Her name is Elise.
We were best-friends throughout elementary school and she lived in the next town over. She had an infectious laugh that made you want to laugh right along with her, and a bubbly personality to go along with it. She was silly and always wanted her friends happy.
Elise was a kind person and I don’t think she had a bad thing to say about anyone. I admired this about her, even at eleven, because that was the time when life was getting confusing and weird. When you’re eleven and a girl, well, life is complicated and it’s hard to find a real, true friend. But Elise was it. She was that true friend that was always there for me and she never judged or turned a cold shoulder. Elise was nice to literally every person that she came in contact with and I desperately wanted to be like her and… who am I kidding? At 28, I still aspire to be as kind as Elise. I fail by a long shot.
We were always laughing….about, well, anything. It was never a dull moment with Elise. One of my favorite memories (and there are a lot of memories) but if I had to pick one, it involved a turtle tank and a chair. One time while she was over my house, she was leaning back on a chair; not paying attention she leaned a little too far back and landed right on her ass. The chair hit my turtle tank that was on the floor behind her and water was spilling out faster than we could stop it…but I don’t think we even tried that hard because it’s impossible to do anything when you’re busting with laughter. It was all incredibly comical and I didn’t even care that I would probably get in so much trouble for it because we were laughing until we were crying. I could still remember my sides hurting from laughing so much, and how Elise was so worried about getting in trouble. She didn’t. I took the blame for it and I don’t think it was even a big deal, but she was still paranoid and she felt awful that my poor turtle tank now had a crack down the side of it that she must’ve kept apologizing to me for the rest of the night. She was like that…a good girl. A good person.
Those happy moments make it hard for me to understand why it would all soon be taken away. It makes it hard to understand how a genuinely good person could be sentenced to a miserable disease. I can never forget a friend that changed my life, and that is exactly what Elise did, she changed my life forever.
Elise was diagnosed with cancer when we were eleven years-old. The news affected me, along with my peers, so deeply because this was an amazing and kind girl and something completely terrible was happening to her. And I guess….it made all of us really feel scared because cancer. Wow. That was like, a grown-up problem. That was an adult problem. Only old people, like our Grandparents, got cancer….not an 11 year-old kid that was just beginning to live life. But, she was going to be fine, right? Even though I never personally knew a kid that was fighting cancer, I did see all of those survivors in the St. Jude Math-A-Thon program I did every-year in school, so Elise was going to win this stupid battle with cancer and everything would be just fine. It would be fine!
The truth of the matter is though, that although cancer in children is rare, it’s the leading cause of death by disease past infancy among children in the United States. In 2017, it’s estimated that 15,270 children and adolescents ages 0 to 19 will be diagnosed with cancer and 1,790 will die from the disease.
Although scary and unknown, Elise took her cancer diagnose with stride. Never, and I can’t really stress this part enough, did she EVER once complain or feel sorry for herself. I remember our phone calls from The Children’s Hospital in Hershey, PA; she was always in good spirits–remaining positive and upbeat and even joking about not having to shave her legs thanks to radiation. Every-one had strong faith that Elise would make a speedy recovery and our little town put together a motorcycle benefit drive– Valley With A Heart— where over $13,000 was raised for Elise and her family. Elise had the time of her life; seeing all of her friends, family, and people she didn’t even know come out to support her in battling this “stupid cancer”… as she would call it. The benefit meant so much to Elise and to this day, 17 years later, Valley With A Heart Benefits has raised well over $100,000 to help seriously ill children and their families within the Wyoming Valley of Pennsylvania. And it all began with Elise.
Things were going well….sure, there was chemo and radiation and lost hair but she was doing it! She was beating this stupid cancer! Elise was even well enough to join us on our fifth grade field trip…talk about a blast. She was so thrilled to join us and to feel like a normal and healthy kid.
