Sunday, February 19, 2012

Gifts From LeeAnn

My path crossed with LeeAnn 11 ½ years ago when our two oldest children began attending nursery school together. But we didn’t really connect until our youngest children met in nursery school 6 ½ years ago. That year was also the year of LeeAnn’s staggering diagnosis.

In the time since then, LeeAnn has given me and others around her priceless gifts for which I wish I could repay her with a miraculous, healing touch.

A group of us came together as a bunch of suburban housewives, at the peak of our nurturing instincts, to form a network of support for LeeAnn and her family: to help with meals and child-care, to help with transportation and offering company on walks, to be present when LeeAnn needed us and to back off when she didn’t. Within this group arose some friendships of convenience which developed into deep friendships and mutual respect for everyone’s life struggles. The group opened up to strangers who sought the company of other cancer survivors, to ensure no one battled alone.

What this group received was the amazing experience of accompanying LeeAnn through her journey, her successes and failures and, most importantly, her brave approach to life. She is one of the funniest people I know – with a storyteller’s gift of naturally lacing every story with wit and humor. Every time I call her house and get her on the phone, she says “Hi, Kathy” with a bubble of laughter in her voice, as if she is just recovering from hearing a terrific joke. I don’t mean this happens most of the time I call. I mean it happens every time I call!

She has given us three children – one of whom I know much better than the others. Katie is warm-hearted with a budding maturity and resilience we all prayed she would gain. Sophie dives into any situation with all her energy and never shies away from a challenge. Andrew is the one I know the best. He is a gift to my son and I hope they are friends all of their days. He has the self-confidence and inherited good humor to sit at our dining table and tell an embarrassing story about himself, laughing through it all. And he eats my cooking without complaint, so he is welcome at my table any time!

LeeAnn also gave me Ken who has guided Justin through four years of soccer with patience, enthusiasm, skill and dedication which I know Justin can never top in future coaches. Ken can chat with the moms after school with ease and with his own wonderful sense of humor. I always learn something from talking with Ken. And I adore Ken because he adores LeeAnn.

When my sister was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer and questioned the arduous journey ahead, her doctor told her to look at it as a character-building experience. To which she replied, “But I don’t need any character building! My character is fine the way it is.” It was true of my sister and it is true of LeeAnn. But, truth be told, it has been I who has experienced character-building as I have watched these two women face their enemies. Brick by brick, I have become a better person as I have tried to see life through LeeAnn’s eyes and to appreciate, like her, with unwavering gratitude, all that life has given to me.  I admire her faith in God and the visible strength she receives from the laying of hands in our little prayer group. She helps me turn my anger at God to gratitude; to notice more the friends who carried the sick man to the roof and lowered him in to be healed by Jesus, rather than the healing itself which remains, in my life, mostly unanswered prayers. LeeAnn has made me a better person. And I will be grateful to her for that gift, all of my days.

Love and gratitude to you LeeAnn. Kathy

p.s. My friend LeeAnn passed away on February 26th after a 6-year, courageous battle with cancer. We celebrated her almost-47 years of life on her birthday, March 3rd. I know the angels have already greeted her.

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