As each day passes, I become more and more strengthened in my resolve to just keep going. As difficult as it seems at times, this is truly the only choice we have. This winter has been particularly difficult. You see last winter; we were still in the fight. We were traveling, telling stories, getting treatment, spending time, talking, listening, laughing and loving. We were working toward a positive outcome. We never lost focus. We stayed in the moment as much as we could. We just kept going.
As I watch the snow fall this afternoon, I am reminded that the journeys we go through in life are often unexpected and many times lead us to this place we never could have anticipated. In our case, we are left in a swirl of uncertainty, compounded by a sadness that floats around our hearts and permeates the motions of our everyday life. We may not understand why God allows things to happen the way they do, or how the course of our life may be altered as a result, so the best that we can do is appreciate that everything has a reason – some greater purpose – that one day will be revealed to us when the time is right.
One thing is for certain, though. If we are lucky to have a loving family to provide a steady hand to guide us through the hard times, we are among the fortunate ones. And, we should consider ourselves blessed if we have true friends who will stop at nothing to help to see us through. Luckily for me, I have both.
Through the next several writings, I will relate stories about friendship that need to be shared as a part of Kass’s story. I begin this week back in 2010 with a story about my amazing friend, Kate:
On a whim back in July 2010, while living in Alexandria , VA, I walked into CrossFit Old Town to check out this new (to me) fitness regimen that a friend had told me about. I knew no one, but I was determined to give it a try. From the beginning, I was hooked. But, it wasn’t just the exercise and fitness that I loved; it was the experiences that I had and the friendships that I made along the way that I will always remember. What I found inside of this place was: encouragement, support, hard work, commitment, willpower, determination, dedication, strength, athleticism, and the overwhelming surroundings of friendship. On that same day that I started CrossFit, my life became forever intertwined with another new CrossFitter, my friend Kate. Kate and I were workout partners. Kate and I pushed each other. Kate and I worked out hard together. Kate and I supported each other’s successes. And, over time, Kate and I became friends.
Not the acquaintance type of friend but, the forever friend. The kind of person who comes into your life for a reason. The kind of friend who is genuine to the core, and will always be there for you no matter what. The kind of friend that always has your back. The kind of friend who believes in you. The kind of friend who helps to make you a better person. The kind of friend who understands and appreciates you for who you are, where you are. The kind of friend that I could not have realized that I so desperately needed at the time.
We only worked out together for a year. But, a year was more than enough time for us to share our personal journey and to reflect on the hopes and dreams we both had for our own lives. So Kate understood what it meant on that day in July 2011 as we ran when I told her about Kass. I cried. She cried. Even though our hope was still surging at the time, she understood what this meant to me. She had heard enough stories about my life to know that Kass was my very best friend. She understood and supported what I needed to do. After we ran, we stood there on that sidewalk and she said, “She is going to fight this thing. You are going to help her. You are strong, Krista, so I know that Kass is strong, too. You can do this.” I will never forget that day. And, shortly thereafter off I went to join my family to fight alongside of Kass.
That August, Kate and I ran together in my first Team LIVESTRONG event in Philly. It was a beautiful day. The emotions were almost too much, but we did it. We crossed that finish line together, just as I knew we would.
In November 2011, I came back to join with 8 other ladies from CFOT to run in the National Race to End Women’s Cancer in Washington, DC. This 8K run was an amazing experience, organized by Kate. Every member of our team ran with Kass’s picture on their back….she was our inspiration! And, it was the friendships that I had made from participating in CrossFit that kept me going that day. To this day, I still feel connected to all of those I knew from that 6:00 a.m. class, even though I never see them and our time together seems like a lifetime ago.
Over the past several months, I have shared many personal stories of Kass’s determination, courage, strength, positive attitude, and that bright light that was always shining toward others who surrounded her during her fight. Kass radiated love. Below, I invite you to read about that light as seen by my friend Kate, who wrote this just a few days after Kass went to Heaven, in July 2012:
What do you do when what you give just isn’t enough? When the fight is just too hard? How do you say good-bye when it just is not supposed to happen this way?
