Tuesday, March 10, 2009

We lost Risa yesterday

We lost of member of our Camp Goodtimes family yesterday when Jennifer (Risa) Hargis passed away. She was only 22 and was originally diagnosed with Retinoblastoma when she was only 9 weeks old. She remained cancer free for 18 years before it returned in the form of leimyosarcoma. The cancer started taking over in the summer of 2007 but that didn't stop her from volunteering at Camp Goodtimes so she could share her love, compassion and amazing attitude about life with kids who were fighting the same dreaded disease. This is one of the only photographs I have of her when she wasn't dancing. In any of the non-dancing photos, she's always laughing. Her music came from somewhere down deep. She "danced" her way through life; she bungee jumped, lept out of airplanes, rode a zip-line in the Colombian jungle, and even spoke at a star-studded Southern California gala just last fall.

I was able to visit her the day before she died, up in Bow, Washington. My friend Ann Marie (Watermelon) met me at their house and we stayed for an hour and a half. I brought my guitar in at the request of Risa's dad and we sang camp songs. He even ran next door to the church (where he's the Pastor) and brought back a song book that we skimmed through and sang from. I saw her smile and we chatted lightly. It was difficult for her to speak but I do know that she enjoyed hearing her family singing with us.

When we were leaving, Ann Marie leaned down to hug her while I was packing up my guitar. I said, "Hey, I want one of those too!" As I leaned down to hug her, she said softly, "It's not your fault if it's not a good one..." (referring to how weak she was)...I told her that that was the best hug I ever had.

Before leaving, I promised her that I would upload a video from camp for her the next day to her website. She never saw it. Yesterday, as I was doing that, her family was honoring her last wishes. She had stated clearly that she wanted to die at Seattle Children's Hospital where she had spent so much of her life being treated. An ambulance was arranged through hospice because it was obvious that her condition was deteriorating quickly. Her mom went with her and within seconds of being placed from the stretcher on her bed, knowing finally that she was at Children's where she felt safe, she took her last breath...with a smile on her face.


I am thankful that her pain is over, but this is a terrible loss for the world. She had so much more dancing to do. So in honor of Risa, and in the spirit of not wasting a single moment of this gift of life we share, I want to encourage everyone and anyone to find your own music (figuratively AND literally), turn it up, and dance, dance, dance.


I'm opening iTunes right now. Do it. It will make you feel good PLUS it's wonderful for your heart!


  1. I'm so sorry to hear of her passing. She sounds like a wonderful young woman with a strong and lovely spirit. So glad that she got her last wish. I hope that she and Katie have connected!

  2. I'm sure they're deciding on the music even as we speak!

    I was thinking of you all on Katie's birthday. I sat on her bench last Friday. What a beautiful and tranquil spot...the perfect place to honor her memory!