KAITY KASPER ON RVA’S COMMUNITY (2013)

KasperWhat does community mean to me?

Community.  It’s that group of people that rallies around you.  That lifts you up.  That shows up when you least expect it to lend support you didn’t now you needed.  Or didn’t think you could ask for.  Its people bound together by the mere fact that they are sharing in this human experience together.

Growing up, I learned early on what community meant.  Some of my earliest years were spent raised by a single mother who managed to support my brother, sister, and I on her salary as a part-time teacher at my Catholic elementary school.  We lived in the same tiny Northern town where my mother herself had grown up.  In fact – we lived in the very house she was raised in.  We were surrounded by folks who had known my mother since her childhood.  And it was those people who rallied around our family to make sure we were cared for during those very lean years.  No one ever had to ask in that town.  If a family needed something, that family was provided for.  No questions asked.

I carried this sense of community with me when I left that town to attend college in Baltimore and then to start a life in RVA.  Little did I know that this city had some additional lessons in community waiting for me.

Just six months after I had unpacked myself in RVA, I was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma.  I was 23 years old, in a new city, and scared to death of doctors.  I was lucky to find VCU Massey Cancer Center.  And the community it enveloped me with.  A community of physicians, researchers, nurses.  Staff, patients, families.  Survivors.  A community who never for a moment let me believe Hodgkins was the end of my road.  That I wouldn’t win the battle.  Instead, they wrapped me up in hopes for a future – pouring over LSAT review materials with me, discussing the merits of various programs, and imagining what my career would look like.  Once again – I never had to ask.  When I needed it most, a community wrapped me in its arms and lifted me up.  No questions asked.

Ten years later, when RVA is unquestionably the place I call home, I have found community yet again.  Seven years ago, I accepted the Massey Challenge in connection with the Ukrops Monument Avenue 10K.  I wanted a small way to say “thank you” to my Massey family.  Instead, I have found an entire city rallying around my mission, my survivorship, my words.  People I have never met before, sending in $10 donations, moving me ever forward on my road to raising $25,151 in support of VCU Massey Cancer Center.  I find emails from women moved by pieces I have written or news stories they have seen – encouraging me in my choice to forgo prophylactic surgery to mitigate my cancer risk or sharing with me the amazing lives they have led after making the opposite decision.  Once again, community has snatched me up when I least expected it, propelled me forward, encouraged me, drove me.  No questions asked. Kaity Kasper http://twentyfivethousandonehundredfiftyone.blogspot.com/