Wednesday, January 10, 2018

In Loving Memory of Kate Coates Jones

My heart is heavy, my head is spinning with grief, and my eyes are wet with tears. The world has lost a beautiful and spirited human being who loved life, spending time with friends and family, good food and drink, knitting, gardening, hiking, the outdoors, and helping others through her physical therapy practice. She also loved Rodney Kibzey, who was her rock (her words).

Kate Coates Jones and I became friends on Facebook in May 2016 although I'm certain I met her a while before that. She and Rodney moved to Portland from Chicago in 2013. In May 2014, during a routine check-up, Kate was diagnosed with cancer. There were tumors on her colon, liver, and abdominal lymph nodes. After six months of chemo infusions, the tumors had shrunk enough to switch to oral medication. That, plus antineoplastic infusions to help prevent development of more tumors, allowed her to continue to pursue her dreams and passions for almost two years.

When I met Kate she was still in maintenance mode so, with the exception of being able to see her chemo port if she wore a sundress or low-cut top, it was not obvious she was ill. That summer of 2016, Kate, Rodney and I, along with some of our mutual friends, shared some great times together camping in Parkdale, Ore., watching the PDX Adult Soapbox Derby, cooking out, and drinking beer together on many, many occasions.
L to R: Don Scheidt, Rodney Kibzey, Kate Jones, Cherie Warren, and Greg LaRowe
celebrating the 5th anniversary of Bazi Bierbrasserie in Portland on May 27, 2016
Kate was an excellent writer. She honestly and sincerely documented her life with cancer on Here is a sample from her journal entry on October 29, 2016 as she was starting a new round of chemo after CT scans showed the tumors were growing again: "What is it about facing one’s mortality that awakens the senses to all the beauty in the world? Why do I suddenly notice the seemingly infinite shades of green to yellow to red in the maple leaves as they dance in sun rays streaming between the skyscrapers? And why does that beauty move me to tears several times each day?"

Unfortunately, by the end of August 2017, Kate was coming to terms with the ever-increasing reality that she was not going to beat this cancer. While she valiantly endured more chemo, even that was not an option by mid-October as her blood cell counts were too low to continue. After being deferred from treatments for three weeks in a row (including one day when I accompanied her to her scheduled chemo appointment that turned into a 10 hour ordeal) and with CT scans showing aggressive growth of the liver tumors and other complications causing further health issues, it was time to slow down. She reluctantly took medical leave from her job as a physical therapist and started preparing for the inevitable, with no way of knowing how quickly things would progress without treatment. By mid-December, she was referred to hospice.

I stayed with Kate for 10 hours on Thursday, January 4, 2018 so Rodney could work his first full day in the office in weeks. I hadn't seen her since November because I had been sick with a sinus infection and flu-like symptoms for over two weeks in early and mid December, then Kate was out of town visiting her family in Kentucky for the week of Christmas. Her body may have betrayed and ultimately was failing her, but her mind was still sharp. We didn't talk much that day (she was sleeping a lot at this point), but I remember her sarcastically saying how boring it must be to hang out with her now. I laughed and told her I was always appreciative of any time I got to spend with her, no matter what the circumstances. That afternoon Kate shared with me her two biggest concerns, neither of which involved fear or regret. As I was getting ready to leave that evening, Kate reminded me that she wanted me to try on her shoes (we wear the same size) to see if I could use any of them. I told her we could do that the next time I saw her.

I was supposed to be at Kate and Rodney's house again by 7:30 Monday morning January 8 so Rodney could go to work at his office for a half day. Kate's dad and brother were scheduled to fly in from Kentucky that afternoon. When I woke up around 5:30 a.m. I saw a message from Rodney that Kate had a rough night and he had decided to stay home with her. Thus I wouldn't need to come over so early, but if I wanted to drop in later I could. Kate had specifically asked for chocolate pudding so I had made her some Sunday night and was planning to bring it with me. I told Rodney I would check in around 8:00 - 9:00 a.m. to see when I could stop by.

My husband Greg was about to leave for his bike ride to the office just before 6:00 a.m. when I got the message from Rodney that Kate had just passed away. I immediately started sobbing uncontrollably, for the loss of my friend, for Rodney, and for the unthinkable reality that it could have been me who was with her instead. Greg did his best to comfort me, even offering to work from home so I wouldn't be alone. I sent him on his way, knowing that there was a possibility that I would go over to check on Rodney later.

I have experienced losses similar to this before, but the circumstances were different. In 2014, my aunt Jeanna passed away after a 24-year battle with cancer. She was 48 years old. Just over one year later, my uncle Jim passed away unexpectedly at the age of 58. I wrote about my relationship with him and the impact of losing him here:

I have lost other loved ones and friends, too, but Kate's death strikes a heavy blow. Her youth (she would have been 46 in February), her otherwise excellent health up until her diagnosis, and her selfless commitment to helping others and to caring for the environment; Kate should have had many more happy and fulfilling years with Rodney ahead of her.

Rest in peace, my friend. Words cannot express how much you will be missed!