to share in one of the most exquisite moments of life — that moment when two make a pledge to one another after having an understanding of what real life is all about.
Myself, a divorced, single mom, it makes me chuckle with a smile when I recall something a good friend once told me: "Sometimes in life, we need a starter marriage to get it right."
Coffee cups in hand, with a nod to the caffeine it takes to keep it all going at times, I recently spoke with Greg after a committee meeting for a CTBTA event and noted with fascination that Tracey brings an amazing energy to everything she does. He smiled and replied with a simple statement that captures Tracey best. "She's like living with sunshine," he said.