No matter what sort of privilege or positive circumstance we’re born into, life has a way of being a great equalizer. It trips us up, humbles us, jumps up and punches us right in the teeth. We make mistakes. We make bad choices. We experience dark moments that we’re certain will kill us.
But we endure and we push through and we keep on going.
And you know what? We’re better for it, stronger. And we reach out when we see others struggling, because we know how hard it is to feel like we’re trying to face life’s challenges on our own.
So to all my fellow Shit Creek Survivors–I see you. Hang in there and know that the hard stuff won’t last forever, and you never have to go it alone.
Katie (then Luekens) was one of the first people I met at Concordia College when I arrived in August of 1998. During the flurry of Orientation, I walked into the Dean of Students office to have my ID photo taken. With a camera in her hands, Katie ushered me in and asked for my name.
“Lori Luethje,” I said. “It’s spelled L-U-E…”
I know you!” Katie squealed as she jotted my name down on a piece of paper. To this day, she is one of the only people I have ever known who could spell it right on her own.
“Well, I know your mom anyway,” Katie explained. “I love it when she calls. It’s always the exact same thing…” she paused, cleared her throat and softened her voice for the impression. “‘Hello. This is Jayne Luethje from Holdrege, Nebraska…’”
I laughed. The impression was spot on.
Katie snapped my picture mid-laugh and I spent the remainder of my college days carrying an ID with a goofy grinning photo staring back at me. Whenever anyone commented, I blamed Katie.
For the rest of my days as a student, Katie and I remained friends, and even spent two years living together in staff housing after I graduated and started working in Concordia’s Admission Office. I fell in love with her sweet dog Scherzo, and spent several holidays and vacations dog/housesitting while Katie traveled to out West to visit her family.
It’s easy to see why so many people are drawn to Katie like moths to a flame. She’s funny and feisty and full of energy. She’s one of those people who is such a natural performer it’s as if a spotlight follows her wherever she goes. And she still has one of the most beautiful voices I’ve ever heard. When I lived in New York, I used to count down the days to her performances, and make sure I sat near her in chapel so I could mouth the words to the hymns while I listened to her sing them.
When Katie was diagnosed with breast cancer, the thing I hated most (apart from seeing one of my dearest friends so ill) was not being able to physically be there for her. After all the years we’d spent being friends, hanging out, working together, venting to each other, and being roomies, the thousands of miles between us suddenly seemed to grow. I wanted to be able to drop by her house to see her, to hold her hand, hug her. Instead, I had to keep up with her through texts and photos, and send her all the positive thoughts and prayers I could from halfway across the country.
But I knew Katie is a fighter, and that she would never let a little cancer keep her down.
Earlier this year, Katie and I made a deal. I think it started one day when I made a comment on Facebook about wanting to cut my long hair, and Katie suggested I try her post-chemo hairstyle and we could be hair twins. I told Katie I would love to be her hair twin, and we settled on October 1 as our official Hair Twin Day, as a way to kick of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and celebrate Katie being a survivor.
It also gave me a little more time to grow my hair as long as possible for donation.
So, I made an appointment, and had Katie send over a few photos. A few people asked if I was nervous making such a drastic change. Nope. Not one bit. Not for my Katie.
Happy Hair Twin Day Roomie!
To all my friends and family who have bravely battled cancer–whether breast, brain, throat or thyroid–you are loved. You are courageous and tenacious. You inspire me to be a better person, and to be thankful for every moment I get to spend on this earth.