Rick Carroll: Above the fold
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Sheriff Joe DiSalvo recently told me about a friend of his who’s a cop in Brooklyn. The officer noted to DiSalvo how he has attended to more than 500 fatalities during the course of his career, and by comparison, law enforcement officials have it so easy in Aspen and Pitkin County.
DiSalvo then asked his friend how many of those dead bodies were people he knew when they were alive, to which his buddy replied, “None.”
Aspen isn’t prone to hurricanes or earthquakes, and we’re relatively safe from violent crime. But when someone does fall gravely ill or dies in our little bubble, chances are if you didn’t know the person, you know someone who did.
Here, it’s personal.
During the course of DiSalvo’s career in local law enforcement and the deaths he’s investigated, he has either been friends with each victim or known the victim – or at least some of the victim’s friends, relatives or co-workers.
At the Times, we often write about people we know – some are close, and others are those we just recognize. Which brings me to my friend and boss, Gunilla Asher, who was named general manager of The Aspen Times in January.
Gunilla, 41, moves a little more slowly these days. Some days, getting to work by 9 a.m. is difficult. Other days are easier.
But the mother of two boys, ages 4 and 5, certainly isn’t the type to sit on her tush and watch the days go by.
“Every day I wake up,” she says, “I believe it’s my job to create my day and be the best I can be and to stay here, on this earth, for my family.”
Life was certainly going well for Gunilla at the very beginning of this year. Aside from the promotion at the newspaper she’d been working at for 11 years, she was still celebrating overcoming breast cancer, which she’d been diagnosed with in November 2009. She had undergone chemotherapy and had a double mastectomy as a preventive measure to keep the cancer from returning. In October, she had a hysterectomy “so I wouldn’t be taking any chances.”
Around New Year’s, she broke a rib. No big deal, she thought, considering what she’d already endured. But then she broke another rib. Her energy ran low. Pain shot through her legs. It was as if her body was failing, and after a series of visits to her oncologist, she learned the unthinkable on Feb. 19.
“I have Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer all over my body,” she said. “So my breast cancer has gone to my bones, my lungs, my liver and my lymph nodes. I have cancer all over my body.”
At the Times office, we were floored. But Gunilla keeps coming to work, that cancer be damned. And when she can’t make it in, she’s readily available by email, text or phone.
Earlier this month, Gunilla and her husband, Mark, went to MD Andersen Cancer Center in Houston. She’s currently on medications and undergoing hormonal treatments to keep her tumors from growing, and for the time being, she can do that in Aspen. If those methods fail, it’s back to chemotherapy.
But she isn’t just relying on traditional medicine.
“I don’t want to die and I want to do everything it takes,” she says. “I’m embracing Western medicine and a bunch of other things – meditation, prayer, Buddhism. I’m embracing everything and the whacky stuff, too.”
And at 11:11 a.m. every day, she asks people to pray for her. The emails make the rounds at the Times before that time of the day, as a reminder to get out of ourselves and our work to spend a few moments sending positive energy Gunilla’s way.
“The more people thinking about me at the same time … I believe it brings a moment of healing,” Gunilla says. “I love people thinking about me. It feels like it makes me stronger.”
It’s clear Gunilla doesn’t mind sharing her story. She’s an open person and, if you don’t know by now, a pretty funny one, too. And to say she’s stronger than nails is doing her might a disservice. But no doubt, her situation is serious. Very serious.
“It’s a scary deal and I think this is a great community to live in,” she said. “And I know it’s not going to get easier.”
It goes without saying that here at the Times, we’re rooting for Gunilla on a daily basis. She’s our fearless leader and our dear buddy, and if she says she’s going to beat this, then who are we to question her?
“In my soul, I feel I’m just not going to die,” she says. “I feel that’s so critical and important to beating this. I’m going to do everything it takes not to die. Add me to your church’s prayer list and put me in that prayer circle. I don’t care what you do. I’ll take it all.”
Amen to that.
Rick Carroll is managing editor of The Aspen Times. He takes comments, complaints, questions and news tips at email@example.com or 970-429-9141.
Support Local Journalism
Support Local Journalism
Each donation will be used exclusively for the development and creation of increased news coverage.
If you don't follow the rules, your comment may be deleted.
User Legend: Moderator Trusted User
Grief and loss are two inescapable realities of life, and yet as a culture, they are something that few of us are comfortable with addressing. It can be especially difficult to help children and young…