1. Relationships. At first, it was easy--we worked in the same office and ultimately reported into the same VP. We were of similar ages and so it was easy to connect. Her friendly demeanor invited everyone in, and for those that said yes they became a part of her life. When we were with different employers, she always made sure to touch base with me every so often, sometimes before I had the chance to reach out to her. This was the first lesson in networking for me—on how to keep in touch with people and share ideas, work practices, and stories. Because she reached out, the bond grew. We met up for dinners, and then we hung out at our respective apartments. Eventually our work relationship became a true friendship, one where we trusted each other with experiences of great strength and moments of weakness. It’s been many years since we first met, and I have moved many times since then—out of state, out of country, back to another state, and finally to another coast. Still, the friendship survived all these years. This is an example of networking-turned-friendship, and how this one quality relationship made a difference in my life.
2. Perseverance. She was appropriately ambitious—she knew the direction she wanted to go, and she did the hard work to get there with both urgency and patience. She never expected handouts or short cuts. She worked full-time while pursuing a graduate degree. So did I. She changed pathways in her career. So did I. She knew when to celebrate important milestones, like graduations. I didn’t do that as much as I should. When she met the biggest of challenges, she did not shy away from stepping up with a positive attitude and declaring, “I can do it.” Her perseverance was steadfast. She once wrote, “Today, I am grateful for resilience. The ability to catch my breath again after the wind has been knocked out of me time and time again.” She never gave up, and neither should we.
3. Purpose. Like all of us, she evolved. She used her gifts to serve many purposes—some she planned for, others came to her—and not always of her own choosing. “I suppose this was a role I was meant to play,” she says, “I can see the benefit and need of someone to this person for others... I hope I have done for others what was done for me.” She took every opportunity to serve a purpose. We know how important it is for us as humans to have a reason for being. After all, some people spend their entire lives searching for it. They don’t always realize that it’s often right in front of them for the taking.
4. Learning. She was introspective, reflecting on all things learned and taught through life. Some people go through life in a blur, never questioning or thinking through anything. Not her. She could list those lessons off quite easily. With a dose of positivity, she incorporated them into her life: “First off, I have learned that just because you might have a horribly crappy day doesn't mean that the next day can't be decent. I've learned that even if you don't get your way, you can still smile and have fun. I learned that even when you want to crawl under the covers, the best thing to do is to keep walking forward. Sometimes, you might be able to run. Other times, you might just limp along. But you have to keep going. I have learned that sometimes the only way to gain true perspective is to go through painful experiences that open your mind and your eyes. I have learned that the squeaky wheel does get the oil, but it gets the better quality oil if it squeaks politely. I have learned that most people are immeasurably kind when they put their minds or rather their hearts to it. And when they are not, it is usually not intentional. It's so important to keep hope. Keep positive. The reality is that there is no crystal ball. So while things might not be what I want them to be at the moment, that doesn't mean they can't improve. I have learned that some people in worse situations than me have improved and done well. Why not me? I can't think of a reason. So I will keep moving forward. And trying to enjoy as much as I can until the day when I have the joy in my heart knowing things are better.” Anyone can benefit from these life lessons she shared.
5. Humor. You could always count on her for a good chuckle—it sometimes came from something witty, or something corny—sometimes it was both. She offered it freely and easily as a gift, with no pretense. Considering all the humorless people out there in the world, she was refreshing. Over the holidays she came up with her own version of the 12 Days of Christmas: On the 12th day of chemo, my doctor gave to me: 12 counts of blood cells 11 nurses cursing 10 ports to access 9 checks of vitals 8 pills of zofran 7 veins a-warming 6 wigs a-spinning 5 siiiiiideeeee efffeeeecccctttss 4 combo drugs 3 sets of scans 2 perky boobs and a benedryl iv naaaaapppppp” Who wouldn’t smile reading this? Humor can be a salve for meeting life’s challenges if we let it.
6. Faith. It doesn’t matter whether you are spiritual, or subscribe to any particular faith, or which faith you follow. It’s up to you. As sentient beings, we have our own personalities and our own set of values. The important thing is that we live whatever values we claim to represent. Whether we like it or not, people will perceive us as either a good or bad example. No one expects perfection, but according to her, consistency and effort is key: “I do not claim to be Christ-like, for none of us are that divine. But I do claim to be a follower, which obligates me to do the best I can to live up to the values of my faith. These include love, compassion, respect, honesty, hope.” It’s not just about being an example. It is also what grounds you when you’ve done everything else in your power. After that, all you have left is faith. In a time when her faith was tested, she sought refuge in it and strengthened her belief.
She taught me these lessons and many more, by simply being her authentic self, living her life. Whenever I needed to put my perspective in check, I thought of her and what she was going through. She took life’s challenges like a champ. Cancer was a defining experience of her life, but she was so much bigger than that awful disease.
Last week, Nicole Briamonte Malato returned to heaven after a 3+ year battle with cancer. She was too young to go. In her brief time on this earth, she touched many lives, including my own. What I do from here on out is a testament to her legacy, because she taught me so much. She leaves behind a book, a blog, and many friends and family. Now everyone can learn from her, and she will never be forgotten.