One Before I Die. If you’re a Cleveland sports fan, you know what this phrase means. Cleveland has been the sad and sorry victim of a series of VERY unfortunate events related to multiple heartbreaking and painful losses by each of our professional sports teams. Perhaps due to a 50+ year curse or maybe just crappy luck, anyone who was raised in Northeast Ohio or who has lived here for more than a few years knows the drill.
For the past 44 years (yes, even as an infant my Dad was working on turning me into a Cleveland sports fan), I have become accustomed to the disappointment. Cleveland fans are used to being the losers- the ones whose teams find a way to fail at the least opportune moments. We watch as other less deserving, less long-suffering, and often less talented teams get the trophies, the parades, the adulation, and the respect.
I’ve watched my 72 year old father suffer over and over again through multiple miserable seasons. I’ve sat in those stadiums and arenas with him and at home with our eyes glued to the screen and screamed and clapped and prayed with all of our hearts…only to end up dejected and hopeless. Until the next year….when we would start all over again.
One Before I Die. I wanted this for my Dad- just ONE big championship win before he was gone or too old to enjoy it. JUST ONE. ONE for my Dad, my friends, the fans, our city. One Before I Die. I wanted this for THEM because I knew I had plenty of time for Cleveland to eventually win SOMETHING.
Or at least I thought I did.
So, this is where my sports-themed story takes an even more depressing turn. You see, three years ago, despite being in excellent health, and having no real risk factors or family history, despite being an active, non-smoking, mom of two who has always had her regular check-ups and never had as much as even an ear infection- I found out that I had breast cancer. There wasn’t a real explanation the doctors could give me as to why I got cancer. They told me that sometimes it just comes down to bad luck.
I had just turned 41- and I was very, very sick.
Suddenly, things like sports lost much of their meaning for me. I had bigger problems than being a fan of losing teams. I had cancer. And nothing else really mattered. I had to fight now to live- to endure a different form of pain and suffering and loss- and watching sports or doing nearly anything “normal” just wasn’t the same anymore. It seemed trivial and pointless to waste time watching my teams stumble. Every second I had left became important to me, because I didn’t know how many more I would get.
But I’m writing this now, so you know that I made it. I’m a bit worse for the wear. My body was disfigured and after six surgeries it is finally looking somewhat “normal” to me again. My hair fell out with the chemotherapy and came back in a little weird- but it came back. My energy slowly returned. I went back to work. I tried to figure out how to have fun again. My cancer sent me on a path that I never wanted to travel- and it has been very difficult dealing with the aftermath. I’ve got so many visible scars…yet even more inside where no one can see.
This brings me to Sunday night. The last game of the NBA finals. A game that our beloved Cleveland Cavaliers were not even supposed to be playing in. They fought back against ridiculous odds to make it to that game, but many of us were hesitant to allow ourselves to have hope that they could actually win the whole thing. So, I sat on the floor in front of the TV with my husband and daughters- and I waited for it to end. I waited for that last second shot by the other team- that foul we shouldn’t have committed- the anguish of seeing the other team hoisting the trophy.
You know the rest. “WE WON!” I screamed ‘til I was hoarse. We ALL screamed and jumped up and down and cried like little kids. And I heard myself cry out to my husband through my sobs, “THEY DID IT! I GOT TO SEE IT! BEFORE I DIE! I didn’t think I’d make it! But I did! WE DID! WE WON!” It dawned on me that I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I may never live to see the day. I didn’t let myself think that way when I was in the middle of treatment and just trying to survive.
But last night- it hit me hard. One Before I Die. In that moment Monday night, for this long-suffering Cleveland fan, it was about so much more than a championship. It was the realization for me that I had made it through the worst time in my life. I won. The Cavs and my favorite player, LeBron James, reminded me of that. They were down and out. But they never quit. And when the final seconds clicked down last night, I felt as though they had won it FOR ME. I lived to see it, and I will hopefully live to see many other incredible life moments with family and friends.
So, thank you LeBron, and Kyrie, and every player on the team for reminding me what it feels like to be a winner. The bad luck of seasons past and my cancer diagnosis now seems to have lifted. They did it. I did it. WE WON. I got my One Before I Die!!