Cancer can do many things. It can sap your strength. It can rob you of your stamina. It can even erode your good looks.
But you know what it can't do? Cancer can't destroy inner beauty. It can't ever corrupt a generous spirit and/or a noble heart. More importantly, cancer just doesn't stand a chance in the face of a strong sense of humor.
And my cousin, Janet McDonald? She had this really great sense of humor. Even in the darkest depths of her disease, this woman could literally laugh in the face of death.
Of course, what helped here was that Janet just loved to laugh. But that comes from being a Bardon. That family always had (and still has) a great love of the ridiculous, a strong sense of the absurd. Which is what makes those folks so much fun to hang out with.
Anyway ... Getting back to Janet. As a direct result of her cancer treatment, Janet's beautiful red hair eventually fell out. Leaving her looking like ... Well ... A younger and much cuter looking version of Telly Savalas.
Which might have upset a really vain person. But Janet McDonald was not vain. If she had to go out into the world, Janet would just jam a baseball cap down over her "chrome dome." And -- if her scalp ever began to itch while she was driving into the hospital -- Janet would just take that baseball cap off and fling it into the backseat. Usually beaning one of her kids and/or one of her siblings in the head in the process.
Anywho ... As a result of all the steroids that Janet had to take as part of her treatment, she eventually began to bloat up a bit. Until one day Janet looked in the mirror and said: "I look like Uncle Fester."
Mind you, Janet wasn't entirely sure that she actually looked like the character that Jackie Coogan used to play on the old "Addams Family" TV series. So she began quizzing family members about her looks. And -- of course -- no one had the heart to tell her that she did sort of kind of look like Uncle Fester.
So Janet's brothers and sisters would say things like "You look good, considering ..." and "Given all you've been going through, you look terrific ..." Which wasn't really the answer that she was looking for.
Finally at some family function, Janet buttonholed my brother, Peter, and asked him directly: "Do I look like Uncle Fester?"
Well, Pete hemmed and hawed for a moment, then said: "Well ... Sort of ... Kind of."
A huge grin then split across Janet's face. "Finally! A relative that I can trust!," she said. And then Janet gave Pete a big hug.
Now I know that the above story may make Janet sound like this overly dramatic, somewhat flamboyant type. But that wasn't really the case. In fact, there was this one time that Janet deliberately chose to be out of the spotlight. And that was at his sister, Claire's wedding.
To explain: This was early October of 1995. And given that Janet would eventually pass away in late November of that same year ... Well, we're really talking about the latter stage of her disease here.
And given that Janet and Claire were very close ... Well, Janet didn't want to do anything that could possibly upstage her sister on her very special day. But given that Claire had asked Janet to be a member of the wedding party ... Well, Janet was worried that -- because of her illness -- all eyes would be on her. Rather than be where they really should be. Which was on the bride.
Plus Janet was concerned that she just wouldn't have the strength to get through the lengthy ceremony & reception. She also didn't want to do anything that would disappoint her sister and/or ruin John & Claire's wedding day.
But then came the big day ... And -- to be honest -- I don't know where exactly Janet found the strength. My mother tells me that my late cousin eventually told her that it just bubbled up from within. Like this great force was joining with her, guiding her through the day. But Janet made it all the way through that wedding without a hitch. Hell, she even found the energy to dance at the reception.
Looking back over Janet's life, on how well she handled herself during those final months, with oh so much humor & heart ... It's impossible for me to not want to honor this woman, to celebrate her memory. To make sure that the world never forgets that Janet McDonald was here. More importantly, that she touched so many lives.
Anyhow ... That's why I'm here now, folks. Thumping the tub for the 11th Annual Janet McDonald Memorial Walk Against Cancer. Hoping that -- by telling these tales about my late cousin -- that JHM readers might then be inspired to make a donation to the Immunotherapy Research Department at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
I've done my part, people. I've opened my heart and shared these stories about this incredibly courageous, caring woman that I used to know. Now all you have to do is open your wallets. Kick in a little cash so that -- someday (Hopefully, someday soon) -- the folks at Dana-Farber will actually be able to give cancer the boot.
So won't you please help by making a donation today?