I have some sad news to share…Better go get your box of Kleenex.
Anyone who knows me very well at all knows about my friend Julie Rhodes in St. Louis. Besides being my best friend from college, she has been a part of my life continually for the past 14 years, was the matron of honor in my wedding, and my daughter’s namesake quite intentionally. Julie was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in August of 2001, and my friends and family will remember how devastated I was at the time because she was not expected to live long. In fact, by the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had fully metastasized and her lungs were collapsing from the cancer-caused fluid building up in her chest. Without treatment, she would have died within a week.
But Julie fought. She fought like no person I have ever seen. She found the best treatment programs, she volunteered to be in the experimental studies even when she didn’t think they would really help her personally, she advocated for women’s cancer causes, and she never came close to giving up. There were a few times during our conversations when she reported having had “pity parties”, and I’m sure they were well deserved, but I never witnessed one myself. Julie had the lightest, happiest, most glowing spirit of anyone I’ve known. Had. And always will have in my memory. Julie passed away early yesterday morning, peacefully, and surrounded by her family.
Julie was like a sister to me, and was one of the finest people I’ve known, even on the days when she drove me crazy. I will never replace what I had in her – she witnessed all my craziness over the last almost 15 years and never criticized but gently questioned on occasion when she saw me straying from my path. She saw how horribly my family treated me and was one of the first people to try to convince me to wash my hands of them. To be honest, she couldn’t believe that I put up with them, and once I saw how wonderful her family was I understood why. Her parents and sister, even aunts uncles, cousins and grandmother, welcomed me into their lives and holidays with unparalleled warmth. Julie and her family showed me what families were meant to be like – even real, imperfect, but loving families.
Julie had the best smile, was incredibly talkative and always had something funny to say – I’ll never forget the night before my wedding when she and her mom bantered so wittily in the back seat of my Honda, I got distracted and got us lost on the way to the rehearsal dinner. “Look! Cows!” they said, and tipped me off to the fact that we had strayed WAY too far out in the suburbs. Even days before she died, her mom tells me she was cracking jokes through the morphine-induced haze. She never gave up, and she spent a good part of her energy in her last years doing her best to educate the people around her about women’s cancers.
Please hold Julie and especially her family – Jack, Carol, Jenny and Darden – not to mention the countless other friends and relatives she has left behind – in your thoughts and prayers in the coming days as we all begin to process grief that I can only begin to imagine despite the current depth of my own.