Missing a friend met in unusual way

Recently I discovered a good friend of mine died from leukemia. I have been at odds about writing this story. Yet, feel inclined to share with you what I have learned from losing someone I got to know a few years back in an unusual situation.
In 2003, I received a phone call from a casting director in Hollywood who asked me to participate in a reality show, “Who Wants to Marry My Dad?” Reality shows were just taking off and I thought it might be fun to do one more show before I completely pulled out of Hollywood.
Thirteen women were chosen for the show, and I was one of them. I had no idea when I handed the producer my cell phone how trapped I would really feel in the false reality of a real reality show. Imagine 13 women crammed into a small room with only one restroom to share! Needless to say, tensions ran high as all of the women were trying to win the approval of the daughters for the dad’s ultimate choice as his mate. 
One night I was unable to sleep and so was one of the other contestants, Suzanne Penny. We ended up pulling our little bunk-bed mattress onto the floor in the restroom because there was a cracked window with fresh air. That night, Suzanne and I stayed up until 5 a.m. discussing the show, our lives and our dreams. We had so much fun just sharing our stories about what we hoped would happen in our future. Suzanne was also from San Diego, so we maintained our friendship even after filming had finished.
I only lasted two episodes on the reality show, but Suzanne had won the approval of the daughters and made it until the very last episode. After it was over we would get together on occasion for coffee in San Diego. We had fun recounting the “behind-the-scenes drama” from that experience and discussed our normal lives, too. 
At the end of the year, Suzanne contacted me to let me know that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I couldn’t believe it. She sounded courageous though. We stayed in touch throughout the experience. She did beat breast cancer for a few years.
In the meantime, she had gotten engaged and opened a boutique called A Pink Ribbon. This store caters to survivors of cancer and received quite a bit of publicity from magazines and papers. Suzanne looked phenomenal. She had gone through chemo, beat cancer and now was dedicating her life to helping other women in her situation. The last time I saw her was in Rancho Santa Fe. We had some good laughs about how we had slept on two little mattresses on a bathroom floor that one night on the reality show. We were both convinced they had cut off the oxygen to the room just to make the contestants more edgy for filming.
Shortly after seeing Suzanne, I received some sad news. She needed a bone marrow transplant. I just couldn’t believe it. As this news sunk in, in the back of my mind, I thought for sure Suzanne would come through like she had before only a few years back fighting breast cancer.
In the month of December, I woke up to a message from a mutual friend asking me if I had known that Suzanne Penny had died.
My immediate thought went back to that night, the one night how we had so much fun dreaming of what we wanted to happen in our lives. This Christmas season I touched upon my own mortality. I realize that life can present something unexpected to us. We must treat each moment graciously and be thankful.
Suzanne Penny was only 42 years old. My heart goes out to her beautiful family and to all of her good friends who loved her so much. We never know sometimes in life why certain things happen. But what I do know was Suzanne was my friend. I will miss her.
Around town
On Dec. 27, I left rainy California to head back to the Midwest to visit my family for the holidays. Have you traveled lately? Watch out for new fees for each checked bag, try $15 per bag depending on the airline. I watched one family check enough bags to total $105. Make sure you bring some food with you if your flight is more than three hours, unless you would like to pay $4 for a pack of cheese and crackers. After checking bags and being delayed twice, our trip only averaged 15 hours. When we arrived in Spirit Lake, Iowa it was -2 degrees! I snapped a few shots that show why I say that I will never leave California. Let’s just say I’m now ready for some hot weather. 
On Dec. 30 at the Del Mar Country Club, Corey Pavin — PGA pro golfer and 2010 US Ryder Cup captain — donated his time to help raising money for the FACE Foundation. Local golf lovers that participated shared a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a round of golf. Mr. Pavin personally donated an additional $7,000 during the silent auction. Michelle Danks was kind enough to share this information with me for my column: “Del Mar resident Cory Grant was the lucky bidder and was thrilled to get the opportunity to play a round of golf with Pavin, along with two friends of his choosing.” The Face Foundation Invitational Golf Tournament raised more than $200,000. These proceeds will assist in helping pet owners who lack the funds for emergency medical care for their animals. Check out www.face4pets.org for more information on this fabulous organization.
On Jan. 1, we rang in the New Year for 2009! While most of you were toasting chilled champagne, I was banging pots and pans (a Midwest tradition) at the stroke of midnight, while running through the snow in my pajamas. Luckily, no one from Rancho Santa Fe was there to witness this! 
The next morning I ran around downtown Spirit Lake, taking pictures of why produce is so much better in California.
On Jan. 2, I learned about the Club Pet program available here in the Ranch. Have you heard of this yet? If you need someone to watch your animals during trips or even during your work schedule, check out this Web site at www.animalcneter.org for more information. Their goal is to provide “a home away from home” atmosphere for your cherished animal. They even have a VIP section for canines and cats. Now that’s what I call “purr-fect” care. They offer day care services seven days a week. Their number is (858) 756-4117 . Thanks for sharing the photos for my column.
On Jan. 3, I made it back to California. Exhausted from traveling, my fiance and I went just down the street to Morgan Run for dinner. In case you didn’t know, they have a dining membership for local residents in Whispering Palms and Rancho Santa Fe. You can join for a minimal fee (if you live in Whispering Palms the membership is less). On Sundays, they have Brunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. and then a Mexican buffet later in the evening. Children under 12 eat for free. On Wednesdays, they have prime rib night for members to enjoy. On Fridays, they have a complimentary appetizers for their happy hour guests. Jamie Schible, director of member relations at Morgan Run, informed me that Chef Rodney Fry is excellent at accommodating guest with their special requests. They have also started Club Express, Your Chef to-Go, which is available from Tuesday through Saturday. Now you can order delicious sandwiches and salads for delivery from Morgan Run. Call (858) 756-2471 for more details. Who knew you could enjoy fine dining at a country club in Rancho Santa Fe without playing golf? Find out more in my next issue on “who’s who” and just where to go around town in the one of the most luxurious zip codes in the nation.

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