AUGUST 10, 2017
Karson was my very first best friend. We met in line for 1st grade class registration. Two little blonde 6-year-olds. We decided right away that we wanted to be the best of buds. And so we were.
We spent 1st grade with our favorite teacher, Miss Bain. And we were such teacher’s pets. When Miss Bain was absent, she would tell the substitute teacher to 'ask Karson or Sara' if they had any questions. We were inseparable in class and spent countless hours at each other’s houses. Over the next several years, we made so many special memories together. Birthday parties (our summer birthdays were exactly one month apart). Brownies. Clogging Team. (We were both lucky enough to be Dixie Dolls, an experience I share with very few in this world!) Making up dances to our favorite songs (think Starship’s ‘We Built This City’). Roller skating at the local skating rink. Church group. Community theater.
My family moved to another county after 3rd grade. Which may as well have been to another continent back then. Still, Karson and I maintained a special friendship and found ways to cross paths when we could. After high school our lives took us to different places. We went our separate ways for college. And, in a world where the internet was not yet mainstream, we just sort of lost touch in a very unintentional way, holding each other in that spot in our hearts where the first friend lives.
Fortunately, that same day back at school registration, our Moms met. And they decided to become best of friends too. Their friendship has also become something so special. And Karson and I always marveled at how they could talk for hours and hours and seemingly never come up for air. Through our Moms, I’ve stayed connected to Karson in our adult years, which I am grateful for.
When Karson was 30, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She had a mastectomy, went through 6 months of chemo and then, happily, went into remission. However, less than 2 years later, Karson’s cancer came back with a vengeance. As Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. Needless to say, a devastating diagnosis. Adjusting to her new normal, Karson did whatever it took to fight back. In the most graceful and inspirational way you could imagine.
I have followed her battle for years, getting updates from my Mom after her periodic marathon catch-up sessions with Karson’s mom. I sent her love and encouragement along the way, willing for her to have good news at every turn. Over the years, she endured way more than anyone should ever have to. Treatments, surgeries, setbacks, medicines, side effects, and the loss of others she’d met through her experiences. Yet, when I look back, my memories of her journey are highlighted by cheerful updates, relentless gratitude, and always her ‘joy, hugs & laughter’ sign off. Karson chose to find joy in the simple everyday pleasures. A pumpkin spice latte. A beautiful day outdoors. Beach trips with her family. Fun with her sweet niece. She chose to fight with unimaginable strength, resilience and determination, seeking out a community where she could thrive and magnetically collecting an ocean full of friends and admirers.
Several months ago she sent a baby gift to Oliver, celebrating my sweet little miracle with her happy and upbeat words of love and support. And in handwriting that I’d know anywhere- we had learned to write together after all.
Last Friday, August 4th, Karson’s now 10-year epic battle with cancer ended. Just a couple of weeks after her 41st birthday. Leaving behind a flood of broken hearts who are seeking solace in the knowledge that she no longer suffers and that she now lights up an even better place with her signature smile.
As I prepare to travel to Georgia to gather with her people this weekend and as I reflect on our friendship, of course I regret the distance of our adult years. But mostly I celebrate the luck I had to be a part of her life. And to have had her as my first friend. She set the bar pretty damn high for future friendships because she became the definition and example for me. And it’s very apparent that she carried on like that through all of her days by the overwhelming outpouring of love and admiration for her as so many share their Karson stories and tributes.
Karson has inspired me. She has lifted my thoughts on so many occasions and given me beautiful perspective. And I know she always will. Not because, on a bad day, I think 'it could be worse, I could be battling cancer like Karson'. But because she figured out how to really live. She found purpose in her moments here in a way that many will never know. She fought for something. She braved the rapids. She was forever serving others, even in her time of need. She loved deeply. And she was loved back, just as deeply. So much and by so many. I want to live like that.
Today, I share this with you for a couple of reasons. First, when you experience the loss of someone as special as Karson, you want to tell the world about her. And second, because I want to remind you that there are heroes amongst us. Just walking around in our every day. May you acknowledge one of yours today. In honor of my very first friend.
"Just living isn't enough", said the Butterfly. "One must also have freedom, sunshine and a little flower." - Kahlil Gibran