We sat together on that bus ride; talking and listening to music (probably NSync or Britney Spears) the whole way there. Oh my, have I missed my best-friend! It was like the old days and every-thing felt normal. I couldn’t imagine a life without Elise because death…..well, that never, not even once, had crossed my mind. She was going to be fine, because kids don’t die from cancer…just old people.
I was 12 when my best friend died. I was 12 when I learned that life is so fragile. I was 12 when I learned that, no matter how kind, good, and even how young you are–that doesn’t exclude bad things happening to you.
I remember it happened way too fast and out of nowhere. Everything was fine. Elise was fine. She was healthy and doing well; but then something happened and her extremely short life was cut way too soon. Just like that. It happened just like that. It wasn’t supposed to be that way; she was going to fight that stupid cancer, continue onto middle-school and live a long and beautiful life as a badass cancer survivor! We would laugh about all the ridiculous times we had together, and she would tell me “I told you I was going to get rid of that stupid cancer! But I miss not shaving my legs!” That’s what was supposed to happen.
It was an unfair loss. It was an unbelievably sad loss. It was a heartbreaking loss. Nobody believed it. I couldn’t believe it. My memory of learning about her passing is still ingrained in my mind: my mom told me she passed away and her obituary was in the newspaper. And there it was: in black & white and right in front of my face, details about her short yet beautiful life and in the top left-corner, her school picture of that previous year…pre-stupid cancer. I must’ve read that article over 100 times and somehow, I still couldn’t process that is was real. It felt like some terrible nightmare and I was pleading for someone to just wake me up from it. I remember crying a lot and thinking that she was going to call me and say “why are you crying? I’m fine!” But that didn’t happen and sadly, this was reality.
After her passing, life was just different and for the longest time, it felt like things would never be right again. It didn’t feel real to me, even at her viewing and seeing her in that casket. That wasn’t Elise. Where is my beautiful friend with the infectious laugh and bubbly personality? Sure, her body was there, but that was it. Her soul was gone and every beautiful thing about her was now just a memory. I couldn’t really process all of it and for the longest time I lived in a make-believe world of pretending to be okay when I was really dying on the inside.
When you’re 12 and you see your best-friend in a casket….that’s a feeling I wouldn’t wish on anyone.
Elise left behind a loving family and so many friends that would miss her and talk about her many years after her passing. She left behind a huge mark in this world, in my life, and 16 years later, she still crosses my mind. I think about Elise often, but more-so, when I go through a milestone. I don’t just think about “I really wish Elise was here to share this with me”, I think of how absolutely unfair it is that she didn’t get to experience life….the way I could.
Elise didn’t get to go to high-school. She wouldn’t go to prom.
She wouldn’t have the chance to have a boyfriend or a first kiss.
She wouldn’t get to drive a car and get a license.
She wouldn’t get to walk across that graduation stage.
She wouldn’t go to college or to establish a career or even have a first job.
She would never have the chance to meet a great guy, fall in love, get married and have babies. She would never get to be a mother (and I’m certain that she would have been the best mother).
She didn’t get to do any of those things and so much more, but for me, I was able to. So, why me? Why am I here on Earth when Elise, a young girl that was way more kind and more special than me, had to lose out on all of that? Some days, I feel like I take life for granted, I mean, I think we all do. I think we all believe that life isn’t as beautiful and fragile as it truly is. And oh…it truly is so fragile. We have to remind ourselves that we need to live life to the fullest but to not only live life, but to live our best life… for all of the people that would never get the chance.
While I do think about Elise very often, I rarely talk about her. For me, it’s painful and it makes me sad, but that doesn’t mean her memory isn’t there. Elise would be 28 next month. I often wonder where life would have taken her. There’s no doubt that she would have done amazing things. I wonder if we would have stayed best-friends or if we would’ve drifted apart… I wish I could’ve had the chance to find that out.
I miss her. I think there will always be that 12 year old girl inside of me that mourns the loss of her. She was a good person and an amazing friend. If there’s a Heaven, Elise sure is up there….holding babies and laughing at me. And complaining about shaving her legs.