The Gift of Friendship During Breast Cancer and Beyond
Eastern Michigan University Girls
By Karin Burnett
In the fall of 1982, a group of 17- and 18-year-old girls moved into their
dorm rooms on the third floor of Sellers Hall on the campus of Eastern
As it should have been, life was simple, our goals were somewhat fuzzy
but the future was ours to be created. Far from home yet closer to
independence, we celebrated our newfound friendships and the
memories we were creating with little appreciation for what they would ultimately mean.
Fate (or as we see it, luck) brought us together, but love and friendship kept us in each other’s lives for more than 30 years. Marriages and careers spread us across Michigan and across the nation, but cards, letters, frequent phone calls and the Internet kept us in touch and kept us together. Far from campus, the Eastern girls of ‘82 were still just that.
Life was a bit less simple, our goals either realized or altered to suit our needs, and the future still ours to be created. Perhaps someday we’ll understand how the years between 1982 and 2006 can seem like both a lifetime and the blink of an eye.
Regardless, it arrived in a most unwelcomed way when Lisa Beth (or LB as
we called her) was diagnosed with breast cancer. First came the mastectomy
of one breast, then a full hysterectomy followed by chemo and radiation
treatments and a clinical drug trial. By the grace of God and the love of
friends and family, she went into remission and the Eastern girls went
about the business of making memories.
In the fall of 2009 we had our first girls’ weekend getaway in Petoskey. In
first of what would be many more to come, we shopped, ate, looked through old photo albums, and laughed. A lot of laughing. Like college with a few more wrinkles and hot fl ashes. We escaped the trials and frustrations of everyday life with our companionship and a glass of a good Merlot.
In 2010, LB and Kris (or Bub as we called her) participated in the three-day breast cancer walk in Chicago where LB lived. In outright defiance of the disease that almost claimed one of our own, they walked 20 miles each of the three days. LB and Bub grew closer over those three days and, no doubt, healed a few of the scars that cancer had left behind. For LB however, the future would always be shadowed by the specter of cancer’s return.
They say you never really know how someone feels unless you walk a mile in their shoes. That’s difficult to believe. Everyone’s life is their own, as are their dreams, their fears, their illness. In the face of cancer it’s our own exceptional life that we stand to lose. How can anyone else possibly feel that?
In 2011, LB started having a lot of leg pain. Her oncologist confirmed that
the cancer had moved to her femur. She once again started chemo, but soon
enough we learned that the cancer was too advanced to get under control.
Th e Eastern girls were not to be defeated. We rallied the troops, rallied
around LB and did what we could to create the brightest future. We rented
a giant house in Michigan City, Indiana that Fall. We had our largest group
attend that year, 13 in all. Like we were back in our freshman state of mind,
we played cards, re-enacted photos from freshmen year, and in general made fun of each other’s age-related ailments.
LB was in good spirits, but she was in pain. It was great to see her, but bitter sweet because we knew our time with her was limited. Saying goodbye that Sunday was extremely tearful. LB cried the hardest, but we suspect that was matched by some of us in the privacy of our own cars on the way home.
Looking back on it now, we think she knew she wouldn’t see all of us again. We suspect she kept her prognosis secret from us so she wouldn’t worry us.
So like LB!
In 2012 we decided another girls trip was in order. We decided to go south
and stayed with one of our EMU sisters in Ponte Verdre, Florida. LB was
too weak to travel with us as the cancer had now traveled to her brain. The
week after we got back from Florida, Jenny, Dawn and Kris traveled to visit
LB at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on a cold, blustery Chicago Sunday.
They said goodbye for all of us. LB’s husband, Tom, said she was in her final
stages of cancer. LB passed away just two days later, leaving behind Tom and
two young boys.
In 2013 our trip took us back to Michigan City, to the same house we had
last rented with our LB. It was eerily different and strangely unfamiliar. We
laughed, and shopped, and shared memories of our LB. Bub (being Bub)
had made a flat version of LB’s face (just like flat Stanley, remember him?).
It was a beautiful, life sized cut-out of LB’s face, a photo filled with warmth
and vibrancy. After that, LB went everywhere with us, on girl trips, to
restaurants, to our kids’ open house celebrations.
To this day LB is never without us and we are never without her. Some
may think it awkward for a group of grown women to travel around with a
cardboard face that we include in every group selfie. For us, however, LB reminds
us of a life, a story, and the value of what started at an Eastern dorm.
We all take turns having LB at our house now. She may sit on a desk or a
dresser, greeting us in the morning with hope, inspiration, and a smile.
LB was the most positive person we knew. She was quick with a smile, quick
to bounce back after a setback. In our EMU universe, she was the sun, the
brightest star. Her gravitational pull kept us in her life, her in ours, ours in
each other’s. When a star burns out, the effects of time and distance allow us
to see its light long after it’s gone.
LB has touched all of our lives, and we are sure that we will see her light years to come.
Love to all the LBs that we will never forget.
The Eastern Girls:
Kris (Bub) Doenges