Friday, August 22, 2008

Loss of a friend

I had so much to come back and write about. Past couple of weeks filled with ups and downs, and all kindsa in-betweens. But, I think this entry needs to be saved soley for the purposes of remembering a great great woman.

A dear friend, fellow calendar model, fellow colon cancer patient, and just all around goofy gal, Heather Maes, passed away wednesday, August 20th.

I'm still a bit of in a surreal world about it. So I figured in making this a tribute blog to her, I'd regal you all in some of my own personal tales of my friend.

When I flew in to Albany New York last year in june for the Colondar photoshoot, I have to admit, I was kinda dreading it. A whole weekend up in the boonies with a buncha cancerous people? Blech. Not my idea of relaxing. Sounded more like it'd be a weekend of prayer-ful "oh god lets be thankful that we have this blessing of being able to appreciate life" and wallowing in our pitiful cancer-infested lives. No thanks.
The moment I stepped off the plane, I headed straight for the bathroom (those of you that know me know this is always the first, and last stop for me before and after getting on planes). I had the cell phones numbers of the three other models who were flying in that day with me. We were all supposed to meet up for each other and wait til the last person got in, so we could all ride up to Lake George together.
But I thought "well, I don't really care to hang out so much, I'll just go do my thang in the bathroom, go grab some coffee, and act like I forgot the numbers."
While setting down my bags in the stall, my cell phone started going off. I didn't recognize the number, and figured it may be one of the other models. So i ignored it. A minute or two later, it rang again. This time, catheter in hand, and annoyed, I answered.
The voice on the other end was Heather. I didn't want to let on that I was currently standing with a tube about to poke it into my stomach in order to poop...hell, I didn't even know this woman. I simply said "Um, Hey, yea, I'm here, I'm actually in the bathroom...I'll meet up with you in bout 20 min." and thus began my friendship with Heather.
When I emerged all flushed and empty feeling, I found Heather sitting atop her bright pink suitcase at the bottom of the escalator, in her bright pink Victoria's Secret sweatpants suit. (how DO i remember these things?). Perfectly made-up face, and perfectly coifed hair. (i've never used the word "coifed" but if ANYone ever deserved it, it was Heather).
We clicked immediately. She instantly made me feel at ease that this girl was real. And that meant it probably wasn't gonna be a weekend full of singing "kumbaya" in front of a firepit.
She let on right away that she had an ostomy. So we got busy talking bout how we cope with air travel and an ostomy. We sat and drank coffee and made fun of the absurdly athletically-fit, super-toned and tan woman that randomly kept passing by our little table. (come to find out later that woman was another fellow colondar model. But at the time, Heather and I, both decidedly NOT as in shape, busied ourselves with being catty about her).

That weekend I got to know all my fellow models pretty intimately. And I made friends that not only will last a lifetime, and not only are like family...friends that have already proven to be miracle-workers, life-supports, and the best shoulders to lean on anywhere. I admired Heather, she was brave enough to bare her ileostomy bag to all the world to see. I know I bare my stoma all day long, but it's different than having a bag attached to that stoma. And for that, I thought she was amazing. Not only did she bare it on her photo, but when she caught flack for it later, she dared people to challenge her. I admired her, and then, I was proud of her. She was so regal and noble looking in her photo. So elegant.

I got to reunite with her again in person in Baltimore at the Colon Cancer Alliance conference. Her in her signature Victoria Secrets sweatpants suits :)
There was a costume party on opening night. And we were to dress as someone from our favorite decade. Who did both Heather and I show up dressed as? Why, Madonna(s) of course!

Like-a-Virgin and Vogue in the same room at the same time! It was obvious then how we were kindred spirits then. She also loaned me that wig and schooled me as to why blondes DO have more fun (well...sometimes)

That weekend was also Heathers birthday. We all felt so lucky that we could celebrate with her. Mark, one of the other models who couldn't be there, even Fedex'ed one of his cakes to the hotel room! (we made the girl at the front desk smell the box to make sure what it was!).

The next time I saw Heather was just a few months back, in March, for the Flush Out! colon cancer event in Indiana. She was looking fabulous as always. If anything, Heather was always our glam-girl. She knew how to work it, and work it well. She was always 10 times more pulled together than any of us. This photo was taken inside the limo ride to the survivors dinner we attended that weekend

(can we say Va-Va-VOOM!)
That weekend in Indiana, my world kinda came crashing down. I got alot of bad news all at once. And Heather was right there to pep-talk me through it all. Despite of how much of a sourpuss super-bitch I was being.
Later, in May, when I got word that I had a reoccurance. When getting the word out to my extended 'colon-fam', Heather was one of the first to reply to me. She knew exactly what I was feeling, and had the right things to say (which was to not really say anything at all, just know that I was angry, and had a right to be).
When hearing that Heather was not doing well and going into hospice care I had only one immediate ringing thought.

I had to see her.

Nevermind that I was going through chemo and about to have surgery. Nevermind that she lived clear across the country from me. Nevermind that she wasn't expected to make it very much longer. I just didn't care. I didn't know exactly why I needed to see her. I didn't know exactly what I would get from being there. I was cautioned by alot of people to rethink going. Besides I don't really have the money, and airfare to San Francisco was NOT cheap. Nevermind it all. I had one driving thought.

I had to see her.

