Recently one of my favorite people asked me why I hadn't written lately, he wondered where my stories had been, why he hadn't received an email with a notice that I had posted. I stuttered, bit my cheek and I felt I needed to explain.
My reason: for 15 weeks between May and August, I was helping a dear friend. On May 5th at the very new age of 50, my friend Kim, was diagnosed with Stage 4 stomach cancer. I went on to explain...
It came out of nowhere, we were busy with all things 8th grade in April, preparing for events in May. The 8th Grade Video, the ceremonies, the dances and planning for freshman year. During video meetings in April she would say, she wasn't feeling right, was feeling bloated and wasn't sure what to do. I, of course offered, "It was just us getting old, aren't we all bloated?"
But, I could tell on her face she instinctively knew something was up. So, I worried in quiet while I pushed her along through all we had going on, not letting her dwell too long on her doctors' visits and waiting for results. Joking along the way, because that's how I cope and she truly was my easiest audience to make laugh.
After a few hospital visits and many tests, the call came at work, Friday May 5th. It wasn't just a simple stomach issue, or even a fixable stomach issue, it was Stage 4 Stomach Cancer.
It took the wind out of me, it was one of those calls that you can't think what to say when you're on the call. Just such stupid stunned silence. I was doing my best not to utter a canned response like, "There is a reason for everything" or "God has a plan". All I wanted to say was, "WHAT ARE YOU SAYING TO ME, REALLY WHAT ARE YOU ACTUALLY SAYING?" But, you can't yell that out either.
So, I believe I sputtered out, "It's ok we got this, no problem, we will power through, we are stronger than this, we will be ok!" While secretly, I was wondering if I was telling the truth.
Within the 15 or so weeks from her diagnosis, she tried...we tried, but the disease or the medicine was just too much for her, she couldn't bear it. To be honest it was hard to witness and keep up faking the regular day to day. Go to work, keep the kids moving, not look sad, keep everyone else positive, just in case anyone was watching. I never cried in front of her, because "We were good", "We were powering through this", "We GOT THIS!"
Unfortunately, as time progressed, the seriously short time, we realized we may not in fact, have this.
We offered prayers, we made meals, we threw money at it, we threw Team Make a Difference at it, we opened the Sunshine box, we had pajama parties, we really tried to make this go away. But, it was bigger than us. It just was, we couldn't fix it.
On August 23rd, Kim passed. It was truly just about 15 weeks. 15 weeks, think of what happens in 15 weeks. Trying to save someone, save a family in 15 weeks, losing someone in 15 weeks. It makes very little sense.
The only little sense that came of this, that I can reconcile, I was lucky enough to be blessed with some new friends. Some existing friendship became more solid and friends on "the fringe" as they self-named it, were there to hold up those of us on the front lines.
Joliet and the area "South of 75th", gets a bad rap sometimes, I may have even contributed to that reputation at different points in my life. But, I have to tell you that when something happens, something terrible, we know how to circle the wagons. Then beyond that circle there is another layer of wagons circled and then another layer of wagons. We know how to round up, we know how to take care of our own, how to protect, how to help each other.
One of the wagons I want to thank is Team Make a Difference for their selfless acts, right in the middle of the chaos. Kim, Todd, Bryan and Brianna had recently moved into their new home just before Kim was diagnosed. They started renovating their house. Brianna is in a wheelchair and they need to widen doorways, remodel bathrooms and complete general needed improvements to the home.
Then Kim was diagnosed, and all the remodeling stopped in its tracks. We were led to Team Make a Difference as a local group who might be able to help finish and complete all the needed repairs and modifications.
Team Make a Difference swooped in on a weekend and worked their magic. I stood there that weekend in awe, truly I'm still not sure I have fully processed that weekend. This group of people from Morris, Joliet and all the surrounding areas changed Kim's life experience the last several weeks of her existence.
They were people I grew up with and went to high school with, but didn't fully know. They were in different graduating classes than me. We all put the pieces together in Kim's front yard, talked over who knew who and how. Then over the next 3 days they, their husbands and their friends transformed the Baker's house. It was like an extreme home make over.
They worked around the clock, they never complained, they slept in sleeping bags on the kitchen floor, they didn't know Kim and Todd, they just did. They truly just did.
They gave Kim peace in the last few weeks of her life. She could let us in to visit, spend time together and not worry about the house. It wasn't just the members of Team Make a Difference though, it was the layers of wagons.
The Joliet Fire Department, ArborTek Landscaping, the Joliet Bourbon Club, students, parents and friends from St. Ray's, Joliet Catholic Academy, Providence and Joliet West High Schools. The Staff at St. Ray's and mom friends kept everyone fed with drinks and snacks all weekend.
Dads who are electricians showed up with their tools belts, 2nd graders painted the garage (and each other), Brianna's therapists showed up to paint doors and local restaurants and past Team Make a Difference Hero families kept everyone going with breakfasts, lunches and dinners. It was magical and amazing. It was an incredible display of wagons.
There was a sign up that weekend that said:
I would ask each of you to make the time, don't worry about your house being dirty, not as good as someone else's - have your friends over. Make time for your family, your friends and your life. Get involved in your communities, help your friends and your neighbors. Look up while your walking and smile at people.
Team Make a Difference has a new Hero that they will be helping in November. If you would like to make a donation, please click here. I know that Kim would love it if we were all able to pay it forward!
If you'd like to help Todd, Bryan and Brianna directly we still have the GoFundMe page open for donations. Also, the Sunshine Box is still there, drop some sunshine to the Baker's if you'd like.
Make the time, because the trouble is we all think we have the time, and our time is not promised.
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