Guest blogger: Bonnie Cortez

During Jenn’s trip we’ll be posting writing from various friends in Jenn’s life. Today’s post is from Bonnie Cortez, who has been a member of ROW for a year.


There are many people who would argue that we are essentially alone. we are born alone and we will die alone, they might say. Having worked as a doula (childbirth coach) for over a decade, I would argue that in birth, there is no alone. It takes a village. It takes two to create us, we are in partnership with our mother as she carries us and we work with the innate wisdom of the body as well as a team of support personnel to bring us into this world.

Death, I’m not as sure about having not yet experienced it, but as with many other cancer survivors, I’ve come close. Death’s unwelcome arm was draped presumptuously around my shoulder during chemo, a cocktail of drugs meant to bring a person as close to death as possible in order to kill the cancer cells and allow the body to rebuild anew.

There were many times during my fight with cancer that I felt more alone than I had in my life. When chemo had weakened me to such a state that I lay on my bed unable to hold the phone to my ear in an attempt to reach out for help for the first time. I lay there aching to be held, hungry for someone to tell me I was going to get through this. My cancer diagnosis came 6 months after my divorce and the nights when my young boys were with their father and I was alone in my bed were desperately lonesome. I lay on my bed with my pink cashmere hat over my smooth, bald head feeling hopeless and spent, a feeling that rarely came in my life before cancer. At these times I felt scared and undeniably alone.

As a 35 year old woman who was blessed to enjoy the admiration of others prior to my diagnosis, I felt invisible one night post diagnosis when I went to meet friends and listen to a band. I watched as my friends flirted and danced, laughed and mingled, feeling like a ghost blending into the fringes of the room.

But there were countless times during my journey when I felt buoyed by the support of friends and family.

My sister, Joy, rented a condo across the alley from me so she could be nearby to take me to doctor’s appointments, sit with me while that red poison dripped into my veins, and cook delicious soups for my boys who were so young and in need of healthy, loving, joyful experiences.

Joy also organized a hat party, secretly emailing friends to surprise me with a tea while wearing silly hats for my send off into the newly shorn world of total baldness.

My 1st through 3rd grade students in the Montessori classroom I was teaching in at the time flocked and fawned in various ways. The younger ones shyly rubbed their hands over my head. One older one said, “Bonnie, you look good bald!” Others processed the changes in their teacher without comment while asking for help editing a sentence for proper capitalization and punctuation.

Friends made warm, soothing comfort food and delivered it with care.

And then, years later, I found ROW. Now, after a year of being on the team, I’m in awe of our strengths, challenges, humor and vitality. I have never been part of a team, but as one of my dear ROWmates observed, cancer made us take a second look at our stubborn independence. This characteristic served me well in my fight, but cancer’s gift was to remind me of all the love that was looking for me if I opened my heart to let it in. Whether I chose to open my heart a crack or break it wide open, I found that letting in comes with responsibility. Once, during my first time on the water, I had gotten hit in the chest hard with my oar while “catching a crab” or losing control of my oar. It hurt and I stopped rowing and began tearing up a bit. Jenn Gibbons, my dear coach, rowed up beside me in the launch and said enouragingly and matter-of-factly, “Bonnie, you have to keep rowing.” My teammates were counting on me.Teammates in various stages of recovery, some in the midst of chemo, some a year out, some many years out. Wherever we were in the world of cancer, as a team, we make up Recovery on Water and we have to keep on rowing.

When I think of Jenn out there on Lake Michigan, I know she’ll be alone for a long, long time. She’ll be pushing her body to do things she never fathomed she could do. She’ll have her team holding her up during calm water days and as she’s riding out storms. At times, she may want someone to hold her, for the company, the comfort and the physical proof that she is not alone. I know there are times she will feel her team, family and friends around her. Jenn is doing this so cancer survivors know not to give up the fight. You keep on rowing, because you’re not alone.

Thank you for your continued support of ROW and this trip. Please consider sponsoring a mile of this adventure for $100 or making a donation online.

Go ROW!!

Comments are closed.