At the time of writing this, it’s been one week since the company I work for lost one of its true titans. On Sept. 26, our senior managing columns editor, Serena Lawrence, passed away. Beyond being one of the best editors I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with, Serena played an instrumental role in turning a virtual company into a community.
As I read my friend and coworker Brad Dell’s tribute to Serena, I was astounded by the realization of how much her life and attitude impacted me. Unlike Brad, I never met her in person. It’s strange and surreal to write about the impact of someone I communicated with only through emails and messages, but many other employees here at BioNews Services have expressed similar thoughts over the past week.
Given that she was the editor who hired me, trained me, and continually encouraged my absurd humor and graphic hospital stories, I would be remiss not to share some of the lessons Serena taught me.
Laughter is power
When I first found SMA News Today and other websites owned by BioNews, I was impressed and intimidated by the clarity and honesty of the patient columnists. Many of these writers tackled subjects like death and the harsh realities of living with rare disease, and they did so with the utmost sincerity. I, on the other hand, wrote about comic books and taking dumps in bed when I was in the hospital. I’m also not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the technical mumbo-jumbo of SMA, and as such, I wasn’t ready to write about anything research-related when I first started.
I questioned whether this site was the best platform for my writing, but Serena was the first to give me positive feedback and encourage me to let my personality show in my columns. She’d leave notes about which of my jokes made her laugh, and she hated having to cut out some of my pop culture references to get the word count to a manageable level. She strived to amplify each columnist’s voice, and she believed that humor could be a powerful tool for us all.
Listen, reflect, and share
Serena knew how to connect with people because she was genuinely interested in hearing people’s stories. She didn’t get into blogging or journalism for the spotlight. She did it so she could share her story and encourage others to do the same. Every columnist at BioNews felt connected with her because she listened to us and helped us to find our voices. In the first email she ever sent me, she wrote about how she encouraged the inclusion of personal opinions within columns. She knew each of us had something unique to share, and she wanted us to tell our stories.
I was born with SMA, diagnosed at 18 months old, and as such, I’ve never known anything else. Living with SMA is my normal.
Serena, however, wasn’t diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension until she was 25, just five years before her passing from pulmonary veno-occlusive disease. Rather than wallow in self-pity with the knowledge that her life would be cut short, she started a blog, became an advocate for rare disease communities, and used her position at BioNews to amplify dozens of patients’ voices. This company wouldn’t be what it is without her, and neither would its employees.
The day we received the news of Serena’s death was heartbreaking, but it also caused me to reflect on the radiance of the life she lived. That night, I had dinner with friends. That Saturday, I went to an SMA fundraiser and out with friends that night. The greatest lesson Serena taught me was to live in the moment and embrace the beauty of life. Her life was cut short, but it was a life of fulfillment, quirkiness, and radiance.
Rest in peace, Serena, and thank you.
Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.