On Monday morning I called my editor and explained to him that writer’s block had my fingers in a strong hold and my nemesis wasn’t going to release its grip anytime soon. Only problem being my opinion column was due in two hours and I was headed to the Bay Area for a few days.
Nathan agreed to let me switch from Tuesday opinion to Sunday, but on the condition that I better have something to write by then.
No one would have guessed that life had its own plan, as it often does and especially when we’re not thinking about it.
The Friday before getting in the car to drive to the normally doomed-by-dreary-weather Bay Area, I had read an article about University of Nevada, Reno Reynolds School of Journalism graduate Alicia Parlette.
At 28 years old, Parlette had made San Francisco her home after graduating from UNR in 2004 and landing a job as a copy editor for the San Francisco Chronicle. In 2005, Parlette was diagnosed with alveolar soft part sarcoma, a rare cancer. She went from copy editing to writing a blog about her diagnosis and treatment.
On Friday, the article published in the Chronicle had a simple headline: “Alicia Parlette faces final stages of journey.” Any reader who had followed Parlette’s journey knew the words to follow would make their heart sink.
Parlette had made the decision to end her cancer treatments and start the heartbreaking process of saying goodbye.
In my time at the journalism school, I attended a speaking event with Parlette only once. I was struck by her unwavering ability to be calm when talking about her diagnosis and how she could compose such a well-thought-out and well-written blog about her experiences. At that time, she stood up straight, had long blond hair and bright blue eyes.
In October, when Parlette attended the journalism school’s homecoming lunch, I barely recognized her. She looked frail and small. Her hair was shorter and her stature slumped, but her eyes still glistened bright blue.
As I read Friday’s article, I was amazing at how strong one woman could be. And determined, too. The piece recalled her laughing with friends because she wouldn’t want to see them down. Parlette asked for pastries and milk shakes. She spent time with her dog and had a commitment ceremony with her fiancé, whom she met on a BART train in the city.
Tuesday morning taking BART into San Francisco, I couldn’t help but think about Parlette’s clever quip about wanting to meet someone on BART because no one ever talks to the person sitting in the seat next to them. Her goal might have been a matter of the heart, but she succeeded.
As I looked at the sea of faces around me on the public transit system, I wondered how she picked the man she did. I’m sure she had some rhyme or reason. Some witty checklist of criteria? Maybe it was his shoes. The article didn’t say, so I will never know.
I indulged in a moment of staring at faces until the train stopped and the doors opened, the sun at the surface was warm but accented with a cool breeze. As I enjoyed what the city offered that day, Parlette was floors above the busy street listening to a professor read “To Kill A Mockingbird.”
Thursday afternoon, colleague Jessica Garcia asked me if I read the article about Parlette. I assumed she meant the one I had read the previous Friday, but she quickly corrected me.
Parlette had died minutes after the final pages of “To Kill A Mockingbird” were read to her. Her difficult battle to fight a rare cancer had ended. My eyes swelled with tears.
I didn’t personally know Parlette, other than the parts of her life her writing so intimately let us gaze upon, but I can genuinely say she has touched my life.
Reading her story, which is much more than one about a young woman fighting cancer, is inspiring and makes you think deeply about life.
For the people who have not read Parlette’s 17-part blog for the Chronicle, it can be found at www.sfgate.com/alicia. When she couldn’t work anymore, she started her personal blog to keep people updated, somehow keeping her eloquent thoughts flowing. That blog can be found here: msparlette.com.
In the last week, I have learned from Parlette to stop and talk to the person on the train next to you. Even if it is only to ask them how their day is and hope the kindness carries on.
Cortney Maddock is a reporter for the Sparks Tribune. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.