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My friend Kate…(1966-2013)

I knew this day would come. When you join the cancer fraternity, your fellow bro’s and sis’s are not people that you did upside down margarita shots with at some party, they are people like you that are suffering from cancer. But like a fraternity bro or sorority sister, you can also develop deep life long relationships. I was blessed to have one of those with my dear friend Kate Burke. However, unlike your typical college relationships, or any friendship for that matter, these “cancer” relationships more than likely will end too soon. Such was the case yesterday when I learned that my best friend in the cancer fraternity, Kate Burke, lost her courageous 9 year battle with brain cancer.

I could use many adjectives to describe Kate: funny, warm, brave, smart, beautiful (both inside and out), but the best way for me to describe her is that she was my friend. Through the progress of technology, and my anal retentiveness of never deleting anything, I was able to chronicle the almost 6 years of our friendship. Here are snippets from some of the texts, and emails that we shared through our mutual struggles and challenges, but also some of the highs and triumphs we shared about life.

HOW WE MET
I first met Kate in May of 2007 in Washington DC. Kate had been in the cancer frat for about 3 years, and I was the new freshman going through rush week. We were in Washington to be part of an delegation selected by the Livestrong Foundation to celebrate national Livestrong Day by lobbying members in Congress on cancer related issues. We were part of the California delegation, so we were assigned to the same table. I was immediately drawn to the empty chair next to Kate, as I leapt into it. After the introduction formalities, we quickly bonded over the exact match of our sunglasses:

Kate posted this under a Facebook photo of our trip:
“My Persol/Cancer buddy Mike Dougherty. One of those guys you just love immediately”

We spent the next three days in Washington getting to know each other and just hanging out. We realized quickly that we had a lot in common. We were two years apart, we were fighters, we wanted to live, we were optimistic but realistic, and we both knew that we had the best life partners (Brian and Jen) by our side.

She sent me this email soon after we returned from Washington, and CHD was still 3 months away:

“You were by far my favorite new cancer friend. I can’t wait to hook up with you and your wife! Bri is excited to meet you guys. maybe in June when things settle a bit. We will be in touch though before then. I just had to take 2 seconds and drop you a quick line and let you know how great you are and how much I appreciated you getting it…..everything that is…..You are a crack up.

Take care my dear friend.

Give your wife a squeeze and tell her to enjoy as much sleep as she can now!!!! Even though she has to get up a couple times at night by now!”

NOTES FROM MY BCF

I knew then, that she was going to be my best cancer friend (BCF). Kate always found 2 seconds for everybody. Through the years we shared the simple joys of life together, and Kate always helped me keep it all into perspective. Here’s a typical example:

ME: Thank you so much for the adorable little outfit for Charlotte, you really shouldn’t have. Very nice of you. What is your address?
KATE: Do NOT send a thank you….PLEASE…..it would mean more if you just spent that time smiling at your new daughter!. That is only for pictures ok?
ME: I am on cloud nine…..does it get any better than this?
KATE: Oh yes…..just wait until she rolls her eyes at this wonderful hormonal stage!!!!! I want to SEND my daughter to cloud nine! Hee hee….Actually it DOES get better. Wait until she smiles at you and says Da Da….
ME: Back to reality for me. CT of the lungs on Wednesday, results on Friday.
KATE: mike….no worries my friend. It will ALL be good! Let me know Friday the GREAT news OK?
ME: Keep me in your prayers. Hope you are doing well.
KATE: Doing fabulous…..I am currently full of sand however after playing football with Colin out at the beach all day. Life is good. Gotta go shower before I take him over to soccer.
ME: Thanks again for your generosity.
KATE: You deserve it! Enjoy.

And there were plenty of times when I needed a boost, to get off the floor and back into the game, and I could always count on Kate for emails like these:

“No doubt.I am NOT minimizing this…..but I also know who is in control. You will kick it’s booty baby.If there is ANYTHING I can do..PLEASE don’t hesitate to call. I have been there and sometimes it just helps to talk to someone who totally “gets it”. I do bud….I am there for you!
YOU WILL GET THROUGH THIS!!!!!!!!!!”

“Just a bump in the road bud. God has blessed you with a distraction now…..live for her! (And of course your beautiful wife.) You will fight this with the same spirit and tenacity that you did the 1st round. When I got my 2nd cancer diagnosis I was like….’OK…bring it!!!’ I am NOT going down damnit!

I will call you in a week or so to touch base.

Now get off the Internet and go kiss your girls!”
Kate

“This is more and more like MY cancer! No proven drugs to work so let’s waste time testing others…
Sorry my dear friend.Disheartening.
Did they do the genetic testing? That is becoming more popular in my world because no one has time to try stuff that won’t work if their MGMT idnt methylated or the EGFR VIII isn’t over expressed…blah blah blah…
KNOW u r being proactive and a warrior. That is my boy. Get it away and get it away now.
What is your home address?
I will touch base from Wisconsin after you talk to Mann.Love you.
Don’t loose focus.Keep a picture of your beautiful girls with you at all times and keep repeating I CAN BEAT THIS!
Love you more than words can say”
Kate

As cancer will do, the bastard can come back, and for Kate it did. But she never lost her positive attitude and levity.

