Wow. 2 years. That sure is hard to believe. The initial diagnosis came more than 3 years ago, but 2 years ago today, after a recurrence of the cancer, I had THE defining surgery that would alter my life in ways I never could have imagined. It has been two years of struggle, joy, deep grief, courage, humility and a plethora of feelings I have yet to put a name to but I can feel swirling around my chest as I write this. I’m writing you from a rehearsal room at Carnegie Hall during a break as I prepare with my choir to sing with the New York Pops for their famous holiday concert. It’s snowing out. It’s Carnegie Hall. We’re singing Christmas music. It’s perfect. I walked through the stage door at 1:00 this afternoon and two years ago I was wheeled into the OR at 1:30 for a 10 hour surgery. Crazy. I don’t mean to dwell but I have found it really important to acknowledge anniversaries and all of the feelings, both joyful and difficult, that come along with that.
It’s been about 6 months since I wrote and so much has happened since then. I ended up having 2 surgeries in May to get rid of the infection under the plates in my face and that was followed by a difficult recovery. Not smooth, ya’ll. But I was once again held so beautifully by my family and close friends so that carried me through. I decided in August that I wasn’t ready to return to NYC just yet but I wanted to to be doing something productive so I took advantage of an opportunity to spend a few months working at the Omega Institute up in Rhinebeck, NY, and it was awesome. I lived in a tent for 2 months which was absolutely delightful! It felt so nurturing to connect with nature in such a deep way and to be surrounded by people on a spiritual path and quest for deeper meaning. It was a very rich experience for me personally and I met some people that I will forever be connected to.
In October, I had the privilege of singing the National Anthem at the Philadelphia Eagles game for their cancers awareness game. What a treat! I feel so honored to represent current and former cancer patients and I am especially grateful to literally put a face to head and neck cancers. Standing there singing for 70,000 people was truly a moment of grace. It was the perfect marriage of my passion and my purpose. It is a moment I will never forget and am so grateful to have been able to share it with so many people I hold close to my heart sitting in the stands. (Here’s the link:) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7qkFkHCq50 )
On a sad note, our beautiful O’Hara family lost it’s most beloved matriarch to stomach cancer in November and that has been a challenge. She was an 86 year old nun and truly the most loving, non-judgmental, precious person you would ever meet. I knew that it would be difficult when someone close to me would inevitably get cancer after going through it myself, but I never could have imagined that it would be my Aunt Liz, the rock and touchstone of our family. When I called her after hearing the news she said “Well, I have a good role model in you and pray that I can handle this as you have.” Makes me cry as I write that. Sometimes the grief of her loss feels so heavy. It was an honor to be her niece and be in her presence as much as I was and it was one of the greatest gifts of my life to be with her in her final days. She was a woman of such deep faith and had no doubt where she was heading and all of the beautiful angels that were awaiting her. She told me she saw Jesus and was ready to meet him and I have no doubt he was FREAKING OUT with excitement that she was on her way to him. God bless her. And God bless those of us that are fumbling around more than usual without her physical presence. I still talk to her regularly and like to think that she is even closer to me now than when she was alive.
I moved back to NYC last month and have been making my way around this crazy city fairly well. Reconstruction will officially start this spring and it will be heavy duty. It’s weighing on my mind a lot but I am trying to stick to the present moment as much as possible. One day at a time. Sometimes one hour at a time. Sometimes one minute. NYC friends, please hit me up. I would love to see you. I have some exciting work on the horizon, including launching (finally!) my podcast and working on an anti-bullying curriculum with a friend that is a school counselor. And I’m out there auditioning again which feels good. Perhaps I’ll change some minds. Perhaps casting directors and people in this industry will start to see people like me as worthy of the stage. Worthy of telling the story. Worthy of being seen.
I am wishing you all a happy and healthy holiday. I hope 2018 is just glorious for you. Hold your hearts well.