Kennewick warrior wanted more late-stage research
When you join a cancer support group, you inevitably have to say goodbye to friends.
Over the years, this has been the hardest part of serving on the board of Warrior Sisterhood, a program offered through Kadlec Tri-Cities Cancer Center.
I recently added another name to my ever-growing list of those cancer took too soon: Libby Boothe, 44, of Kennewick. She died in hospice care on July 23.
Her death hit hardest as I’ve known her longest.
The first time we met was in October 2016. She was sitting with her mom in the lobby of the cancer center waiting for treatment – radiation to her skull. She was easy to pick out. She was the 39-year-old woman with the rainbow-colored hair. She didn’t look like anyone else waiting their turn.
I tried to hide my shock that this young woman, the mother to a 10-month-old and three other young boys, faced a Stage 4 breast cancer diagnosis. For those of you not fluent in cancerspeak, this is a death-sentence diagnosis, meaning the sinister disease has spread from its primary site to other regions of the body. Stage 4 cannot cured by surgery or medicine. Treatments only work to reduce symptoms and prolong life.
As we sat in the waiting room that day, Libby and I laughed and chatted about our kids. Her oldest was a year older than mine. She showed me her “F*ck cancer” bracelet, and I told her I wore a T-shirt with the same message to each of my own chemotherapy treatments, which I had finished a year before. It was immediately clear that we shared the same red-hot anger for the disease that wreaked havoc in our bodies.
I invited her to join Warrior Sisterhood, and she became an active member who quickly made friends. Libby was whip-smart, funny and a joy to talk to. She had a great sense of humor, which you can see evidence of by cruising through her Facebook feed overflowing with the internet’s funniest, silliest and weirdest videos and memes.
Libby was the one who told me about the Academy of Children’s Theatre Stardust choir performing “Hamilton” tunes in 2017. My oldest joined her oldest, so I saw her outside of our cancer group. We chatted like other moms before and after performances, and it usually wasn’t about cancer. But sometimes it was.
She fought a terminal disease that invaded her skeleton for nearly five years with a grace that’s hard to fathom.
She didn’t waste the time she had left, her husband Gabriel told me two days after she died.
She made her goal clear in an acerbic blog a year after her diagnosis: “Living with cancer means fighting everyday. I am a warrior.”
She was a warrior in every sense of the word. She endured pain most people can’t even imagine.
Terrible bone aches, migraines in which the cancer “tried to eat” her brain (her words), acute pain that prevented her from walking, pneumonia, eyeball tumors, brain seizures, drugs that gobbled away her heart muscle. Radiation treatments blasted away tumors in her upper spine, skull, sacrum, right shoulder, liver, left and right eye orbitals and in her brain.
She had a brutal run-in with Covid-19 and survived, true warrior that she is, though she thought she wouldn’t after spending nearly a month in the hospital in early 2021.
Please don’t get the impression that Libby was a sickly cancer patient for five years. She was down and out sometimes, but more often than not, she was busy living and making memories with her family and friends.
She fought back the disease to celebrate her baby Max’s first birthday (he’s now 5). She and her husband traveled to Paris for a second honeymoon and later to Greece. She took her oldest son Sol to Disney World and Universal Studios. Then she took her son Sam. She walked in a 5K. She and Gabe saw a Violent Femmes concert. And the Florida girl got to put her toes in the sand at the Pacific Ocean, a bucket list goal.
She attended a retreat through the Inheritance of Hope nonprofit and took her entire family to Disney World in early 2020, just before the pandemic shut down the world. On that trip, she recorded a “legacy video” message for her family. She attended support groups, as did all her boys. In lieu of flowers at her funeral, she asked for donations to this group.
On the fourth anniversary of her cancer diagnosis, in the thick of the pandemic in August 2020, she wished everyone good health. That’s just the kind of kind person Libby was.
Her death sent shockwaves through Warrior Sisterhood, even though we had braced for it as best we could. We loved Libby, we hoped she’d get more time, and we magically thought she’d defeat the grim odds.
We knew her story could easily have been (and could still be) our story.
I’m writing this column because Libby’s life mattered. And so did her death. It’s my duty to share her cancer message with as many people as possible because she no longer can.
Libby was vocal about the need for more research on metastatic breast cancer. She held fundraisers for the nonprofit METAvivor, which works to increase awareness about the funding discrepancy that shortchanges metastatic research in the cancer world and to fund Stage 4 research.
Young healthy women like Libby should not be dying from metastatic breast cancer. More research is necessary to save the 40,000 people who die of Stage 4 breast cancer every year. Libby always was convinced the numbers were higher as there’s no good way to track these kinds of cancer patients. Research and attention are focused on the earlier stages, at the expense of those with more advanced cases.
“With more research focused on early-stage breast cancer, we feel ignored. It isn’t that those studies are not important. They are. We just want to be acknowledged and have *MORE* studies done,” she wrote in October 2020.
Libby and I shared a bitter distaste for the growing feel-good push of all things adorned with a pink ribbon each October during Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We both felt that wearing, buying or walking in the name of pink ribbons does little to reduce deaths from metastatic disease.
Libby was passionate and outspoken about encouraging women to trust their bodies and to ask for tests if they sensed something wasn’t right. Don’t let your doctor blow you off, she wrote two months after her diagnosis in 2016:
“If you think something is not quite right, ASK for a biopsy. At worst, your suspicions will be right. At best, it will be negative. And you can sigh a breath of relief. If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for me.”
Yes, please, do it for Libby. Trust your instincts and ask for tests if you sense something is wrong. If cancer marches along your family tree, push your doctor for earlier testing. Make an appointment for the preventative test you’ve been putting off. Did you get a mammogram in 2020? How about a colonoscopy?
And, maybe most importantly, be sure to make the most of the time you have now, as it’s time that Libby no longer has. She would want you to do that.
Kristina Lord is the publisher of the Tri-Cities Area Journal of Business. She is a longtime board member of Warrior Sisterhood and a breast cancer survivor.