heartharvard

Two Very Incredible & Courageous Women

I wouldn’t call the two incredible and courageous women in this story ‘good friends’ with me nor are we ‘best friends’, but we’re certainly not ‘bad friends’ or ‘former friends’, so let’s just go with the fact we’re ‘connections’ and leave it at that.

The purpose of this story is to share, to enlighten and to articulate incredible courage … as best I can.

My two connections are — to say the least — going through a form of hell on wheels with their health. In one corner, we have E.T. (the extra terrestrial) literally fighting for a new heart, eager to return home one day and resume a relatively normal, life of botany. (Heck, throw in pounds of overindulging in Reese’s Pieces too)

In the other corner, imagine we have Rocky Balboa – but with cancer. Not the Rocky from movies number two through thirteen, but the original Rocky – the ultimate definition of resilience, perseverance and courage. “Adrian!!” (You know you want to yell that line very loudly right now)

Now it may seem weird to bring up E.T. and Rocky as metaphors, when (as far as I can tell) both of these characters are males and I’m about to discuss “Two Very Incredible & Courageous Women”, but they were the first movie-related ‘actors’ that came into my mind. You can ‘flame me’ in the comments section below.

Story #1. E.T.

During the summer of 2011, an academic friend of mine was teeming with excitement. Her friend (Jillianne) was rooting down in Victoria, British Columbia having accepted an offer as a Faculty member at the University of Victoria. My friend was eager for her to move from Boston (where she was completing a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Harvard University) to Victoria. Jillianne was going to become co-Director of the TIE Lab (where my friend was already a Director) and the concept itself was something I was personally and professionally enamored with.

The purpose of the TIE Lab is to “strengthen research excellence regarding the appropriate use of networked and computer‐mediated technologies for enhanced communication, learning, and motivation across educational, professional, and health sectors.” Now you know why I love it.

heartharvardWhen I met Jillianne for the first time in 2011, face-to-face over a make-shift fire where actual marshmallows were roasted, it was evident to me her passions and purpose were tailor-made for the TIE Lab. We delved effortlessly into various forms of collaborative and social technologies, educational theories, and music! “Yes,” I said to myself. Jillianne is the full package.

Little did I know, however, that Jillianne moved to Victoria with a back-story unlike many others. Back in the Summer of 2005, Jillianne was diagnosed with “congestive heart failure” and her family was told to “prepare for the worst.” Imagine the burden you would face in your life, when for more than half a decade you were told things didn’t look so hot for your (to be blunt) life. Talk about being dropped off on the planet, and your home ship leaving you to figure things out for yourself – like E.T. had to. #not #awesome #sauce

But Jillianne is an out-of-this-world human being. She is literally pushing herself out of a premature body bag (like E.T., with her heart glowing like the aurora borealis) and in parallel, she is sharing her story, teaching others what it’s like to live a life of congestive heart failure. How? Given her background, are you surprised to learn she is openly blogging at a site she calls, “Heart Failure to Harvard?”

Our time together, face-to-face, has been brief, but her courage and incredible resiliency — not to mention her decision to continue teaching from a hospital bed, by way of her blog — is nothing short of magisterial. She is brilliant, humbling … and I am in awe of her hearty ‘joie de vivre’. E.T. phone home, please.

Story #2. Rocky

Many, many moons ago, a chap by the name of Pete used to work with me at Business Objects. He was a media developer. He was really good too. More importantly, he was whipped. When I write, ‘whipped’, I truly mean it … and not in a Russell Crowe/Gladiator sense. The love of his life, Carissa, sat in photo form on his desk, radiantly beaming back with the kind of eyes people fishing on eHarmony and Match.com openly yearn for. Needless to say, their two girls are ridiculously photogenic and gorgeous as well.

One day in 2006, Pete said he was moving to Victoria – a 120 kilometer journey from Vancouver but separated by the Georgia Strait. (it’s a big body of water, and only drunk people kayak or canoe back and forth) We had no “work from home” policy, program or compassion at the time, but even though Pete asked if he could “work from home”, we (the ‘company’) had to say our good-byes. “Poor Pete – he has to live in Victoria now,” I muttered to myself (now ironically) on his last day.

ferocitasFast-forward to 2009 and wouldn’t you know it, I’m in a meeting with those radiantly beaming eyes. Ya see, Carissa works for TELUS (I think since forever) and when I joined up the fluffy bunny telecommunications company myself, we would occasionally be in the same meetings. If she were from Boston (she’s not) you might say she is “wicked smart”, but I digress. In a nutshell, she is the quintessential TELUS team member. (and wicked smart)

I vicariously watched her develop cancer, beat the shit out of it, and continue to be “wicked smart”. Awe inspiring doesn’t begin to describe Carissa. She is incredible and courageous.

Earlier this year, death decided to knock on the door again for Carissa, Pete and the girls. The antagonist known as cancer returned, and not in a funny, Griswold family vacation way. But, despite the cancer being metastatic, Carissa is continuing her “wicked smart” ways, demonstrating it by openly blogging (I prefer to call it screenwriting) how incredible and courageous she really is. Her writing is exquisite. Spielberg or Stallone can only wish they wrote this well.

But it’s not the fact she is funny, honest, bad-ass (her words) or descriptive … it’s that she’s openly writing in the first place. Like Jillianne, Carissa is teaching. She’s teaching anyone – young girls, young boys, old girls, old boys – that life isn’t about letting go, it’s simply about defining the word ‘go’.

She could have cowered. She could have curled up into the fetal position and given up. She could have chosen to be a Brian Wilson or Howard Hughes recluse, but no. She didn’t. She’s bad-ass. She’s a teacher and a communicator.

You want real irony? I now live in Victoria (where Pete wasn’t allowed to work from, back in 2006) and I still haven’t seen Carissa in the three years I’ve lived in Victoria. Ok, I spend a lot of time in cities other than Victoria — and have seen Carissa in Vancouver — but c’mon, like with Jillianne, what kind of ‘connection’ am I really?

In Summary

Albert Einstein once said:

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.

Jillianne and Carissa, you both are Victoria miracles. I wish you could meet one another. Everything you do is miraculous. I’m so proud to know you — even as a connection — and am deeply moved by how incredible and courageous you are treating your respective situations. My goats will know your story, rest assured.

For you, the reader, please consider visiting and reading their blogs (Jillianne and Carissa) from the very first entries, and drown yourself in their incredible, courageous teachings.

You won’t regret it.

Clearly, they don’t mind teaching.

You shouldn’t mind learning.



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Dan Pontefract | dp at danpontefract dot com