Emily MorrisonI’m still not ready to talk about Emily Morrison. But now is as good a time as any.

Emily died in March, nearly three years after being diagnosed with a rare type of brain cancer.

I met Emily when I was volunteering with Imerman Angels, an organization that partners the newly diagnosed with similar cancer survivors. Emily and I exchanged emails for a while and she read my blog. We connected on Facebook and sent each other text messages.

Emily didn’t just have brain cancer. Emily was a badass young woman, living in New York City with a job in the financial sector. She was outgoing, had lots of energy and everyone wanted to be her friend.

Like me, Emily responded to her disease by becoming an advocate. She was so hardcore she started fundraising for the National Brain Tumor Society’s big brain tumor walk in New York from her hospital room. To this date, her team has raised more than $100,000 for NBTS.

As her cancer mentor, I told her about Stupid Cancer—and from there she took off in the world of young adult cancer advocacy. She was a regular guest on the Stupid Cancer Radio Show, took part in promotions for I Had Cancer, and embodied the “get busy living” spirit.

I “saved” her life

Emily and I finally met each other in person at the Stupid Cancer Summit in April of 2012.

Me with Emily in Las VegasThe night before the Summit began, Stupid Cancer held a private party in a fancy nightclub for all the attendees. From out of nowhere, Emily yelled “Liz!” and ran toward me, embracing me in a big hug.

I blogged about our meeting here, but what I didn’t share in that blog post is what she said to me because I was afraid it would sound like I was bragging.

When she hugged me we both started crying. She was holding me by my shoulders and pushed me back to look into my face, and she said, “You saved my life! I wouldn’t be here tonight if it wasn’t for you.”

I am not a doctor and I did not invent a cancer drug, but I think she was telling me that I saved her life by showing her how we can embrace the spirit of living with this disease.

Mutual awesomeness

You can take a variety of paths when diagnosed with a serious illness, and for Emily and I it was natural to go down the path of awesomeness. This doesn’t mean I am awesome every day. It just means that I choose to be empowered by my diagnosis and defy its baggage whenever possible.

The cancer cells in Emily’s body eventually invaded her optic nerve and caused her to go blind in one eye, and nearly blind in the other. She created a “to see” list, of list of things she wanted to see before she went completely blind.

In one of her last blog posts she knew her body was becoming more and more limited, and to type she pecked at the keyboard one letter at a time.

“Whatever you’re doing today… Take a minute for me,” she wrote. “Now put you’re heart in it and do it better.”

I read this as a call to action. I texted her right away and told her that everything I am doing, with my hands, my eyes, my everything, I am doing it better and with her in mind.

I still can’t believe a woman as amazing as Emily told me that I saved her life.

She’s saving my life

As an active advocate in the brain tumor community I know I will lose friends along the way. I don’t accept this; I just know it will happen from time to time.

As brain tumors become more aggressive, people lose functions most of us take for granted. There are losses here and there, until one day our bodies just stop working and we die.

When I think of how this disease operates I am truly grateful for the simple things such as breathing, moving, smiling, hugging, and eating a tasty cheeseburger.

Whenever I am at the gym and I run out of steam I think of all the brain tumor survivors I have known and those who have died, and I use them as inspiration to work harder.

I live Emily’s call to action every day. I take whatever it is I am doing, and I put my heart in it, and do it better.

And now Emily is saving my life.

P.S. For the third year in a row I will be attending the National Brain Tumor Society’s Annual Summit in Boston. Last year I received the community leadership award from NBTS at this event. This year, the same award will be given to Emily, with her parents accepting on her behalf.

I will do my best to not turn into a crying mess.