A year ago I was running down the streets of old town with Krista when she shared with me that her sister had been diagnosed with cancer. Although shocked, I felt that for sure this vibrant 39 year-old mother would fight and beat this goliath that she was facing. As the months went by, the treatment began and I watched my friend Krista stand by her sister through everything.
Krista decided that she wanted to do a run in Philly, for LIVESTRONG that August, and while having dinner at Fireflies last July, before she moved back home to be with her sister, I said, count me in! So we ran in August. Although the drive involved a horrible storm, and a very late night arrival, Krista and I ran in Philly for Kass, and after the race I got to visit with Kass and their mom after the run, and we all sat in the sunlight and laughed at this horrible disease.
I came back from the run having been surrounded by, fight, I heard it and saw it everywhere, you can fight this, keep fighting, don’t give up, and to deal with the helplessness that I felt I wrote the song, “Fight” hoping that Kass could listen to it while she was going through treatment. That maybe this would help motivate her through the long fight ahead.
In November, a group of us from CrossFit OldTown, ran in the National Race to End Women’s Cancer, each wearing a shirt with a picture of Kass, running for her as she was not able to run but was continuing to fight. Krista and I ran together again, and we fought through every mile for Kass, we didn’t stop and we didn’t give up, together we ran.
Just a month ago I was able to bring a copy of “Fight” to Kass, and visit with her in the hospital, I was able to sit with Krista, her mom and Kass, and once again we laughed at this terrible disease. I hugged Kass as I left and said, “Just keep fighting!”
Kass did fight, she fought in the hospital, she fought at home, she fought through it all, and I watched in awe as her beautiful sister, Krista, cared, loved, listened, and laughed with her sister month after month.
On Monday our fight changed, Krista stood by her sister, and said her last good-bye. Now the fight is to keep moving forward, to keep Kass in our hearts, to fill each holiday with a new memory, to get through each day, sometimes just a minute at a time.
So what do you do when the fight seems like it’s over, you keep on moving, loving and laughing and trying to keep all of the beauty that was inside that person, that you felt and held and benefited from and share it with everyone that you can, and through it all recognizing that there is just this amazingly unfair crap that no one can explain or tell you why it is happening, that nothing anyone says will change the outcome, but know that through it all there will be people around you and that you will not do it alone. That when we are down and feel like we can’t get up, there are people there that will lift us to our feet, and in those moments we are reminded of that person that we lost, and although the space is never exactly filled it slowly, day by day, is changed.
Kass was a beautiful woman and my heart and love sits with her family over the next couple of days, I look forward to the small moments of laughter, love and family we will share on Saturday.
Pretty amazing. Perhaps the lasting legacy of this story is that Kass inspired Kate to write a song, Fight, and the song will live on forever as a tribute to Kass’s spirit! How awesome is that? You see, while Kate is not working on her PhD or doing her job for the U.S. Department of Education, she headlines in her own band and she is remarkable. She still plays “Fight” during her shows. She still tells Kass’s story before she sings. So, I now invite you to check it out on iTunes and download a copy and think of Kass. All proceeds will benefit the Team Kass Foundation.
Thank you, Kate, for your wonderful friendship. You do so much for so many. I cannot thank you enough for being there for me through this most difficult time of my life. But most of all, I thank you for taking the time to visit with Kass, to tell her that she inspired you, and to share her inspiration through your music. I know that your last visit with her meant so much to her. You left the hospital that day and she just smiled at the thought that she had inspired you to write a song! And, she proudly displayed the framed cover artwork that you gave her in her home. That moment that you created for her is forever imprinted on my heart.
Our family invited Kate to sing during Kass’s funeral mass. There was no other choice but to have Kate sing. And, she sang beautifully that day as the loveliest hymns filled the church: Be Not Afraid, On Eagle’s Wings, How Great Thou Art. I can barely type the words. But it was her a cappella version of Amazing Grace that will forever fill my heart. I already know that no matter how often we talk or how often we see each other, we are forever friends.
I close by writing that I still stand in awe of Kass. She had never even met Kate before she was sick, yet Kate saw something special in her. And, I have heard it from others who met Kass during this time: there was something inspiring in Kass’s eyes, there was calmness, there was acceptance, and there was peace….a strong sense that no matter what, everything would be okay. I miss her every day.