Walker: A friend faces cancer with her trademark optimism — and a bull

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  2. I met Lisa D’Eon on the first day of Grade 9 in Ottawa in 1982. I had no friends. We were 14 years old. I had just moved to the capital from Winnipeg.

    She was all smiles. All the time. A legendary smile. Her friends all know it well. Big. Wide. Engaged. Within weeks of meeting, we were inseparable.

    She is now 49 and has inoperable cancer. It’s her third time battling the disease.

    Recently, her daughter got married. Lisa was released from hospital, where she’d undergone emergency surgery, two days before the wedding. The wedding took on a deeper meaning as her friends and family gathered to celebrate life and connection. Lisa arrived in a wheelchair with her big smile.

    Lisa has fought this disease in a way many others do — with optimism and determination — but she tossed in a mechanical bull.

    An avid fan of the Ottawa Senators, Lisa jumped on the mechanical bull during the party outside before a game. She posted video of it on Facebook. Her Sens scarf wrapped around her head, bald from the most recent round of chemo, which has now stopped working.

    I’d like to say she is my only friend fighting cancer. She is not. But when a new experimental treatment started to show signs of slowing her cancer, I started to research the power of positive thinking.

    Harvard University seemed a good place to start. It released a study last year that shows a direct link between a positive outlook and disease in women, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, respiratory disease and infection.

    The study’s author, Dr. Eric Kim, went further, saying that healthy behaviours only partially explain the link, and that optimism could directly impact our biological systems.

    The study analyzed data from 70,000 women between 2004 and 2012.

    Here’s what the research found:

    The most optimistic women (top 25 per cent) had a nearly 30-per-cent lower risk of dying from any of the diseases analyzed in the study compared with the least optimistic women. The most optimistic women had a 16-per-cent lower risk of dying from cancer, 38-per-cent lower risk of dying from heart disease, 39-per-cent lower risk of dying from stroke, 38-per-cent lower risk of dying from respiratory disease and a 52-per-cent lower risk of dying from infection.

    So back to my mechanical-bull riding friend.

    I started to think back to how Lisa approached life. Other research indicates a link between happiness, human connection and longevity.

    As teenagers, her laugh was well known among our friends. It was distinct and flowed frequently. She simply embraced life, her friends and her family. And she never said a bad word about anyone.

    She fell in love early — and is with Eric to this day. Together, they have three adult children and they are a very close family. With the most recent prognosis, her children didn’t sit around feeling sorry for themselves. Instead, they got to work and launched a crowdfunding page when she had to close her home-based daycare.

    The parents of the daycare kids love Lisa so much that many of them pitched in and also helped cook food when the chemo began.

    I think they all push forward because Lisa has taught them it’s the only way to go. Be positive. Celebrate. Support.

    Her first fight with cancer came when we were in our early 20s. Through it all, she never believed she wouldn’t beat it. And she doesn’t now. It’s simply a fact for her and she visualizes that after being taught meditation practices by our friend, who is a nurse.

    There is a group of us that spent most of high school wrapped in a very tight circle of friendship. Over 30 years, we didn’t stay as close as I would have liked, as we all started raising children and working. But it was Lisa who brought us back together before this most recent cancer battle. She started organizing reunion dinners where we laughed at our younger selves.

    It was Lisa who set the tone for how we would all deal with her diagnosis.

    So now, we all choose optimism.

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