In memory of a friend, in hope for a better future.

I can see it vividly: an August morning, just exactly a year ago. My friend Diane and I were taking a walk, as we had done together countless times over the last eighteen years. As we made our way slowly down the hill near her home, the summer sun warm on our backs, we watched our two elongated shadows, side by side, moving companionably along in front of us. A pair of women walking, a pair of shadows dancing to our rhythm: a small, ordinary moment, but one I will remember always. I knew even then — I think we both did — that this was yet another “last” for us, that in the future my shadow and I would walk alone. Less than three months later, I lost my beloved friend to ovarian cancer at age 55.

We met when we were both pregnant with our youngest children, our bellies nearly touching as we joyously discovered that we were backyard neighbors with much more than a shared bit of fence and autumn due dates in common. Over the years, as our children grew up and we grew older, traditions were born — fireworks on town day, harvest dinners in October, annual overnights in Maine (where this photo was taken), champagne toasts, raspberry picking and birthday scones, to name just a few. The memories accumulated as our friendship deepened.

When she was diagnosed in the fall of 2006, Diane’s disease was already quite advanced, as is often the case with ovarian cancer. Under the care of the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, she lived a full and active life for four more years. While undergoing treatment, she continued to care for her family and friends, to work in her community, to engage in politics, to cook, laugh, ski, read, walk, and love — to be Diane.

Anyone who knew Diane Brewster saw firsthand how tirelessly she worked to advance the principles and causes she believed in. In the last years of her life, that list was topped by her commitment to ovarian cancer research. It was her great hope that more effective treatments and earlier detection might make other women’s prognoses better than her own. Shortly before her death, she made a decision: she asked that those who wished to honor her memory make donations to Dana Farber’s Ovarian Cancer Research fund.

On September 18, I will participate in the Boston Marathon Jimmy Fund Walk, along with fifteen of Diane’s dear friends, to carry forward her commitment and her hope. Dana Farber researchers are on the cutting edge of progress against this disease which claims the lives of more than 15,000 women in the U.S. every year. Diane’s oncologist, Dr. Ursula Matulonis, and her colleagues are currently studying six promising new agents against recurrent ovarian cancer in clinical trials, work that Diane furthered through her own participation for as long as she was able.

Amazingly, Diane was able to complete three Jimmy Fund walks in the years following her diagnosis, testament to both her unflagging courage and her commitment. I will walk those 26.2 miles next month knowing that nothing would please Diane more than the sight of her friends supporting the cause she believed in so strongly. Dr. Matulonis, who came to consider Diane a friend as well as a patient, will be walking, too. At the end of her life, Diane was very clear: she wanted to make a difference for those who came after her. She did, and she continues to. It is part of her remarkable legacy that she has inspired so many of us to lace up our sneakers, reach out to our friends and loved ones for support, and join the cause she believed in so passionately.

Diane envisioned a day, perhaps not so far off, when ovarian cancer would be a chronic, manageable illness rather than the statistically terrifying diagnosis it is for most women today. As I walk the roads and trails near my home in New Hampshire, trying to increase my distance, build my endurance, and prepare my feet for the greatest physical challenge I’ve ever undertaken, I remind myself that, with every mile walked and every dollar raised, we move a little closer to realizing Diane’s vision. I see just one shadow before me these days, but I know I’m not walking alone after all. I feel my friend’s presence with every step.

When Diane died last fall, I wrote here about the loss of my friend. And then, in the weeks that followed, I was overwhelmed by my readers’ compassion and kindness. So many of you took time to write me, to comment in this space, and to share your own stories of grief and loss and healing. And so I extend an invitation here to anyone who might wish to contribute to my walk. Every one of your dollars will go directly to Dr. Matulonis and the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. And you will help me reach my personal fund-raising goal for Team Diane.

It’s easy to contribute. You may give in one of two ways:
• Visit my fundraising page at the Walk web site and follow the instructions to make a gift online.
• Write a check payable to “Jimmy Fund Walk.” On the memo line, write: “Dana Farber Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.” Send it directly to me at: Katrina Kenison Lewers, 101 Middle Hancock Rd, Peterborough, NH 03458.

And, as my thanks to you, a book give-away.

