I met my friend, Leslie, in the first couple of days of moving to a small village in Alaska. Working at turning my run down cabin into a home, my labs, Homer & Zoe started barking relentlessly at the door. I peaked out and saw Leslie standing in the dirt road by our abode (I could never call that shack home) with her dog. I asked if it was okay for my pups to play with her Buddy. I knew I found a friend when young Homer stole the Pepsi bottle out of Leslie’s jacket without her realizing it until she reached for it. We then saw Homer being chased by Buddy with the bottle in his mouth! We laughed so hard that tears came to both our eyes.
Over the course of my three-year tenure in Alaska, I learned that Leslie was born with a rare autoimmune disorder and was not expected to live past early childhood. Now in her 20s, Leslie travels by plane every three weeks from her village to Fairbanks where she receives infusions. She requires a chaperone when traveling and I had the good fortune to go with her one time. Leslie’s humor and good-natured attitude left me in awe as she joked with the nurse on finding a vein. Shocked when I first saw her plastic bag filled with prescription medication as I never considered Leslie as having an illness, it dawned on me that those pills, along with her painful IVs kept her alive.
What I find truly amazing about Leslie is her lust for life. Her mom always worried when Leslie took snow mobile rides as she knew her daughter would not be satisfied unless she broke 100 mph on the bumpy frozen Yukon River. Leslie joined her dad on moose hunts and the stories of the two of them sinking in the deep mud as they wrestled the hundreds of pounds of meat to the boat. Moose can weigh up to 1000 pounds and are critical to subsistence of native Alaskans. After returning home with their bounty, Leslie would help her mom cut and prepare the meat for winter storage.
Apparently, she was a rabble-rouser in high school and never ran away from a challenge. Leslie is also fiercely protective of friends
and family and unafraid of standing up for loved ones. She happily does favors for those she loves but I’ve seen her shoot nasty looks at people who mistreated friends. Leslie came to the school often as her mom was an elementary teacher and when she walked in the door, little people surrounded Leslie with hugs. On open gym nights, she was often there, hanging out with friends and shooting baskets with the high school kids. Leslie visited us often and when we went to bed, she jumped on her snow machine or four-wheeler to visit more friends and relatives. Her energy exhausted me!
Once a year, Leslie travels to the Mayo Clinic where her health team assesses her condition, current symptoms, and treatment plans. This year brought a new set of health challenges for Leslie but she remains positive. Her inner strength, lust for life, cheerful outlook, and ‘never give up’ attitude inspires me to remember that life is precious no matter our condition.