I hate that f&*$% disease

I was going to upload some Christmas photos tonight, but when I went online and checked my e-mail there was a message from a friend in South Carolina letting me know that another friend of mine down there had just died. And I am no longer in a merry mood.

Elizabeth Graves, just 43 years old, battled cancer for nine years before it finally took her life on Dec. 26. She left behind a fantastic husband, three beautiful kids, and a whole island of friends who found inspiration in her ever-present smile.

The entire time I knew Elizabeth — nine years — she was either battling cancer or trying to find peace and hope in the word “remission.” Sometimes remission lasted a few years; other times just a few months. Her hair came and went; her strength came and went; her smile never left. I think that’s why I, and many others, sort of got used to the idea of Elizabeth living with cancer. She never seemed sickly, she never pouted or moaned about the disease. She just fought it, and kept on living.

I guess that’s why I’m stunned she’s gone.

We worked on many Relay for Life events together, she and I, and I wish I could put my hands on some of the photos from those long 12-hour overnight American Cancer Society fundraisers. By 3 or 4 a.m., when the rest of us organizers had all we could do to stay awake, Elizabeth would be on stage with nothing but a microphone and her considerable Southern charm, rousing team members from their tents to keep walking, dancing, singing, laughing ... and emptying their wallets for a good cause.

I remember the year she refused to be chairperson of the event because she and her husband had coincidentally planned their 15th wedding anniversary party for the same night as the Relay. Instead she served as co-chairperson, vowing to us all for months that she wouldn’t be at the event — only to show up with all of her party guests so they could all accompany her around the track for the Caregivers’ Lap, a special lap around the track that cancer survivors take with the family members, health care workers and friends who’ve helped them survive the disease.

In 2002 I interviewed her for a story in the paper about her trip to Washington D.C. for the Relay for Life Celebration on the Hill, an event staged to lobby for more funding for the fight against cancer. She went as a South Carolina Relay for Life ambassador and was amazed at the energy that sizzled through the event, which included more than 3,000 ambassadors from every state, most of them cancer survivors. But the ACS employee who accompanied Elizabeth’s group said Elizabeth’s own energy was what made an impact.

“With Elizabeth, there was no wig, she didn’t wear her hat, she was just like, ‘Boom. Here I am. I’m going through this but I’m alive and I am living,’” Lesa said. “There was just this glow about her. I’m sure she was an inspiration to a lot of people.”

She definitely was.

She would hate all these tears I’m shedding. She would give me a squeeze and tell me to hug my kid and thank God Chris’ remission stuck. She would urge me to get regular mammograms, and make a joke to get me to smile. And without a doubt, I would.

I believe that everyone who crosses my path long enough to make an impact was brought there for a reason, and you, Elizabeth, are no exception. From you I learned the beauty of resilience.

Your death does not alter that lesson.

I love you and will miss you. Enjoy the peace, my friend.


Kostyn's Grammy said...

I'm so sorry, Robyn. I know how special Elizabeth was to you. Our Lord has a very courageous Angel with him now. Mom

Kristen said...

I'm sorry Robyn.

Lyn said...

December 20 was the 8 year anniversary of my mom's death...I hate that F&*$% disease, too. I could fill the grand canyon with the tears I've shed in those 8 years. I'm sure Elizabeth is shining brighter than ever now!

Robyn said...

Lyn, I thought of your mom — whom I still consider my "Ma R." — last night as I wrote this, and shed a few tears for her too. Love you...

Kim said...

She sounds like an amazing woman. I'll say a prayer for you and her family.

Amy said...

i'm sorry. You wrote a great tribute to her.