Monday, January 24, 2011

We really miss her.....

This is a picture of Chris and his sister Lisa, in the parking lot of her apartment, "The Safeways", at Santa Clara University in 1989.  When I met Chris, I met Lisa too.  The two of them shared such an amazing bond.  She was his biggest cheerleader, and he was her biggest fan.  I always admired the way they took care of each other.  In fact, our first official date on Valentine's Day, 1990, was dinner prepared by Lisa in her tiny little apartment.  She fixed chicken parmigiana, and I still remember the tablecloth and the vase of flowers she had put together.  Chris would have never thought of those things, (and she knew it!), so she slyly took care of all the details....and was delighted to do it.
When Lisa was a senior at Santa Clara, I was a sophomore.  That year, she had to take a science class called, "Water, water, water.".  Lisa was super smart, but she insisted that I be her tutor, which meant that we met weekly at various locations around campus to "study".  Really, it turned into just a great chance to talk and hang out together.
 After college, we all eventually migrated back to Spokane.  Lisa was the first on either side of the family to have kids....and she and Joe patiently relented to our unannounced visits to their house during the first two years of Tyler's life.  Chris and I had a habit of showing up just after Lisa had put Tyler to bed, and she would always go get him up so that we could play!  After we became parents, we realized just how kind Lisa really was!  The above picture is at the beach at Priest Lake, around 2002.  Lisa is at the head of the table, hanging out at one of her most favorite places on Earth!  Seeing this picture, I realize this was just before Lisa was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In May of 2003, she was diagnosed with Stage IIb cancer.  I'll never forget the night before the final staging diagnosis....Lisa was a nervous wreck, and their dog Chloe was delivering her puppies!  Lisa tackled the initial diagnosis with incredible strength.  She rolled up her sleeves and went about her radiation, chemotherapy, and finally, mastectomy and reconstructive surgery with hardly a complaint.  In fact, to celebrate a year and a half of treatments, surgeries and recoveries, Lisa asked Chris and I if we would like to join her in running a marathon!  This was an opportunity that we could not turn down.  When someone you love has just conquered cancer and wants you to run a marathon with them, the only answer is YES!
After training from January through May with Lisa and her friend Debby, we finished the Capital City Marathon in May 2005.  Here we are at the finish line with Lisa.  The amount of respect I had for Lisa on this day......I'm not sure that I have known a tougher human being.  To endure the last year and a half that she had just had, and to kick cancer in the face by running a marathon just two years after her initial diagnosis...I mean, she was SUPERWOMAN!!!  The finish line meant so much to all of us that day!
And then, later that summer, Lisa and I were running up at Priest Lake.  She asked me whether I thought that the pain she was feeling in her abdomen could be due to a hernia, you know, based on having had major reconstructive surgery after her mastectomy.  It sounded logical to me, and she agreed that she was going to go to the doctor to have it checked out.  What happened within the next month just completely changed our lives forever.
On September 6, 2005, Lisa's doctor called to let her know that the breast cancer had become metastatic, and that it had traveled to her liver.  Her doctor informed her that she was terminal.  She might live through Christmas, but after that, they could not guarantee T-I-M-E.  For anyone and everyone that knew and loved Lisa, time stopped that day.  The days and weeks and months that followed were filled with agony and so much sadness.  Lisa was a warrior through it all.  Heartbreakingly, she remained so selfless during this time.....thinking of everyone else instead of herself.  But, that was just who she was.  Lisa celebrated another Christmas.  She got to ride in a limo with friends and family to see all of Spokane's Christmas lights.  But, shortly after the new year in 2006, things started to rapidly decline.  Chris and I spent the last week of her life with family and close friends visiting and taking care of her at her house, with Hospice guiding the way.  In the early morning hours of January 22nd, 2006, Lisa took her last breath.  She was only 36 years old.
In the days following Lisa's death, I think we were all just in a fog.  My husband's desire to keep Lisa's memory alive (especially for her three boys), led him to the Race for the Cure and the formation of TEAM LISA.  That April, 2006, over 800 people donned bright yellow t-shirts and helped us raise money for the fight against breast cancer......all running for TEAM LISA!
Record breaking first year in 2006!
More Team Lisa 2009
This past April 2010, the desire to keep Lisa's legacy alive resulted in the opening of the Lisa Stiles-Gyllenhammer Boys and Girls Club in Mead, WA.  Lisa's husband Joe has an incredible lifelong friend, Aaron Reilly, who spearheaded the committee for the creation of this Boys and Girls Club.  There have been many amazing moments in our lives, but the day that the lettering for the club went up on that brick building.......well, it was incredible.  For my nephews to grow up knowing what an impact their mom made on this world is incredibly powerful, and this place just makes that all the more possible.

At the grand opening ceremony, my husband was the last one to get up to speak.  I remember he told me that he had "dummied down the speech" so that it wouldn't get too emotional.  Well, problem was, when you love your sister the way Chris loved Lisa (and vice versa), emotional is the only way this thing was going to go.  The reality was, he couldn't even start the speech.  So, I did what any wife would do....I rallied the crowd with some clapping and yelled out, "YOU CAN DO IT!"  And so, Chris told the crowd a little bit about his sister, and the impact that he hoped the Boys and Girls club would have on our community.  And each time he had to pause to collect himself, we clapped!
Lisa was an amazing person.  We remember her every day, and miss her so much.  Her life was too short here on Earth.  And her death has taught us to remember that tomorrow is not a guarantee, so we must live today to its fullest.  Missoula Marathon, 2011, here I come....and Lisa will be with me, every step of the way!


  1. Shannon...that is so beautiful! As I sit here reading your blog tears are pouring from my eyes! You did such a wonderful job writing that and showing how truly special Lisa was! Thank you for refreashing my memories of Lisa! Also the pictures are wonderful!

    xoxo Love...the other Shannon

  2. Shannon,
    You have such a special gift for knowing just how to remember people, and sharing that with others. Thank you!
    - Colleen

  3. Love this Shan... you said it beautifully.....