I could tell he knew who I was as he rounded the corner to greet people on my side of the table. Instead of his hand, he extended his shoulder for an embrace that was full of sorrow and empathy. Once he sat down to make his opening remarks, he talked about all the people affected by cancer including “my new friend Niklaus.” I’ll take it! What nervousness I had (not lying, there was a ton), turned to excitement and mindfulness: enjoy this moment, take in the remarkable speakers around the table.
And when my turn came to say a few words, I tried my mightiest to be loud, to speak with grace. I hope I exploded with light and I certainly had no fear, because after I was done and he was wrapping up, I had to interrupt him – yes, I interrupted the VPOTUS – to make perhaps the most important point: that outcomes for AYA patients had not improved in 30 years and that’s why focusing on this age group in his cancer moonshot was so important.
As he came around again to shake hands with everyone at the conclusion, he told me he’d like to meet Lucy. I got her from the audience and when we were together, he deliberately moved us aside, away from others, and we huddled for a few minutes talking about family, grief, life and perseverance. I told him our foundation was named after Sophie’s poem and he said he had read it – another remarkable moment!
He then invited us into the backroom, we took an official photo, talked about how he would get to sleep in his own bed that night, gave each other more encouraging hugs – the man clearly likes to give hugs – and then Lucy and I walked away in one direction as Joe Biden went in another. With all that loudness between us, perhaps our paths will cross again.