For the past 5 years, Heather Stevens (and her son, Connor) have been running with AREC. About a year in, Heather was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and then Pancreatic Cancer.
If you know anything about pancreatic cancer (and a lot of us do at this point), it is severe and extremely fast-acting. Most patients are given a short life expectancy (2-6 months at most). Despite this, Heather defied the odds. Not only did she continue to survive, she RAN! She tried all sorts of standard and experimental chemotherapy treatments, and still continued to run and walk with the club.
I met Heather through the hash, and in 2000, I helped her find a part-time job with my cousin’s internet company (where I also worked). At work, I pressed her to run with AREC, where she could pursue the athletic goals without the pressure of alcohol (a bar, yes; forced drinking, no). Heather was a beautiful woman, who KNEW she was beautiful, a good writer (OK, ‘she wrote well,’ happy?), and had a cute son, Connor (who didn’t run, but Razor scooter’ed with the fast guys, and then bragged “I beat you!”).
After Heather got sick, there was a definite change. Her treasured features – face, hair, body – were all affected by the cancer and the treatments (and she held on to the notion of keeping her hair for a LO-ONG time). Heather was transformed into an even more beautiful human… because she believed she would be healed and made everyone who met her believe, too.
Last summer, many of us ran the Hope for Heather run, which raised $25,000 for an experimental treatment in Switzerland. I ran with Heather at the hash, just after she returned from her second treatment, and she was glowing (and not just because she was mildly radioactive…).
In February 2006, she went back to Switzerland one final time for follow-up because her health had been declining. The treatment had not killed her cancer, but had killed her bone marrow and doctors had no more options. Without weekly blood transfusions, Heather could bleed out and die. Even her most enthusiastic supporters sensed the end was near.
On June 11th, I planned a special Hash for Heather. The cancer had spread to multiple organs and wrapped itself around her kidneys. She was in a lot of pain, basically confined to a wheelchair, and unable to get out and about without a lot of help. The idea was to bring the Hash to Heather, to show our support. In all, about 120 runners and hashers showed up. Heather mustered the energy to walk down the steps and outside to greet her well-wishers.
Afterwards, we had a fundraiser BBQ to provide a college account fund for Connor. We raised $5,000 and the Hirshberg Foundation (the pancreatic support/research group at UCLA) donated an additional $20,000.
Although Heather was ecstatic to see everyone, it was also an exhausting day. On the 12th, she was readmitted to the hospital, and they basically suggested she begin hospice care. But Heather was not ready to give in. The whole week was a rollercoaster – from feeling too sick to have guests on Wednesday to seeing Connor run the Manhattan Beach 5K in person on Saturday.
On Tuesday, June 20th, Heather was in bed and her mother, Jordan, was reading supportive e-mails to her. When Jordan left the room to print out another e-mail, Heather quietly passed on.
At Heather’s memorial service on July 1st, a large crowd gathered to pay their respects. Different speakers from Heather’s past gave fond remembrances. Although I had known Heather only 6 years and not heard all her stories, the underlying pattern was the same – the lessons and the inspirational message that you can fight beyond your limitations.
Although Heather is no longer with us, she lives on in our hearts, and gives us a gentle push whenever we say ‘I can’t,’ because she knows without hesitation that ‘We can.’ – Emmett
Tam Premsrirath has been collecting thoughts and remembrances of Heather. If you would like to be included, any late entries will be added to the AREC website as they come in.