As promised, I am now ready to share with you the story of Mary Ann & the video of her that we showed to kick of our WPPI Platform last week.
We first met Mary Ann about a month ago, when she was introduced to us by Ann Nyberg as part of my "lunch program." I set this goal for myself almost two years ago, and this year I finally decided to do something about it. The idea behind the lunch program is pretty simple: take awesome people out to lunch (on us!), soak up all the wisdom and life lessons they care to offer, do a shoot of them, and then at the end they suggest and help connect us to our next person to have lunch with. And so on and so on, it keeps building that way. I can't tell you how excited I am for this project, because so far we are only on our second lunch and it has already been completely life changing.
The first lunch we did was with Ann Nyberg. It was a two hour coffee actually, and by the end it was Ann's amazing heart and not the immense amounts of caffeine that had us absolutely buzzing. You might remember the shoot of we did with her shortly thereafter at The Kate Theater which we posted HERE. When it came time for Ann to suggest the next person in the lunch line up, she did what Ann does and totally went above and beyond. She connected us to not one but two new people, and she came along herself to the lunch to make sure the connections took root. It was in that lunch that we first met Mary Ann.
I sat across the table from her, as she smiled and chatted away over crusty bread and lemon water. She talked about being a cop, an actress on a soap opera, getting discovered as a model at the age of 17 (where she got to shoot jobs alongside Whitney Houston) and.....about her book. Next month, Mary Ann's first book "A Diary of Healing" will be hitting the shelves and it's all about her being diagnosed with and overcoming Stage II breast cancer in 2004.
Ok, a story of survival, of overcoming....I get it. I bet there's a lot to be learned here. She had my full attention.
She talked about how as she was going through her treatment, she had realized that there were no programs in the school system to teach young girls about breast health & self exams. So... she created one. A non-profit called the Get in Touch Foundation that is now in 56 countries worldwide. 56 countries in the world full of women who now have a better chance of survival because this one woman took action. A program that, in 2010, had Mary Ann selected as one of Oprah's Giving Beautiful Back recipients. And in 2011, over the course of two twenty-four stints of writing, Mary Ann had finished her first book about her journey and seen it picked up for publication. As far as I could see, she was on top of the world. And living the proverbial dream.
I sat across the table, and thought to myself now there's a lady who gets it done. Someone who doesn't just dream big dreams, but who actually goes out and makes them happen. And wouldn't she be the perfect fit to make a surprise guest appearance at our talk out at WPPI next month. Which is exactly what I said to her over our salmon cakes and lemon vinaigrette salad, when I asked how would she like to fly out to Vegas for a few days. And that right there, that's when it all changed.
That's when she looked me in the eye and told me that she'd absolutely love to, but that she'd be starting up her treatments by then and wouldn't be able to travel. Treatments? What's this? What are we talking about here?
As it turns out, Mary Ann found out recently that her cancer is back and this time it is Stage IV. She had already finished her rounds of chemo, and she was just about to start into radiation when we met with her. As these words sunk in, I sat staring at my lemon water and blinking back salty, stinging tears. Here was a woman some would say was in a fight for her life (although don't let her catch you saying that!), and yet.....and yet, I have never seen someone more alive. More joy-filled. More positive about what the future might hold. She was maybe the happiest person I've ever met, and when I asked her how that could be she said this:
When you have five minutes left to live, are you going to waste a single one of them being unhappy? Not me.
I left that lunch that day rocked to my very core. It was like someone had held a big, shiny mirror up in front of my face and showed me exactly how many of my minutes and days I had been wasting. Counted them out for me. Let me know that I hadn't really been living, just coasting...floating through my days. It was at that very moment that I knew, I had to tell Mary Ann's story, in whatever way possible.
A few phone calls later and some quick planning. and we were meeting up with Mary Ann on Valentine's Day morning as she was about to undergo her 15th or halfway point dose of radiation. Cameras are usually strictly forbidden at the cancer center, but all it took from Mary Ann was one request and we were granted full access. Access with a few members of the staff constantly at our sides, but access nonetheless. She just has that kind of power over everyone who meets her.
We were able to go through the day with Mary Ann from getting her treatments to the two mile walk she does on the boardwalk after, picking up a rock- one for every day of her treatment, taking a picture from the same two spots so she has a chance to remember, and then heading back to her house for an interview and portrait shoot. I'll be honest with you, I was not prepared for what this day held....meeting all these women who were spending their Valentine's Day coming in for cancer treatments. Seeing how they laugh together and build one another up. Spending the whole day with Mary Ann, who must have been so exhausted from the radiation, and yet watching her pour out everything she had into encouraging all of us who were there to not waste a second of this life.
We were so lucky to have our friend and phenomenal film maker Jeremy White along with us for most of the day (although video wasn't allowed in the center) to document and tell the story of our day with Mary Ann. And I'd like to share some of the photos and the video with you now.
I will tell you this: I walked out of that lunch that day like someone had shaken me hard by the shoulders. Woken me from a deep, deep sleep. And from that day on, I haven't wanted to waste a single second of this life. What I said to Mary Ann when I asked her to do the video with us, was that if she could do that for me-for just one person- imagine the ripple effects it could have if a thousand people at WPPI could see it. Or who knows how many people on the web. How many of us could really be alive. And go out and do that thing we are most called to do. How much could the world be changed just from that? Because when you think about it, what if the world- or y'know at least 56 countries- is waiting on us?
I ask that you watch Mary Ann's story. Let it shake you like it shook me. To your very core. To get out there and really start living this life. To not waste a single second of the few precious minutes we are given. Let it sink way deep down. And then I ask that you go out and share it with someone else. Someone else who might need the wake up call too. And then let's all get to really living....together.
When you have five minutes left, are you going to waste a single one?
Meet: Mary Ann