More than fourteen months ago, my employee and now dear friend, Cathy Higgins was diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme. Many regular readers are now familiar with Cathy’s Journey; her heroic battle with brain cancer. If you haven’t ‘met’ Cathy here in the Sunshine before, take a moment to learn about her journeyHERE on her family’s blogor through previous Sunshine postings.
A number of weeks ago, when it became clear that treatments and surgeries had run their course and hospice was needed, Cat’s husband Jeff approached me to ask if I’d write her obituary. I immediately said ‘yes’ and then I took a deep breath, realizing the significance of the task at hand. These would be the last words anyone would read about this dear and special human being. I didn’t want to let the family down. I recalled a high school writing teacher – Georgia Johnson (or “Mrs. J.” as we all called her). Mrs. J. was my muse, my inspiration, my mentor. She taught me to write and to love the written word. I remembered high school writing assignments, one where we had to prepare our own obituary. I later used that assignment with my own students – not only to provide a writing lesson, but also to help them with life planning. I hoped all that Mrs. J. had taught me would come to the forefront as I prepared the most difficult piece of writing of my life.
When I arrived home, I told the hubby of my task and of Mrs. J. He took an opened piece of mail from the countertop and said, “Do you mean this Mrs. J.?” “What do you mean?” I replied. I grabbed the greeting card from his hands as mine began to shake. It was a card, indeed from Mrs. J., reconnecting with me all these years later (22 years now) after hearing of my M.S. diagnosis. It was incredulous. Unbelievable. I’ve written previously about seeking ‘signs’ of affirmation from above and I can think of no better sign than this one. The card, the reconnection, the sign, gave me the wherewithal to talk to colleagues, family, and friends for their thoughts about Cathy, to prepare her written acknowledgement.
Cathy passed quietly at midnight Thursday night/Friday morning and I felt part of my soul go with her. She named us “Soul Sisters” just shortly after her diagnosis when we reviewed all the similarities in our lives, despite the short time we had been friends. When I was hospitalized with my first major M.S. exacerbation and was admitted to my hospital room, I was awestruck to look across the hall, only to see the exact room where Cathy slept for days after receiving her brain tumor diagnosis. Of all the gin joints, in all the world, there I was in the same hospital, on the same floor, in the same wing, across the hall from my Soul Sister’s previous room. There were dozens of available rooms at that time; in fact the rest of the wing of my floor was completely empty but for one other patient. Co-workers paid visits and each one, while sitting on the edge of my bed, would turn around and look at the room across the hall, and then ask, “Wasn’t that….?”Yes, that was Cathy’s room. Our crew had too many hospital visits in too short of time during those months.
At night, I’d sneak across the hall to sit quietly in Cathy’s empty room. I was hoping to inhale some of her guidance, her spirit, her gracefulness in accepting her diagnosis. At that time we still didn’t know what was wrong with me, but we knew it wasn’t a brain tumor or hadn’t been a stroke. When the diagnosis was handed down, I was stunned. I remembered returning home from Cathy’s house, shortly after she was released from the hospital, telling the hubby that I was certain something was wrong with my brain, too. That was only four months prior to my diagnosis.
During my last day in the hospital, the phone rang and sure enough, my Soul Sister was on the other line. She had received word of my hospitalization and that I was in the room across the hall from hers. When I told her that I had lesions on my brain, which meant that I had M.S., well, I can’t really write her exact response here. Needless to say a few expletives were followed by laughing from both of us. “I just can’t believe it, Kim. I have a brain tumor and you have M.S.! We’re definitely Soul Sisters.”
I’ve always believed that everything happens for a reason. I believe Cathy was brought into my life at the time when I would need her most. Everything was part of a plan: her family’s relocation to Erie, my hiring her into a position where she would grow and thrive and touch so many lives in only a year’s time, our significant connection with each other despite my inability to be a ‘good girlfriend’ to many women and also being her boss, her husband’s additional relocation to Cleveland for a different job than the one that brought them to Erie – only to eventually provide them with a local home for Cathy while she underwent massive radiation and chemo treatments and multiple surgeries at the now nearby Cleveland Clinic.
Each time I tear up with the thought of having M.S., each time I want to whine or complain because I’m dizzy or my legs ache or because I have to spend three hours each month hooked up to an IV, each time I want to throw my dignity and gracefulness out the window, I think of Cathy. I think of how she handled her own diagnosis, how she fought so very hard to live as long as possible – for her husband and children and not for herself. Just as Mrs. J. was my muse and inspiration some 22 years ago, Cathy will continue to serve as my muse and inspiration in this never-ending battle with M.S. On such a sad day I find peace in understanding the gift I was given; having Cathy in my life.
Catherine Sue (Oberste) Higgins went home to the Lord on Wednesday, September 11 th after a 14 month courageous and graceful battle with Glioblastoma Sarcoma. Born March 27, 1960, Cathy was the daughter of Francis Fox and Fred Oberste of Oklahoma City. She married in Norman, OK in 1981 and resided there until 1994. For the next eleven years, Cathy lived in Ohio, Michigan, and Texas until relocating to Erie in 2005. She immediately found more than just a home on the shores of Lake Erie; she built an extended family and network of friends and colleagues that extend from Erie to Cleveland. Cathy was unexpectedly diagnosed with brain cancer in July, 2007 and throughout six surgeries and a total of more than four months in the hospital, she continued to fight the cancer right until passing away at home. She has inspired people from around the country with her tenacity, gracefulness, and sense of humor. Cathy is perhaps most remembered for her robust laughter, her nurturing spirit, and her ability to sincerely touch people’s lives.
She studied fine arts and sociology at the University of Oklahoma. She was most recently employed as the GED for Me! enrollment and guidance administrator at WQLN Public Media in Erie, where Cathy took great pride and joy in working with her adult students. She also previously held a variety of professional positions in Oklahoma, Ohio, Michigan, and Texas. In her final months, she shared time between her home in Erie, where her daughter attends Mercyhurst Prep High School and her son attends Penn State Behrend, and an apartment in Cleveland to be near both her treatment facility and to her husband who is employed there. When she wasn’t using her beautiful southern-belle voice to fill churches and wedding reception halls, she was filling the hearts of her family, her large group of friends, co-workers and members of her church community. She was a member of St. Luke Church and found great solace and peace in her renewed Catholic faith just prior to facing biggest struggle of her life.
She was preceded in death by her father. Survivors include her husband of 27 years, Jeff, who proved to Cathy a marriage can grow infinitely stronger in the face of adversity; her 23-year-old son and confidant, Zac, who became one of her primary caregivers and whose presence alone eased her transition; and her 16-year-old daughter Emily, Cathy’s ultimate hero and her shining star. Cathy is also survived by her mother Francis Fox of Oklahoma City; two sisters, Vickie Klammer and her husband Kenny of Albuquerque, NM and Linda Rogers and her husband John of Yukon, OK; a brother Freddie Oberste and his wife Wendy of Manassas, VA; her parents-in-law, Betty & Arnold Higgins of Norman, OK; her brother-in-law, Rod Higgins of Norman, OK; her sister- and brother-in-law Kathy and Larry Heister of Norman, OK and many aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Friends may attend a Mass of Christian burial in Erie, PA at St. Luke’s Church on Saturday, September 20 th at 11:00 a.m. Immediately following the mass, Cathy’s “Q Angels” will be hosting friends and family at the WQLN Public Media where Cathy’s life will be celebrated. Cathy will be laid to rest next to her father in Resurrection Memorial Cemetery in Oklahoma City following a memorial service at Crosspointe Church in Norman, Oklahoma.