"On the plains of Oklahoma, with a windshield sunset in your eyes like a watercolor painted sky, you'd think heavens doors have opened."
Fly Over States

Friday, November 14, 2008

A Tribute to My Friend

I would like to tell you about a friend of mine, probably the most magnificent woman I've ever met.

I met Kim in law school. She'd been raised in a small Oklahoma town and had just married her high school sweetheart. She was attending on a full scholarship. She was ten years younger than me but we were in the same study group. That's how we got to know each other.

Kim is brilliant, talented, hysterically funny, hard working and kind. I used to watch her take notes while the professors lectured. She'd scarcely glance at the paper as she listened attentively but her notes read like a text book. Truly a wonder. I could not think that fast, much less write, especially with such detail and accuracy.

Kim flew through the law school courses like a thoroughbred takes the home stretch - she made it look effortless. She ended up number one in our law school class - and not one person would begrudge her the honor. She earned it. She won practically every award they had to offer and not one person would be inclined to get snarky about it. She is that good. And that likable.

Kim snagged one of the highest paying job offers of any of us and as we approached the end of our law school experience I assumed, like most of us, that she would make a fortune practicing law before ascending to the bench to make history as federal judge or perhaps a state Supreme Court Justice at some point. No doubt in my mind.

Less than a week before we graduated, the law firm where she'd expected to work folded. By that time, all the "good" jobs were taken. It was quite a shock. She handled it with grace. Within a week she'd found another job for far less money, but she didn't complain about it, even though they'd made plans that had counted on the bigger paycheck. Kim simply adjusted.

After law school, Kim began having babies. She seemed to effortlessly combine motherhood and lawyering but then she did something that surprised me. Kim quit her job at the big law firm and moved out to the country near her home town. She and her husband bought a little plot of land and she proceeded to work at home - giving her more time to raise her boys - by this time, she had four. Four boys. And she made it look easy.

The youngest boy was a bit of surprise and had some serious problems when he was born. Kim soldiered through and got him all the help he needed. She build a good life with her family on her land, practicing law from home, balancing children, family, friends and work. She even found time to compete in the county fair. She was involved in her kids' lives, loved her husband, was strong in her faith and she made it all look easy.

In 2007, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died in May. I confided my grief and concerns throughout to Kim and she was, as always, a rock. In late 2007, I learned that all during this time Kim had been battling her own cancer. She hadn't told me because, as she said, "You already had so much on your mind."

That is so Kim!

I learned that in February 2007, Kim found a lump and went to the doctor. They told her it was nothing but she just had a feeling. She obtained a second opinion and they confirmed breast cancer. She was 38, no family history.

In March (April?), she had a double mastectomy. She began chemo which made her deathly ill. All her long, gorgeous red hair fell out. This continued all summer. Right after Christmas, she was scheduled to begin radiation. The day the treatment was to begin, the 2008 winter ice storm hit. She handled it with grace and not a word of complaint. She was upbeat the entire time saying, "2008 will be better!!" She was looking forward to getting back to work. The doctor wanted her to have a hysterectomy in April. She put it on the calendar.

In late March, her next oldest boy, age ten, who is a gifted athlete, showed signs of lack of coordination and double vision.

You can see where this is going.

Long story short, Caleb was diagnosed with a brain tumor called a Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma ("DIPG"). Because it is within the brain stem, it is inoperable. When I heard the news, I was stunned. I couldn't process it. I assumed that he'd be okay - he had to be. I told my husband and he just looked at me, sadly. "That boy is going to die," he said, "I'm so sorry." I was horrified and thought he was being negative. Just by saying the words it was like tempting fate. My husband lost his mother to cancer - and he doesn't say such things lightly or thoughtlessly. I knew that in my heart but it was still shocking to hear. And I didn't want to hear it.

Caleb underwent a number of therapies including radiation. The radiation was very hard on him - his skin blistered and the headaches were intense.

The hysterectomy was cancelled. Kim simply said this is not the time. Too much to do. She probably read the entire internet seeking an answer for Caleb. They adjusted to how to deal with a sick child who, although very ill, was still a boy who was as likely as any other boy to get into mischief and mayhem.

For a time, she lived and breathed the disease, terrified that she might "miss" something that could save him. She always had a strong spiritual faith and called on her church and the community to remember the family in their prayers. As I read her e-mails over a series of months, I began reading between the lines. They ranged from disbelief, to defiance, to despair, to a steady acceptance of what was probably inevitable altough she never came out and said that. She became involved in other groups devoted to fighting this disease and grieved with those families whose children lost their battle. As is her way, she was always reaching out to help others, even while her own heart was breaking.

Kim and her husband did a wonderful job of making the summer and fall as normal as possible for Caleb and his brothers. He participated in the Make a Wish Foundation and the whole community has turned out to witness and try to help the family with his struggle with that horrible disease. He played sports and returned to school.

Kim kept me informed over the months via e-mail of how things were going. In the early stages, she talked a lot about miracles. She wondered if Caleb would survive to become a doctor who would help others with this disease. Surely, god had a plan and it would all work to the good. I confess, when she spoke like that, what I wondered was whether one of his brothers would be so affected that he would take up that cross.

Kim has handled it with grace and faith. From her e-mails, I can see that she has faced the likely outcome and continues to trust that her God knows what he wants to happen. I don't know how she does it.

They got the word this week that Caleb's tumor is growing. There aren't a lot of options and probably no "good" options. Kim learned this far from home in a motel room they'd rented in order to get Caleb to treatment at a specialist in Bethesda. I have no idea how she managed to hold it together for the sake of her boys, two of whom were with her. But I am sure she did.

As I said, she is a most magnificent woman.

I don't have the right words to end this post. I feel like I am leaving out something that needs to be said. Perhaps I just don't have words to say it.

Please pray for Caleb, for Kim, her husband and the other boys.


ranette said...

wow...I will pray for Kim, Caleb and their family. My problems all seem very small right now. You have written a wonderful tribute to your friend.

Kathy said...

Penny, I am so sorry your friend has to endure this trial concerning herself and her son. It is wonderful she has the faith that can give her the strength to face these challenges from day to day. Miracles do happen as God allows. Prayers for her and her family.

Infinity Quilter said...

Your friend sounds like a remarkable woman. I'll be praying for her and the rest of her family.

jacquie said...

thanks for sharing, penny. my thoughts and prayers are with her and her family and you as well. it is difficult to see a friend go through times like this.

Linda said...

My thoughts and prayers are with her and her family.
Lurking Linda

Nancy said...

Kim does have a wonderfully supportive friend in you Penny. My prayers are with her and her family as they go through this horrible series of crises.

Anonymous said...

I will send my thoughts and prayers. Like Jacquie said, thanks for sharing.

There's a reason for everything. I just wish we knew what it is.


Sherry said...

Oh, my. Your friend and her family have really had trials to face. They will definitely be in my prayers.

Stephanie D. said...

Oh, Penny, I am so sorry this is happening to your friend and her family. I can't imagine the turmoil and heartache they are experiencing.

They, and you, will be in my prayers.