Among the many things Diane and I shared was a love of cooking and a delight in exchanging recipes. The last birthday gift she gave me was Anna Thomas’s wonderful cookbook, Love Soup, which became an immediate go-to in my kitchen. I’ve just bought 5 copies of this lovely book, to pair with signed copies of my own The Gift of an Ordinary Day. If you choose to contribute to my walk, and you let me know with a comment here, you’ll be eligible to win one of five pairs of these books. I will draw 5 names at random from the Comments section (using the tool at www.random.org) to receive the books. Deadline: midnight, Monday, August 15.

for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. What a lovely tribute to an amazing woman and friend!!

    My mom was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer in 2004 and I’m sure that cutting-edge research contributed to her being 7 years cancer-free this summer!

    I wish Diane’s story had a different ending and she was walking with you next month, but since that can’t be, I’m happy to support you and the Dana Farber Research Fund.

    I’ll be cheering you every step of the way!!

  2. Melissa Berry says:

    My mother also battled with ovarian cancer for 2 long years, passing away when she was 62. She keep her optimism right up to the very end. Thank you for helping to raise awareness of this silent killer of so many women!

  3. Gardener says:

    I too lost a very Dear Friend to ovarian cancer. I will support you and the research fund.

  4. Making an donation in honor of Diane and my 54 year old friend, Joanne, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer the week before last Christmas. As a 7 year breast cancer survivor, I participate in the annual Making Strides walk near my home. It is such a source of hope and support, in addition to raising awareness and funds. Wishing you a wonderful walk, Katrina – I am sure Diane will be smiling down on you!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Am so happy to hear of your seven years! I love all the good stories; they inspire us all. Thank you very much for your support and kind words, and you can be sure I’ll walk with Joanne in my heart, too.

  5. I’m in for sure and off to donate—sending love for you in the loss of your dear friend, as such losses are so terribly painful, and joining you in seeing progress in truly understanding cancer as both a passion of mine as well, and as a potential arena where we may learn unexpected things about how our bodies, our communities, our love and our biosphere intimately inter-mesh.

    All Good Wishes to your feet on up and always lovingly out.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      You are right about learning unexpected things — the lessons keep coming, both the hard ones and the very wonderful ones as well. You always remind me: we are all connected, and love is infinite. Thank you for being there, and for your support, both financial and spiritual.

  6. I lost my best friend, Margaret, at age 53, to ovarian cancer 15 months ago. At the same time my daughter moved to CA and my son moved to PA. We live in NH so it is quite a distance. The Gift of an Ordinary Day was recommended to me and helped me through this trying time. I will send a donation in the name of 2 wonderful friends who will never be forgotten.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. You can be sure that I will carry Margaret’s name with me on September 18 along with Diane’s memory. Many thanks for your support. Hearing your story reminds me of the importance of what we are all doing to create better futures for those diagnosed with this disease.

  7. I am so proud of your undertaking in supporting this awesome cause! And what a great way to gain fundraising…I’ve never seen this done before. By making a donation direct to your page, I feel much more like I’m supporting a person in a “real” endeavor rather than just sending a check to a post office box. I look forward to hearing about the experience…WALK ON!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thank you Julie! It does feel personal — both the cause and the amazing connections with others whose lives have been touched by cancer. I realize that we have all lost loved ones, and that we can reach out and support one another in all sorts of ways. You can be sure I’ll write about the experience — a little daunting right now, but I’m so grateful for the opportunity to walk.

  8. What a beautiful tribute to your friend. Thank you for providing a way in which we feel like we can contribute to this cause. We too have lost 2 very special in our family to ovarian and lung cancer. I will be sending a contribution to you and would also like to know the details of the marathon. If the timing permits, I might like to participate and if I may be so bold as to ask if I could join Team Diane? I am thinking of you and your dear friend.

  9. Apologies, I misread your blog, I thought you were inviting people to join the walk as well. I would like to contribute and will think of you and all of your friends as you walk together for Diane and so many others.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Of course we welcome any and all walkers! Anyone who wishes to walk with us on September 18 can register at the Jimmy Fund homepage: http://www.jimmyfundwalk.org/htmlcontent.asp?cid=108659

      If you join as a Team Diane member, all of your funds will go directly to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.

      Exciting to think of this very personal battle turning into an effort to ensure better lives for those who follow in Diane’s footsteps. Many thanks to you!

