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A former student of mine, Christy Lorio, announced on Facebook that she has six months to live.
Or perhaps less than that, according to her doctor. She’s had cancer for almost five years. She’s written about it, been public, posted her various ups and many severe downs on Facebook through the years. It was painful and inspiring to read about her battles. Painful because they were harsh and relentless. Inspiring because Christy has never stopped living creatively, vigorously, optimistically. She was—and still is—a writer, then became a photographer, enrolled in master’s degree program in photography and chronicled others who have cancer and how they deal with it. Since taking up the camera, she’s had 15 gallery shows.
Just over a week ago Christy announced on Facebook that she and her husband were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary together. “We’ve had a good run, Thomas Fewer. I hope we get a few more years together.” Then this most recent dark news. I’m not sure of her age exactly, but I think late thirties, early forties. She’s young.
I met Christy in the spring of 2014 in a class I taught at the University of New Orleans, “Introduction to Creative Nonfiction Writing.” I remember the class, and her, very well. She was a serious, dedicated student with some flamboyant tattoos—was it a snake of some kind?—on her arm and a steely desire to write. She didn’t have the tenacious, cruel cancer she has now. I have all her writing from that class—and all her writing from the four other classes I taught that she was part of as well. I wish I could give you great portions of it now, but I can’t without her permission. I don’t feel now is the time to reach out to her about that. I can only quote a few words with a clean conscience; fair practice it’s called in the arts.
I will tell you that the first writing she turned in for that 2014 class was a very funny, deft piece. It was about a pair of shoes she wanted to buy that her mother refused to let her purchase, because they were “hideous,” according to her mother. Christy, a high school student in a Catholic girls’ school then—read mandatory uniforms—bought them anyway and wore them at—not to, because her mother would have seen that—school. The piece was far more than a humorous mother-daughter fashion battle, though. The shoes symbolized Christy’s feeling she was an outsider, standing apart from the crowd, with different goals, wishes and aspirations. Wearing the shoes she dubbed “Blue Laser Beams” with “the veneer of a diner seat booth,” was her way of declaring who she was. She ends the piece this way:
“As for my beloved blue sparklers, the dingy white soles fought a long, hard battle with crazy glue and eventually, I took them off their sticky life support and give them the proper burial they deserved in the trash can. Still, I haven’t lost the spirit that went behind their purchase in the first place: don’t compromise who you are for anyone.”
I remember reading this piece and thinking, “Now, here’s a writer.” It’s so difficult to write humor and to write it well. It requires a linguistic dexterity and a sharp attention to rhythm and word choice. I couldn’t wait to read more of her work. I felt that way then. I’ve just re-read the piece. I feel that way now. It’s still funny. It still moves me the way it did eight years ago. I suspect you would have the same reaction.
At one point, and I don’t really remember when, I found out she had cancer. I knew that her father had died of cancer, and so it was in the family. She feared she might get it, and she did.
She became very public about her disease. She posted about her chemo, her operations, her pain, her fierce determination to live. At one point, after she’d taken up photography seriously, she had a benefit to help cover her hospital bills. Cancer is not only destructive, it’s expensive. She was in the middle of one of her chemo regimens when she had the benefit. I went and bought one of her photos. I also met her mother there for the first time—the same mother who had dubbed Christy’s shoes “hideous.” I teased her about this. But I saw the fear and worry in her eyes when she talked about her ailing daughter.
As the years went by, and her cancer periodically calmed, and then rose up and raged again, her battle became heroic. At least that’s the way I felt about it. Again and again, the cancer would be staved off, only to return. She had—how many was it? Two, three?—brain operations. Other operations. Chemo, then again chemo. Failing eyesight, loss of balance, more operations. I followed her journey on Facebook, and I realized at a certain point that I’d never met anyone as brave. Her determination and optimism were so fierce, I thought she would kick this detestable thing. She knew she had a terrible disease. But you could see she put every ounce of her strength and will into fighting the cancer. I thought, if anyone can beat it, she can. And she came close—it seemed. There were periods of the cancer waning, when her life seemed relatively sane and normal. I think all of us who read her posts about recovery raised a collective cheer. She’s going to beat it! She deserves to beat it!
But we all know cancer is sly and resourceful and, ultimately, so many times, finds a way back in.
In her most recent post on Facebook, there was a characteristic absence of self-pity : “Thanks so much for the support, everyone. I shot my first wedding yesterday afternoon. It was nice to do something normal and take my mind off things.”
November 30. Christy’s husband has posted that she passed away yesterday. May she rest in peace.