Elizabeth Maria WalshI was halfway through lunch at a restaurant by myself when I learned that my friend Elizabeth Walsh had died.

Facebook is a terrible way to get bad news.

I sat there, stunned, trying to keep it together.   I knew she wouldn’t want me to honor her memory by turning into a hot mess in the middle of The Cheesecake Factory.  I picked at my all-vegetable salad and tried to finish my drink.   Then I sat in my car and cried.

Back in 2012 my friend had been diagnosed with Stage 4 adrenal cortical cancer and been given two months to live.  She had been fighting like hell ever since.  In June she had left Los Angeles for Miami to be with family, but she assured me that she was coming back.

Adrenocortical carcinoma is so rare and so specific that I don’t even know what it is, exactly.  (A Google search will not help you much.)  All I know is that when she was initially diagnosed, she had cancer EVERYWHERE. And yet when we had lunch in the summer of 2013, when we had both relocated to the West Coast, when I was doing Billy Elliot in Costa Mesa and she had come to see the show, when we sat outside in the sunshine, she declared that she was completely cancer-free.

Puddin' and her "Tia" EWal

Puddin’ and her “Tia” EWal

And somehow, cancer had made her even more beautiful.  Her skin glowed.  She was thinner than I’d ever seen her, yet her arms and legs retained their ballet-dancer grace.  Her limbs were toned and supple, and every movement was graceful.   The hair she had lost to chemo had grown back into an enviable pixie, and her short hair combined with her thin face magnified her already-enormous smile.  She laughed loudly, and often.

I am absolutely bereft.

The www.dictionary.com definition of “bereft,” or rather, “bereave,” is “to deprive and make desolate, usually by death.”

Yep, that about sums it up.

Let me tell you some facts about Elizabeth Maria Walsh.

1.  She listened to Broadway musicals while undergoing radiationElizabeth Maria Walsh, and was frequently told, “Miss Walsh, we need you to lie still.”

2.  A few weeks ago, while going through chemo in Miami, she sent me a series of text messages.  They told the story of our friendship, using funny GIFs and photos pulled from Facebook.  It was all about me, her, our friendship, and my baby Delilah.  Not a word about chemo, which she once described as “the worst pains anyone could ever experience.”  Unfortunately, I was at a wedding at the time, we had been specifically asked to put our phones away, and I got her messages late.  I texted her back quickly, explaining the circumstances and telling her how much I loved her.  I realize now that she was saying goodbye.

3.  She was in multiple callbacks for the Broadway company of In the Heights, and she hadn’t booked it.  When she was cast in the show at Cabrillo Musical Theatre in Sherman Oaks, it was literally a dream come true for her.  However, at the same time she learned that her cancer had come back, that it was spreading and inoperable.  The doctors urged her to skip the show and start chemo right away.   She refused.  She wanted to live her life and perform in her dream show, not spend her last few months wracked with pain.  She wanted to be sore from dancing, not chemo.

4.  I once told a director at a callback that I could die happy if I could play Sally Bowles.  What a dumb-shit thing to say.  I mean, can anyone die happy?  But after doing that production of In the Heights, Elizabeth died having fulfilled a dream.  I’m not sure if the people at Cabrillo realize what a gift they’d given her by simply casting her in that show.  Her other dream was to see her charity, Dancers With Cancer, come to life.  She’d founded this non-profit organization after her first bout with cancer.  She believed dance to be therapeutic, and Dancers With Cancer offers dance classes for children with life-threatening illnesses.  (Family is asking for donations in lieu of flowers.)

5.  She posted this last fall:

“In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ve been thinking a lot about these past years… I’ve been told things like “You’re such an inspiration.” “I admire you,” or “You’re such a strong person.” And while I am so grateful that these types of comments have been made to me, I can’t help but think, “I’m just a normal girl.” And yes I’ve faced a battle or two at an age where it’s not expected, but I would not be where I am today without the love and support from first and foremost my family, my friends, and everyone else who has joined my incredible support team. For that I am forever grateful and thankful. All of you in your own way have encouraged me to dream big, and in turn I can only hope that every single one of you fight the battles you are given and reach for your dreams as well, whatever they may be. To never lose hope, to always live in love, and to always be thankful even when times are rough.”

6.  She was one of the kindest people I have ever met.

I missed seeing her in In the Heights at Cabrillo.  I wake up at night and lie awake, regretting it.  The show dates conflicted with Puddin’s due date, the theatre was 90 minutes away, and I was scared that I would end up giving birth on the 405.  Elizabeth understood, but I wish I could have seen her shine.

Of course, Elizabeth didn’t need a stage to shine.  Her enormous smile, her laughter, and her presence lit up every room she walked into.  She was a dreamer, but she was a determined and disciplined one– the best kind.  She pursued her dreams, and didn’t let anything stop her, not even cancer.  Because of her I feel compelled to pursue my dreams a little bit harder, to reach a little bit further, to love those around me better, and to never, ever give up.

I love you, “Tia” Elizabeth.  I’ll never forget you.

 

 

 

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