Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Beautiful Soul

I will always look at my sweet Tyler and remember Kelli. It was our first (and only) experience with fertility drugs - I took Clomid to conceive in October 2009. My doctor wanted to give me the hCg shot at the perfect time, so I went to Woman's Hospital daily for ultrasounds. It was neither fun nor convenient, and I was a ball of emotions. I needed a little perspective -- and quickly got it in the form of Kelli Richmond.

Kelli and I hadn't gotten together in months. Scott and I got married, and were hoping for a pregnancy. Nights out were few and far between, and I wasn't drinking during the "two week wait." I kept up with my girlfriends on Facebook, though, and Kelli's updates said she was having stomach pains. But this was the Kelli I'd always known. The Kelli who, instead of eating fast food after a night of drinking, would eat dry cereal. I couldn't keep up with what Kelli could and couldn't eat - but she could enjoy a glass of wine, and that's what we did together as we enjoyed each others' company. It only made sense that I hadn't seen her in a few months.

So here I was, heading to Woman's every day and she was there. Having surgery. When we talked, she mentioned having tumors, but - as was typical with Kelli - didn't make it sound serious and was optimistic. It was serious, though -- and from that day on, she began the fight for her life.

And I was pregnant. Which was crazy. I was the total opposite of Kelli - while she was optimistic about her future, I was pessimistic about my pregnancy. I couldn't believe that I'd gotten pregnant during our first round of fertility treatments. I was convinced that this meant I would experience a loss. On Christmas Day, at exactly 9 weeks pregnant, I woke up to bleeding. We spent the morning in the hospital, but even the ultrasound of my healthy baby didn't lift my spirits. The doctor could make no promises - there was no obvious explanation for my bleeding and it was too early to tell if I would miscarry. Too early to do anything if I was losing the pregnancy.

But Kelli was one of the first friends I told of our pregnancy. Before her first chemo treatment, we all went out and celebrated "Kelli kicking cancer's ass" over drinks. (Yes, this was an actual titled event. As most events with Kelli were!) I sat beside her and drank iced tea. Somehow, Kelli had me convinced that she would beat cancer, even though I was convinced that I would lose my pregnancy. How crazy is that?

I remember being on our "babymoon" - one last vacation as a family of two before we became three. It was April, and I was in the lobby of our amazing hotel when I got a text message from Kelli saying that she wasn't responding to any of the treatment and she was going to MD Anderson to look into clinical trials. And in the bar area of our posh Miami Beach hotel, I sat down and cried. Until then, I really believed that Kelli would live a cancer-free life, get married, start a family. The sudden realization that it wouldn't be that simple stuck me all at once. I looked to Scott and said, "My friend is going to die." Scott was confused. I handed him my phone, put my hands over my face, and felt his arms wrap around my waist.

Kelli and I met for lunch and she came to visit Tyler after he was born, but there were some days that she didn't feel well enough to leave the house. One day, I left Tyler with Scott and Kelli and I laid in her bed talking. She told me that she'd seen a Dr. Oz that day about ovarian cancer. How unfair, right? Seeing this episode 18 months sooner could have improved her outcome - could have even saved her life.

Still, being around Kelli challenged me. She was SO alive. More so than I was, most days. She was seeing Sister Dulci, who told her she was healing. Her scans were looking good. She took a break from her treatment, and I was pregnant again. Kelli was in love and many of our conversations were about the ups and downs of dating. We talked about the advocacy she was doing for Woman's Hospital, ovarian cancer, and the book she wanted to write. But mostly we talked about her relationship - Normal Kelli and Laura stuff.

My pregnancy progressed. It was different the second time - I wasn't fearful of loss like before. I worried how the baby would change the delicate dynamics of our family - how Tyler would cope with a sibling, how I would cope with two babies at home. Kelli and I talked in November, and in December I sent her a Christmas card. In February, she updated her Facebook status.

Her cancer was terminal and untreatable.

I know that her friends who were closer knew in December, but I learned from her Facebook update. Not even a month later, I went into labor and Liam joined our family. I sent Kelli a photo from the hospital and then a birth announcement. I learned later that she was in Houston, seeking alternative treatment. She wasn't there long, though - she came home and spent the last days of her life with her family.

I woke up one morning to the news that she'd died. Somehow, even though I'd known it for two years, I was surprised. It didn't seem real - the last times I'd spent with her, she was so alive.

And I'm thankful for that, but it's confusing sometimes, too. You see, Kelli and I often went months without seeing each other. Sometimes I find myself expecting to hear from her. It wouldn't be unusual for me to have gone eight months without seeing her - even longer when she lived in California, or when I lived in Florida. Sometimes I have to stop and remember that I won't be going to another of Kelli's named Facebook events, that I'll never go to her wedding, or see her mother children of her own. That my friend of 14 years - the one who danced into my house at 15 years old on St. Patrick's Day - will never dance into my life again.

I am running for Kelli on Sunday and expect myself to be an emotional mess. My grief has been in pieces - some here, then I focused on raising my two boys under two. And some there, then we relocated our family to a new city, 8 hours away. I haven't allowed myself the time to process this loss because there literally hasn't been time. I have only managed to bandage the bits as they came up. I do think, though, that the reality of Kelli's death is with me now. So I am going to work though it - run though it - even though it takes my breath away and leaves me gasping for air.

And every October, when I remember the month that we began our journey as parents, I will remember the perspective that I gained from Kelli. I promise.


Kristin said...

Laura the picture you painted of your friend Kelli is absolutely beautiful. It sounds like anyone who knew her was blessed! What you are doing to honor her life is amazing. Without a doubt she is looking down on you and smiling!


Laura @ Mommy run fast said...

Oh, wow...what a powerful story. Gave me goosebumps! I love that you're running for Kelli- what a healing way to remember her and honor her friendship. Good luck!

Darin Armstrong said...

To: Laura #Runner
From: Darin Armstrong #TeamLIVESTRONG

Hello Laura,
Just a quick message to ask if you would be interested in a ‘mutual’ following on twitter that will benefit you. (#FYI I do RT’s ‘Anytime’ for all #Triathletes #Cyclists #UltraRunners #Marathoners #FitnessProfessionals who follow me on Twitter and have something important they want mentioned for support…Over 41K folks at your access. ('Smart Individual Marketing/Public Relations.') I am currently following you now and am awaiting your follow-back...

All the very best to you & your family for the rest of 2013 & beyond Laura. Look forward to hearing from you…

(PS. Laura, should you follow back, I'll be mentioning you in my #FollowFriday #Shoutouts this Friday...)