Around 2013 my local university hospital hired a new neuro oncologist. He gave a presentation in the community about brain tumors and some of his research. My mom attended and called me promptly after she got home, excited to tell me EVERYTHING.
She told me all about the lecture and how smart this new doctor is and how soon could I dump my doctor and be moved to his care and also do I know anyone named Philip Loving?
You see, mom was very impressed by this new doctor in town. And when he concluded his lecture he asked if anyone had any questions (as is customary). A hand shot into the air and the audience member asked a detailed question about oligodendroglioma.
Please remember that at this time, we were just getting comfortable wrapping our mouths around the syllables of my diagnosis, which we had been assured was exceptionally rare. We also personally knew two people my age from similar backgrounds with the same diagnosis. Our understanding of my tumor from what we read in the literature was not matching our reality.
So, as people were standing up to file out of the lecture, my mom found the young woman who asked the question. Mom blurted, “Who do you know with oligo?”
The young woman, Noëlle, said her brother Philip had been diagnosed with the tumor in 2010. My mom was amazed by Noëlle, who had started nursing school upon her brother’s diagnosis, determined to DO something.
Mom breathlessly returned to her question for me: “Do you know Philip Loving, Noëlle's younger brother?”
Reeling from her excitement and my brain catching up, I told her “actually, yes!” Not well, but we overlapped somewhat while working for a refugee resettlement agency a few years earlier.
"Did you know he has a brain tumor like yours?"
No! I had NO idea. This tumor is so much more pervasive and bizarre than the three blurbs online would have you think…
It was decided that we should all meet - my mom, my sister, and myself, along with Noëlle and her mom, Chris.
Noëlle was amazing, as mom had promised, and seemed to have boundless energy and fierce determination. She was excited about finding answers, funding research, organizing, getting people together, finding events, creating events. She was insistent about getting people help: money, community, fellowship, education. She, as I said, had even started nursing school so she could work with brain tumor patients directly.
My sister, on the other hand, was there for the snacks.
Noëlle’s brother Philip had moved out of town, but she needed us to get together. Here is an email he sent me in October 2015:
Hi! I hope you're doing well - Noelle has told me a bit about you, and that we would have a great time meeting up and sharing some brain tumor stories!? So, I wanted to reach out and let you know that I will be in town on October 4th as I'm going down to Duke for an MRI the following day. If you want to grab a coffee/beer/wine/lunch, I'd love to! I'd also be happy to start a conversation about what we're both dealing with over emails :), but I will keep this one quick as I'm still at work and my boss' cube is behind me and she can see my computer ;)
Looking forward to chatting!
We met for coffee, Noëlle dropped him off and picked him up, a true force. I am the type of person who will sleep on a tiny decision for months, until so much time has passed that I’m too embarrassed to address the subject, no decision made, opportunity gone. Noëlle, on the other hand, the powerhouse, made things happen.
Shortly after I had that lovely visit with Philip, Noëlle was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor, an astrocytoma that spanned both lobes of her brain. Her health declined rapidly and she passed away a year after her diagnosis.
My heart aches as I write this, it was so fast.
Noëlle’s heart, her love, her gift for being proactive, these attributes were her, her core. She wore it on her sleeve and she lived her values.
Her family says that she had always been fiercely loving and a great advocate. They say that when she was a little girl, "Noëlle never accepted the word 'no,' always countering with 'but tomorrow?'"
They set up a foundation in her name, and in her spirit, to provide assistance, education and support services to organizations, individuals, and families.
Phil and I stayed in touch, emailing every so often with updates. He stayed incredibly busy organizing fundraisers in his sister’s honor, working full time, and creating a family of his own, getting married and having kids (all while traveling for MRIs every few months and cycling through different types of treatment). I spent ages thinking about how to respond to every message.
Sadly, Philip passed away from complications in treating his oligodendroglioma in May 2020, about three years after his sister and ten years after his diagnosis.
I am telling you all this as a long introduction to thank the Loving family and the But Tomorrow Foundation. They generously awarded me a grant to buy a computer and pay for this dingdang domain.
I am so thankful to be able to continue writing (and maybe work to gain some readers). I had been using my work computer for everything and am grateful that I no longer feel like I have my boss looking over my shoulder (a la Phil).
Please visit the Foundation’s website at https://buttomorrow.org/, donate if you can or apply for assistance as I did if you need it.
To Philip, Noëlle, and the But Tomorrow Foundation, thank you.