Life on a Planet Without Patricia Moreira Cali

Today was her memorial service. We knew this day would come someday, but took a long time to get here in some ways, and it still in others it came way too soon. 

The reason I'm writing this is because she deserves another permanent memorial, this time on the internet. I can share another viewpoint with readers interested in seeking more about her and her mission. 

I've known Patricia probably for twelve years. For the last four she lived with leiomyosarcoma, an aggressive, rare, and unusual cancer. This disease took a beautiful and vibrant person from all of us, way too soon. 

I would like to use this opportunity to share some of the highlights of her brief time on this planet, as some of the things she did for others that were truly remarkable.  

Patricia Moreira Cali and I stopped for some Southern delicacies on a ride home from a chemo treatment in Jacksonville. 

Her Mission to Help Children

Patricia was a world traveler.  She was originally from Brazil, and worked in Gainesville, FL as a dietitian.  She loved travel and would move around the globe with her family, sometimes by herself, to learn more about people and their cultures.

While traveling in the villages deep off the beaten path in Brazil, she came across a girl named Ivanilda.  Ivanilda was 13 years old or so, and suffered from cancer. Treatments caused her to lose a leg. 

Patricia looked into the cost of a prosthetic, and was amazed that the cost of the replacement in Brazil was a fraction of what it would cost in the States. She came home and with her friends they started Helping Children Heal, a charity that would perform local fundraisers to help specific cases like Ivanilda. 

The idea was that there were cases where a relatively small investment in U.S. dollars could have a huge impact in the life of a child. Her motto was, we can change the world, One Child At a Time.

A short time later, Helping Children Heal raised enough money and Ivanilda had her new artificial leg. This once bedridden girl was now empowered to live the rest of her life closer to that as a normally-mobile individual. 

Patricia traveled to Nepal and found herself in an orphanage that was desperately in need.  She used funds from the tiny charity to buy substantial amounts of food and medicine for the children in need. 

"One of the greatest gifts I have gained from traveling to the developing world is the opportunity to re-examine my own life and be appreciative for all that I and my family are fortunate to have. I also see my travels as an opportunity to engage in some sort of activity with the potential to lead to positive change in that particular society. I try my best to minimize my impact on the culture and environment, although I understand that none is impossible, to respect the customs, and to contribute a little, in particular to organizations helping impoverished children." - Patricia Moreira Cali

Soon she would travel to Bali where she would meet a tiny, disfigured child named Komang. Komang suffered from a rare genetic disorder that caused his skin to thicken into tough scales that made it painful to even move. The diagnosis was Harlequin Ichthyosis, and he never saw a physician.  The cost was prohibitive, ten U.S. dollars. 

Patricia used her charity to provide funds to bring medical attention to Komang, buying necessary medications and simple ointments to easy his pain. Most of all she was able to provide food for his tiny, malnourished body.  She bought probably 50 lbs of soybeans and chickens to lay eggs, along with lots of other food.  Even a simple tube of vaseline was a tremendous relief, and she made sure he had it. 

There were many other stories about assisting children, but these were the ones she shared with me the most.  Her sentiment was that although aid organizations existed they were too scarce on resources and penetration into many areas. Her feeling is that we could make a difference by helping children, one child at a time. 

I don't know this for sure, but I believe that while her charity covered the costs for the treatments and food, she bore the cost of travel personally.  She literally did the hard part, generating the resources to address a critical need, and then delivering them personally. 

Teaching the Rest of Us

Her diagnosis with leiomyosarcoma (LMS) came about four years ago.  It is a rare and aggressive cancer of the soft tissue, with a typically dark prognosis.  Because it is a rare cancer the experts, resources and treatments are limited.  She'd joke that is she was going to have cancer, she'd do it big.

Patricia and me in 2011
I'd meet her occasionally for coffee and to talk. Each time a funny thing would happen. I'd see her, usually dressed in a flowing grown and showing off her bald head when she decided to not wear a wig. She never looked ill. She'd smile like during any normal encounter, and I'd break down crying. 

Of course, she was solid as a rock.  

It happened every time, mostly because I thought that she was suffering with managing a disease and treatments.  It was an outpouring of empathy, being sad for her pain.  I had it completely wrong. 

Patricia was at peace and was living within her reality.  I was the one that didn't deal with it properly.  We'd talk about family and friends, about travels and dreams, about our next ambitions to scatter over the next one, five, ten years.  She never once planned to not be here. 

It was that spirit that taught me a huge lesson.  If there was someone on the planet that had a right to complain about a situation it would be her.  But she didn't complain.  I'd be belly-aching about too much work to do, jet lag, and needing to get a haircut, the fact that the coffee was way to hot and the place was too crowded. 

I had nothing to complain about. 

Once she needed a ride to an experimental treatment so we spent the day together in Jacksonville, FL.  It was a wonderful ride in the car with a friend, a two hour trip that would fly by-- hardly a drive to find life-saving medical intervention for a critically-ill woman. 

While there, she introduced me to others participating in the study. April was a beautiful woman in her mid-20's, a marathoner that had developed a rare cancer. She wore a dark pink wig. Patricia introduced me to others too.  

But the most important part was Patricia's role in the group. She was a spiritual leader.  She was not the patient-- she was more the healer. She gave long hugs and warm smiles, listening to others and sharing details of their treatments. You would never know that she was probably standing in front of a bigger challenge than any of the others. 

That was her role.  With me and everyone else she came in contact with she was strong and well. While her body was not cooperating, her soul was strong, her desire to live tremendous, and her impact on others extreme.  That's the stuff of spirit, the part that touched and changed many, and the part of her that will always be with us. 


In my brief times with Patricia I learned a lot from her, mostly that when your time is limited you focus on the good, on people, and on changing the world in as much time as you have left-- whether that's five days or fifty years.  

In the bigger picture we are all racing toward that same end.  She reminded me to denounce the trivial, focus on people, be kind to others, and take on small challenges to change the world. Today at her service her daughter said, "Create the change you want to see," and that was a perfect description of Patricia's mission. 

The passing of Patricia Moreira Cali leaves a gap for all of us to step into.  Whether it is a simple smile to a stranger, or hiking up the hill to the Tibetan temple to bring food to the children, there is one less person with us to carry that mantle.  In her honor, we can all reflect on and continue her mission, and take simple steps to continue to change the world that benefited from her brief time here. 

Patricia Moreira Cali, 1962-2017


Patricia also authored the book, My Journey with the Purple Dragon:  Living with Leiomyosarcoma, a Rare and Aggressive Cancer. You can purchase it on Amazon here

If you can't afford the book and want a copy for someone with LMS, send me a note. I bought a small pile of them that are signed, and I'll send them to those in need of the inspirational story of Patricia's journey. 

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