Here’s a snippet from a text message:

ME: How ya feeling? Is French Laundry tomorrow?
KATE: Yes, cant wait, not getting much sleep (side effect from chemo), but mostly trying to go without anything to sleep. Totally sucks. When I tell pharmacists that I don’t want to get addicted they look at me like…sistah ya got bigger fish to fry! Don’t worry! They don’t realize that I’m going to beat this! Again!!

And if you can even believe it, Kate was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer at the same time of her recurrence, but in typical Kate fashion, she had her priorities in perspective:

“Holy crap. Best surgery EVER! No vomiting! None! Didn’t sleep much and in severe pain but resident just came in and we’ll discuss plan B. I want to go home tmrww. Colin’s last play off game tmrw. Not that I can’t go…3 weeks and Riley leaves for Mallorca Spain! Gotta heal prior to that! OMG! UPS just dropped off my FAVORITE wine! I love u and CANT wait to have it….stomach is funky, but the moment I’m off pain mess that is being opened.”

OUR LAST EXCHANGE
As fate would have it, literally a year ago to this day, Kate and I found ourselves together at UCSF as we both faced major surgeries. This text exchange should give you an idea of how close we were:

ME: As always we are in this together, right? No matter what, right? Know that I’m by your side tomorrow, and that I WILL be there to see you on the flip side next week, literally. Give me your hand now….squeeze. Love you.
KATE: Love you too. Squeezing hard!
ME: One word: colace and if you get delayed by a day, I’m coming to see you Friday, so get that darn helmet off!!
KATE: I’ll probably be home by then!
ME: I know you will.
KATE: Thank God because you’ll need to take me out back and shoot me if they ever do!

That was the last time I was ever in direct contact with Kate. She caught a nasty infection after her surgery, fell into a coma, and in essence never came out of it. Ironically and so very appropriate, yesterday was Valentine’s Day, and this article was run in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat:

http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/20130213/ARTICLES/130219809?p=3&tc=pg&tc=ar

I love you my friend, and I will never forget you.

A QUICK UPDATE
Here’s a quick update I sent out to my friends and family re my trip to San Francisco on Wednesday, it’s been a hectic week to say the least:

“Spent the day in SF yesterday making the rounds. Saw Dr. Gottschalk, the Cyberknife guy, and he agreed to go after a bunch of the spots I have….most importantly the biggest one that is in the chest wall. All total, we’ll probably go after about 5 tumors over the course of about 4 days. It takes about two weeks to build the program for the treatment, so I will probably spend a week in SF sometime within the next month or so. Concurrently, I’m starting on a new chemo pill called Sprycel…which I’ve already started. Not sure what the side effects will be like, but hopefully not too harsh. Everyone seems pretty confident that we can knock the big one out, but we’ve got to find something that is going to stop the next one from coming and doing the same thing. Hopefully the Sprycel will slow things down again. I think this will be the last time we can safely do CK within the lungs (they can’t take any more radiation)….and Dr. Mann (lung surgeon) indicated that I might have a one last chance at surgery too. Jen is doing all right, always loves to hear from you guys. It’s been a rough week, but we’re hanging in there. I volunteered today at the Valentines Day party at Chart’s school (I was the only dad there, the kids are scratching their heads still trying to figure that one out)….absolutely priceless experience. We are hitting San Diego next week for 3 nights, really glad we are able to squeeze that one in between all of this shite. One day at a time for now :)

That’s all for now. Please send your thoughts and prayers to Kate’s family.

xo
Mike

3 Responses to “ “My friend Kate…(1966-2013)”

  1. My Dear Mike,

    Your blog stopped arrested me in my tracks today, and my world stopped as I read about your dear friend Kate and her most remarkable life and family.

    Kate and Brian are truly marathon athletes that finished strong in the race set before each of them. I felt proud to read of both a woman with cancer and her caregiver that ran with such tremendous endurance and hope. They inspire me to live strong each and every day.

    I rejoice in life’s victories, but my heart aches, too, as I ponder your Valentine friend. I’m sorry, dear Mike, that you have lost your comrade.

    My God uphold the walls of Brian’s heart as he faces life without his Kate. I know, on some level, the depth of that void.

    On a closing note, how is it that I can clearly picture Kate, in her bad-ass shades, watching over you with every hope and prayer that you will kick that bastard cancer?

    Thank you for sharing her life. She lives on through your words.

    Valerie Bosselman

  2. Thank you Valerie for your beautiful message. Please check out Valerie’s blog, the address is http://www.valeriebosselman.com. It’s a heartfelt but also real representation of what it’s like to lose a daughter to cancer. It’s a story about real life, how to go on when you suffer a hardship. But it’s also full of special memories and inspiration. A must read and follow. A quick update, Jen and I went to Kate’s “celebration of life” ceremony on Saturday. At least 700 people overflowed her church in Santa Rosa, a testimony to the influence Kate had on her community. It was hard, but I feel good about it, but I feel better after going. I know she’s in a much better place and waiting for everyone to get there and join her. I told her she better be patient!!

  3. Anonymous says:

    We continue to read your blog with
    interest, and most of all feel the intensity of your spirit as you continue to fight the battle ahead. Your friend’s spirit is such an example of the obvious care that God has given to both of you. Give our love to Jenny as she continues to stand beside you in all of this. Sincerely, Janet and Dennis Hagen for the family!!

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