I met Karen half-way through my 8th grade year in math class at Bellevue Junior High. She was feisty, quick witted, sharp tongued and pretty darn cute. She was easy to have a crush on. After I answered a particularly difficult question aloud in class one time I sort of glanced towards her, I guess hoping for her to bat those big beautiful brown eyes at me and say, "Gee Paul, you are so wonderfully smart." But, instead she whipped her head around and said with a piercing smile and snide laugh, "Get out of here DUDLEY!" There went the air out of my balloon. We've stayed in touch over the years and now only live 20 minutes away from one another. We were helped to get reconnected more strongly a few years ago with her daughter Katie's cancer diagnosis. Tragically, Katie, after a brutal struggle, died in August 2007. Brutal struggle? Tragic battle? Extraordinarily painful journey? I don't know actually how to put a label on it. I just know that it sucked, and sucked terribly. I hate cancer. I have lost too many friends to it and I really wish I could find a Genie in a bottle and use my first wish to take care of cancer once and for all (hmmm...but what to do with the other two wishes?). Luckily for me, I had the great honor of spending some wonderful time with Katie in June of 2007 at the American Cancer Society's Camp Goodtimes on Vashon Island. The camp is for pediatric oncology patients and their siblings. I have been a volunteer there for 25 years and I encouraged Karen and her husband Greg to try to get Katie to attend. With some coaxing and pushing Katie went to camp along with her amazing older brother David (who just happens to be one of the coolest kids I know). Karen later told me that spending that week at camp with her brother, just being a kid, was just what Katie needed. She was able to express herself, experience something that was hers to keep, and make new friends that could truly empathize and relate to what she was going through. I loved seeing her at camp and capturing some wonderful moments of her life in photographs. Her terminal diagnosis came just three weeks after camp. Unbelievable. I would never have guessed that after seeing her in action, laughing, dancing, sticking her tongue out at me every time I pointed a camera at her, and literally having the time of her life.
One of her dreams in life was to be a bridesmaid in a wedding. That dream came true two weeks to the day before she died. Her cousin Andrea and fiance Mike moved up their planned wedding by more than 6 months so that Katie's dream could be fulfilled. Katie looked so beautiful that day and I'm so glad that she put up with me an my camera one last time. I can't imagine NOT having these photographs. Life is short, but not when you're paying attention. Katie lived a great life surround by love and filled with great experiences. Her family was amazing at chronicling their adventures in photographs. Now that is one thing that they can share with the world. The other is the love that so connected her family. Karen has opened up her heart to the world at large and has been sharing stories of Katie, her struggle, the families struggle, the heartache, the joy and the progress of healing. I'll include here the link to Karen's thoughts; www.karengberger.blogspot.com
I'm very thankful for Karen's friendship and through her, the great chance I've had to know Greg, David, and Katie. The friendship will continue and the memories will not fade.