  10. I love the photograph. It shines of happiness and a long-lasting friendship. What a wonderful way you have chosen to remember Diane, and I am happy to have contributed in what little way I can.

    Walk on. I’ll be thinking of Team Diane and wishing you good weather and no injuries!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I love this photo too — Diane had it on her camera, and I never saw it until last fall. It brought back such good memories. Many thanks for your support!

  11. Wylie Hunt says:

    Katrina,
    I just donated to your walk. My cousin, Thyra, was treated at the Dana Farber clinic for breast cancer, and she is now cancer free! Wish I was in Boston to walk with you!

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thanks so very much. I’ve seen first hand the care that Dana Farber offers and it’s exceptional. How wonderful it is to be able to give something back and to carry on this work in Diane’s memory. Wish you were here too!

  12. Polly Kroell says:

    Katrina, How fortunate you two were to have had such a long close friendship.I know Diane was very lucky to have a friend like you who made her life even fuller through knowing you and having you by her side through her life. I feel the same way about having your Mother in my life. I only wish we could be together more often — but I will take what I can get and be thankful for it.
    Love to you and I know your feet will take you the whole way.
    Polly

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Polly, thank you so much for your support and good wishes. Yes, friendship becomes more and more important as the years go by, especially the shared history and memories.

  13. I just donated and I pray a cure is found for this awful cancer. I wish you the best of this walk.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      My thanks to you, both for the donation and for the good wishes. Beginning to realize that all this support is what will carry us through the day, and our own inevitable challenges.

  14. My heart swells with love for you and Diane. Diane’s love and being is reaching far beyond your backyard fence. Thank you so much for the opportunity to know her and be a part of the giving. It is a gift you give us. I feel priviliged to be able to contribute to your walk and Team Diane. Much love always, Shareen

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      You’re right — far beyond the backyard fence indeed! Many thanks for supporting me and furthering Diane’s cause.

  15. It’s a pleasure to contribute to such a worthy cause and in honor of such a remarkable woman. What a wonderful way to celebrate the memory of your friend.

    My grandmother died of ovarian cancer when I was a little girl. I was blessed to have the chance to know her before she became sick and wish that my children would have had that chance too.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I’m amazed at how many lives this disease has touched. Certainly the more I learn, the more urgency I feel. Thanks so much for helping me celebrate Diane’s memory.

  16. Just this past May, I lost a dear friend (Nancy) to ovarian cancer. She contributed to research through her participation in several trials and lived six years after her diagnosis. I am happy to contribute to the cause in her name. I miss her! (Katrina, I will send a check in the mail.)

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thank you Kathy. The women who participate in these trials are our heroines. You can be sure that I’ll carry Nancy’s name in my heart alongside Diane’s.

  17. I remember sitting in a room in Boston, lucky enough to hear you read your essay about Diane. I remember crying, holding you and your grief in my heart. I called my best friend that night, through tears, and told her how much I loved her.

    I will donate in honor of her. In honor of you, and in honor of my dear friend’s mother who also has ovarian cancer.

    Much love to all of you. xoxo

  18. PS: since I’m already lucky enough to have a signed copy of you book, please do not include me in the giveaway.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Thank you Denise. I remember that day in Boston so well — I’d spent the night before that reading with Diane, and we were savoring every good moment. Love knowing that your own best friend got a phone call that night!

  19. I just made a contribution – I so remember last fall your posting when Diane died. My heart ached for you. I lost a good friend one month ago from colon cancer – she was 50 years old. So to Diane and to my friend Lori – may they always live in our hearts.

    Mary Ann

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      Many thanks. We do carry our loved ones in our hearts. I send you my sympathies for the loss of your own dear friend and will hold Lori’s name close as I walk next month.

  20. What a beautiful tribute to your friend. You are so courageous to walk in both hope and this new grief.

    I used to work at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at UCSD and my professor and lab all moved from the Farber. It’s such an amazing place and they are doing great work. I have a lot of hope.

    • Katrina Kenison says:

      I have hope, too! There is so much sadness and loss that comes with this disease and, at the same time, so much love and learning and, as Diane herself said, “so much goodness.” It is the goodness that I carry with me these days, as manifested in all this support and generosity. Many thanks!

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