One of my fellow colondar models Ray (see how everyone of these guys is just a lifesaver?) generously donated some money to me so that I could get the flight. And another friend of Heathers, Krista, and I flew out there last week. We visited Heather once last week, and once this week just before leaving. Again, I don't know what I expected, or what I wanted from the visit. I didn't know if it was purely selfish, or selfless. But I do know, that being able to hold her hand, and talk to her one last time, made the news that came this wednesday night just that much easier.

Heather is no longer in pain. She no longer has to put up the fight of her life. She did worlds of good in everyones life that she touched. And the title she recieved at the Relay for Life in may of "Survivor of the Year" couldn't have been given to a better woman. I want Heather around to make fart jokes and sing badly to Bon Jovi, for years and years to come. Alas, we don't always get what we want. And just knowing that I got to know her at all, will be good enough and yet never enough for me.

For now, These photos are how she'll always remain in my mind. The fiery attitude. That incredible poise and grace. And that awesome contagious smile and laugh. Heather...Hope you're reading my words somewhere in an internet cafe in heaven...send a shout out whenever you can, k?


  1. Becca what am amazing tribute to someone we all love and will admire forever. I know Heather is dancing on a bar, men hooping and hollering over her, she is minus a stoma butt I am confident that blue star tatoo remains. Thanks for all the memories, your smile, your beauty,and your passion for others. One other thing I am confident of is that Heather is our own private colon club angel. I will miss u and will forever be thankful for you.

  2. Becca,

    You're a tough act to follow. That was perfect.

    I'll always remember Heather for her illuminating smile, undeniable courage and thoroughly kicking my butt on the tennis court.

    My life has been enriched and Heather will always be part of it.


  3. Well said, Becca. I have a vivid memory of Heather and I sitting in the living room looking out over the beautiful Lake George. Heather had her iPod and was drawing. She was so content and I just thought, wow, she is so strong, confident, and happy while being faced with such crap&%*@! I admired her for that.

    A beautiful woman was taken away from this world too soon, but our lives are all better having known her.

    I am so proud to be sharing the Colondar with stunning Heather. December 1st will be a bittersweet day as I turn the pages of our Colondar. I'm glad she's December, that way I can just leave it there forever.


  4. Hi Becca
    Thank you so much for such a beautiful, moving and honest tribute to Heather. I really enjoyed reading about how you guys became friends. She had told me kind of the same things you wrote about yourself; not sure about these other "colonder" people, nervous about meeting other survivors, would anybody like her, those kinds of things. I know that you and everyone involved with the colonder were some of the best friends she had the good fortune to make. You guys get it in a way that no one who hasn't faced cancer can understand. That kind of kinship is irreplaceable. Thanks you for being my sister's friend. My family will be praying for you Becca.
    Love Heidi (Heather's sister)

  5. Perfectly said Becca. You always have the most beautiful and honest things to say. We had so little time with her but she will remain forever with us. We continue to pray and think about you constantly.


  6. You always say the absolute perfect thing - whether it's a tribute or angry scream. You've provided all of us who didn't know Heather such a lovely intimate look into her soul. Thank you for that.


  7. Becca,

    I'm so sorry to hear of your friend Heather. It sounds like she went out in style and lived life to the fullest, just as you and all of us cancer fighters do! I'm glad you got to go visit her and say your goodbyes, I'm sure that made her feel good as well.

    Thinking of you.



  8. Thanks, Becca, for sharing your thoughts and experiences of knowing Heather. We are all lucky to have befriended her, albeit far too briefly, yet in that time she has left an indelible mark on our lives. I am sure she is at peace, in heaven, looking over us (perhaps not in her madonna outfit and probably not the cones. but then again, why not?) peace and love kiddo.

  9. Beautiful, Rebecca. You honor your friend wonderfully. It's clear that the two of you are kindred spirits! Thanks for writing and sharing yourself through this blog.

  10. She will forever be looking over you. Dancing, listening, smiling, hugging, and sometimes kicking your butt - but will always remain your wonderful friend.

  11. Hi Becca (love your name, my niece's name too) I came across your blog from the jpouch site, you posted a reply to one of my questions recently about a fissure issue I have lately (natisha) anyway, nice to meet you and I love your blog. I'm sorry to hear about your beautiful friend that passed away. She was so lovely and I know she loved you too from day one she met you. We all come together for some reason or another in this world and we will all meet again :) Do you have a myspace? If you want to visit mine and my daughters it is at, we'd love to meet ya there too! Take care and we will keep reading your updates on here and on jpouch too:) Thanks for your replies and your help there :)

  12. Hi Becca,
    I came across your blog from Megan and Mark's UC to J-Pouch story. I was wondering if you have FAP?

  13. Becca,
    The reason I asked is because my boyfriend was diagnosed with FAP a few weeks ago and since then I've been trying to get an understanding of what's happening and learn as much as I can. It's a really scary situation, but I appreciate how real you are in writing about it.

  14. I'm sorry for the recent diagnosis. It's a pretty intimidating (putting it mildly) thing to get hit with.

    If you have any questions, I'd be glad to talk to you about it. feel free to email me

  15. Just wondering how you are doing? I know you were thinking your surgery might be around now. I hope all is as good as it can be. I'm sending you some good healthy healing vibes. Oh and thanks for the rec on the GI, I plan to look into him.