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Ginny Pezalla Memorial WOD

My sister has already posted much more eloquently than I ever could about our mom, how hard her illness was, and how much we miss her.

Yesterday was her birthday and the first one we celebrated without her.  It was tough.

I had decided about a month or two ago to organize a bone marrow drive at my CrossFit gym, Bulldog Bootcamp and CrossFit in Forest Park.   I love my gym, love the people I work out with, love my trainers, and couldn’t imagine a more supportive community.

Wendy, the manager at Bulldog, hanging out with Budge while helping plan the event.

Wendy, the manager at Bulldog, hanging out with (terrorizing?) Budge while helping plan the event.

That said, it was a hard day.  The whole thing felt very much like an empty gesture from me… like I was checking a box.   My feelings were something like, “I miss my mom.  My mom died of cancer.  I will therefore organize an event to fight cancer.  That is what grief-stricken relatives do.”

In truth, though, my feelings about bone marrow donation and the drive I organized are extremely mixed.

Watching my mother get two bone marrow transplants was incredibly difficult.  As a family, we were very naive about the whole procedure the first time through.  I got pregnant with Budge around the time my mom was diagnosed. So my thought process was that I would suffer through 9 months of pregnancy (to put it lightly, I’m not one of those women who “glow” while they’re pregnant) and my mom would suffer through about 9 months of radiation, chemotherapy, hospitalization, and the transplant.  By the new year, we’d have a cute little baby boy and a healthy mom again.  But bone marrow transplants don’t work like that.  After the transplant, my mom was never the same.  She was weak, her immune system was constantly compromised, she suffered from graft-versus-host disease, and she required tons of medical care and hospitalization.

And, ultimately, the transplant failed and the leukemia came back.  A second transplant also failed.  I know logically that those transplants bought us an additional two years, but those years were not easy.

The other reason I had such mixed feelings about this event was that it just didn’t mesh with my mother’s personality.  She had cancer, yes, but she never really wanted to identify herself as a cancer survivor or victim.  I hate it that I’m identifying her with leukemia in her memorial.  It would be much more appropriate if I had organized a fundraiser for manatees or injured birds or something like that.

If I wanted to plan a day to actually honor my mom, this is what I’d do: take the dog for a walk, eat a grilled cheese sandwich, go for a nature hike, garden, read a mystery, and have a popcorn and tea break.

me playing mandolin aug 2012

My mom took up the mandolin in her last couple of months.

But the event ended up actually being kind of successful.  For one thing, I got a great pep talk from my husband the night before.  He convinced me of a couple of things:  the gesture may feel empty and ill-fitting, but it isn’t actually empty and it’s ultimately more for me than for my mother. Maybe she was more of a yoga kind of person and would never dream of throwing around a kettlebell, but she loved all her kids and supported us in whatever we decided to do.

For another, an Oak Park family that I’ve been put in touch with came to check out the event.  Their son/nephew/cousin/grandson Ben is only 13 years old and has leukemia.  They haven’t been able to find a match yet.  This kid deserves a chance at a transplant.

Click here if you’re interested in contributing to my fundraising page.

So, in the end, my friends and family and even some strangers managed to add 27 people to the registry and raise over $1,000 to fund transplants.

Budge practices his moves.  I'm not sure he did the full 40 thrusters required, but he did it in skinny jeans.  So there's that.

Budge practices his moves. I’m not sure he did the full 40 thrusters required, but he did it in skinny jeans. So there’s that.

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My friend Andrea knocks out some effortless knees-to-chests. She cannot lift her baby today because of the workout, but I’m confident she’ll forgive me someday.

I don’t think I’ll do it again next year, but the gesture ended up having a lot of meaning for me.  I was distracted from my own grief for the whole afternoon.   I saw a lot of friends, some of them totally unexpected.  I got to see my dad cheat his way through the WOD in jeans.  And I felt an incredible  sense of community.

Thank you to everyone.

Kate, her good friend Alice, Emily (a friend and dedicated CrossFitter), and my brother-in-law do the WOD.

Kate, her good friend Alice, Emily (a friend and dedicated CrossFitter), and my brother-in-law do the WOD.

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08 Oct, 2013

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