A tribute to our colleague’s enduring spirit

The author shares the story of her friend and former co-worker Lindsey Miller, who ‘peacefully co-existed with cancer’ until last week. Lindsey was 28.

My friend and former Raganite, Lindsey Miller, died of pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer last week.

You might remember reading about Lindsey’s story on our site. Or seeing the YouTube video (along with 400,000 others) when she asked the star of the “50/50” movie, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, out on a coffee date. You might have met her when she spoke at our health care conference at Mayo Clinic. Or maybe you’ve kept tabs on her blog, her tweets, or her stories on The Huffington Post.

Lindsey’s story touched a lot of people’s lives. So did Lindsey.

I didn’t want to tell you that she “lost” her battle with cancer or that she “fought” against it. Lindsey didn’t like to use those words. She was a gentle spirit. At her memorial service in San Diego this weekend, she was described as someone who “peacefully co-existed with cancer.”

The person who said that was her husband, Jeff Cohen.

A lot of people still ask me whether she ever heard back from Joseph Gordon-Levitt. She never did. But she did much better. Because she received so much support from people all over the world from the video, she felt more comfortable telling people she had cancer. She started dating again. Soon, she met Jeff.

Jeff and Lindsey had a commitment ceremony at the hospital the day before she died. They wanted their first song to be, “Blue Suede Shoes.” Jeff played us the song at the ceremony. He taught us how to do the “finger wag,” one of Lindsey’s dance moves, where she would sway back and forth, wagging her finger from left to right. To honor Lindsey, Jeff asked us to stand up and dance with him.

After the ceremony, I spent the rest of the weekend in San Diego. I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I spent a lot of time walking around and wondering how I should be thinking or feeling. Mostly, I kept thinking: I can’t believe Lindsey died. She was so young. She was 28.

Part of that disbelief comes from being Lindsey’s friend. She never wanted any of us to think about her dying. She didn’t want us to think that she wouldn’t always be around. She wanted to enjoy everything about her life as much as she could. As her blog says, she was a “liver.” She accomplished more than most cancer-free people do. Not only did she blog, speak at conferences, and fall in love, but she also earned her master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA.

It’s just hard to know that she won’t be around anymore.

I’ll miss the Lindsey I knew in Chicago. We would ride our bikes together to work. One time we were riding on a pretty busy street, and suddenly my sandal flew off my foot and fell into the intersection. We were laughing so hard, I’m surprised that neither one of us got hit by a car.

I’ll miss how Lindsey referred to me as her “publicist.” When her video went viral, we were on a Hollywood adrenaline high. She would start taking interviews at 4 a.m. I managed her media and date requests. We got so busy that she had to skip class.

Soon we realized that I needed to extend my stay so I could continue to help out. Before I called the airline to see if they could change my flight, I asked Lindsey what I should tell them. She looked at me mischievously and said: “Just play the cancer card. Just tell them you had a friend who just got diagnosed with cancer and that you need to stay a few more days.”

But I’ll also miss the future Lindsey. I know this isn’t the reality of the situation, but I can’t help but miss the fact that she and Jeff won’t get to adopt a puppy together. I’ll miss Lindsey’s blogs. I’ll miss that she won’t be able to make transportation in L.A. better.

My friends and family have asked me how I’m doing. I’m not really sure what to say. Experiencing grief is like riding a roller coaster. One minute I feel heartbroken, but the next I just feel so grateful that Lindsey was a part of my life.

I especially feel grateful that I went to San Diego this January for a visit. We saw “American Hustle.” We went walking in a park. She introduced me to Jeff. We ate dinner with her parents. Cancer wasn’t something she dwelled on, except when she wanted to talk to me more about what our next steps should be to share her story. She jokingly referred to herself as “the poster child of cancer.”

What impressed me the most about Lindsey is that cancer never defined her. It was just part of her story. The cancer crept into her healthy tissues, her bones, her organs, but it never got to her spirit. It never touched that.

A poem, “Do Not Judge,” was read at Lindsey’s service. I’d like to share it with you:

Do not judge a biography by its length,
Nor by the number of pages in it.
Judge it by the richness of its content

Sometimes those unfinished are among the most poignant…
Do not judge a song by its duration
Nor by the number of its notes
Judge it by the way it touches and lifts the soul

Sometimes those unfinished are among the most beautiful…
And when something has enriched your life
And when it’s melody lingers on in your heart
Is it unfinished?
Or is it endless?

In lieu of flowers, her parents encourage donations to the Simms Mann UCLA Center for Integrative Oncology. This center was particularly helpful to Lindsey throughout her illness.

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