Today is a very sad day. I was driving my daily commute to my radiation treatment this morning and heard the breaking news alert that Donna Summer had died. “Please don’t let it be breast cancer, please don’t let it be breast cancer….” That’s what my brain was thinking, over and over and over. I changed the station. “Donna Summer has died of breast cancer at the age of 63.” For a moment, I drove solemnly, unable to process both that my teenage disco queen…the one whose music I had spent countless hours to, in the living room of my house, while choreographing dance moves for my P.E. class had not only died, but died of the same disease I was driving the long commute to treat. The bastard breast cancer.
I drove west on the 580, bumper-to-bumper in morning traffic, sobbing uncontrollably. It wasn’t purely unselfish, it was for the loss of a part of my past, an era, that Donna Summer represented, and for my own fear of dying. I texted a friend, breaking one of my cardinal rules of no-texting while driving. “Are you okay?” He asked. “No. I don’t want to die” was all I could reply. “Well then stop texting and driving he responded” bringing a small smile to my face as I wiped off the tears.
The reality of my own mortality was again staring at me, screaming loudly, “If Donna Summer can die of breast cancer, then so can you!” Didn't she have all the money that anyone could possibly have for the best treatments and her own personal researchers to fight this disease? So how was it that cancer could take her? My thought process was indeed selfish. My loss, my pain, my grief, my fears.
Sometimes I see people looking at me with that same thought process, fearing that my disease could one day be their reality. It is human nature. “How did you get it?” I’ve been asked, knowing they are seeking reassurance that it couldn't happen to them...that, phew, they haven't followed the same recipe for disaster in their own lives, and have managed to circumvent any possibility of being diagnosed with cancer. I too panicked, and immediately wanted to find out what made Donna Summer's breast cancer different than mine, to separate myself from her disease, to reassure myself that I won't die, like she did. Did she drink too much Coke? Eat too many processed foods? "The second I get home from radiation I will Google her and find out where she went wrong, and I will continue to eat my vegetables, I promise." Bargaining is part of grief. Unfortunately, there is no full-proof recipe. Life is a crap shoot. It doesn't matter who you are.
But there I was, playing Russian Roulette upon hearing the news, texting while driving on the freeways, looking for reassurance that I would not die and just then a long yellow school bus drove next to my car, with the innocent looks of young children whose faces were smashed up against the windows smiling. I could see myself in their faces...innocently seeing the world through the eyes of a child. “I want to live like that again!” I thought.
Driving home I realized how self-centered my thought process had been. “I don’t want to die.” That’s the truth of the matter, I don’t. Donna’s death had reminded me of the inevitability of life, and yet, the adult version of myself was ashamed that I allowed her loss to be about me. As a compromise I decided that I would not allow her loss to be in vein. When I think of her, or sing at the top of my lungs in the car like the Disco Queen that I always thought I was in the 70’s, thanks to Donna's egging me on with her high notes and heart grabbing emotion, I will remember to live. That is how best any of us can honor her now that she is gone. Live for the moment, like an innocent child smiling through the school bus window, excited to greet the day. And in that thought I remembered a quote I heard not too long ago.
“When you are afraid to die, it is because you have a life worth living.”
Rest in peace Donna. You brought greatness to music. You made a difference. You are part of an era we will never forget.