How Facebook Helped Cara Die; Among Friends
Cara was a friend of mine. She had a lot of friends. She wasn’t the popular kind. She was the kind kind.
What Cara did best was connect. She was an advocate for progressive change. And she was very good at what she loved.
This is a excerpt from her Linkedin profile:
“I love the challenge and the independence of working in small organizations. I love building things, the team sensibility, the scrappiness I keep finding, and especially, making things happen. I have worked for over 10 years in internet research - a career I never would have thought of that as an undergrad acting major! But you can make a lot of things happen via the internet. It's an amazing connecting tool (get on it, you'll be amazed how many people you will meet, in person).”
This post is dedicated to Cara and her effect on social connections.
This is the third and final part in a three-part series I wrote on social connections. I didn't plan to write such a personal account of how vital people are to the success of social media, but it turned out that way in a funny real-life-meets-social-media-meets-real-life sort of fling. Truth is, I am in the business of social, but Cara made being social her business. She shared that with me -- and everyone else privileged enough to cross her path -- so I want to use social to tell her story.
Social Connections: the Business of the People.
The Story of Cara
When I met her, she immediately dropped the f bomb and coincidently I immediately felt a connection. She wore lots of silver jewelry and sometimes didn't shave her legs. She had an undergraduate degree and a Master’s degree in Theatre from Montclair State University and Florida State University, respectively. Her life was dedicated to the act of activism and as her Linkedin profile still displays, she was an expert in nonprofit organization management. She was a mom -- a real and great mom -- who prided herself on raising her two young boys to be the type of men the world needs most. She had the most amazing laugh and a smile that would stop traffic. To top it off, she is whip-freaking-smart and sassy salt of the earth.
Once, while at dinner with a circle of girlfriends, a waitress asked her if she wanted sugar on the rim of her margarita. “Sugar? What the fuck? Salt, my child, salt, like a real woman,” she responded with the best smile ever. And so began our monthly girls night out meetups. Through marriages, babies, divorces, jobs, moves and more, we tried diligently to make our monthly gatherings. If I was lucky, I could claim Cara once a month, but one thing let me have instant access to her; Facebook.
Cara was an early adopter. She embraced emerging technology like no one I had ever experienced. Ten years of internet research is what she claimed on her online profile, but anyone who knew her knew she was an expert far beyond that. As warm and friendly, she was intelligent and technologically sharp…always citing sources, reading investigative journals and brushing up on the newest forms of communication, research and entertainment. She amazed me then and amazes me now. Her background was the arts. She worked in academia and was the single biggest activist for the betterment of society I have ever encountered. She did things her way, but always remained passionate and compassionate. So naturally, Facebook as a channel was a perfect fit for her and her many goals in life; blending news with entertainment with local causes and connections. Facebook was a space and a place that allowed her to vent, promote, research and collaborate to really make a difference.
So when someone created a Team Cara private Facebook group on October 9, 2012, I immediately knew something was up.
192 people were invited to join the group that would allow friends from all over to “follow what is happening and offer support.”
On October 9, a shared friend posted a note about how Cara just had a softball-sized tumor removed from her colon, but that the surgery was successful. Still in bewilderment, a few people piped up, but not too many. Mostly it was likes and short comments that said thank you for keeping us up to date.
Then on October 10, a friend posted a note that said Cara was back at home, enjoying “Fentanyl, morphine and home-made chicken broth – the holy trinity of post-op recovery.”
People started responding with notes of hope and prayer; asking if she needed anything, seeking detail or direction, but overall wanting to help. This is also the time when the overall theme of the page developed; onward and upward.
Cara left her first message on October 11, 2012 and gently reminded folks to make sure they don’t use the “C” word yet; especially around her two young boys.
A particularly well-written friend wrote this quote from Samuel Butler, taken from “Speech at Somerville Club”, 27 February 1895, “You are definitely not flying solo through this experience. You have created a marvelous foundation of love for just this purpose. Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes along.”
And so it began.
On October 12, Cara posted a remark about how a tiny tickle in her throat had caused discomfort, and people responded back with helpful hints. Tea and honey. This and that. We were eager to help in any small way.
And so it continued. Helpful hints, tips, tricks, anecdotes, stories, humor, inspiration and support from everyone formed this community that Cara could count on.
Very soon after, one friend had started a mealtrain.com plan so folks could send dinner to Cara and family. Another friend was able to reach out through Facebook contacts and move an important doctor appointment up for Cara, so she could start a mending plan asap. The community listened and responded appropriately because we had one clear goal. To help Cara.
On October 13, 2012, Cara announced to our small private Facebook community that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer, adenocarcinoma. It had metastasized to her liver. She told us she was proceeding with “curable intent.” And we believed her.
A few friends immediately signed up to run the Colon Cancer Alliance: 2012 Peoria Undy 500. They even posted pictures from the event. Thong and all. Cara squealed with delight and we, as her community of supporters, were beyond happy to see our girl stand up to cancer.
Near the middle of October, the page was flooded with prayers, well-wishing for a good cancer ass-kicking and links to funky hats and scarves, healing products and more. Team Cara community wanted warmth for our dear girl and nothing less.
Cara sprinkled in notes that contained medical terminology like how she told us that the cancer was “run of the mill adenocarcinoma” but that 10 to 12 of the spots were in her lobes. We didn’t need to ask for clarification, we just wanted her to know we were listening and would continue to do whatever she wanted. Joke, share, comment, show-up, send a baked good, donate a few bucks, pick up the kids, whatever. It was all too easy to be present in Cara’s life with cancer on that private Facebook page.
By the end of October, Cara was a little more forthcoming into the difficulties of battling cancer and trying to live the life of a normal healthy person. She admitted to us that she was stunningly exhausted, but her stories were vivacious, her words alive with thought and intelligence and joy. Her words fed our hungry hearts and made the situation seem hopeful and surmountable. And above all, being connected to Cara during this time, in this very personal way, made us feel blessed.
On October 28, the word “curative” came back into the conversation she had with her oncologist and we all cheered with Cara. Meals continued to be delivered and Amazon packages started to show up on her doorstep. Friends listened to her request and comments in Facebook conversation and acted upon those. She once asked for book recommendation about eating healthy while battling cancer. I think she got about 12 different books sent straight away! I remember talking to her in person and her remarking that she should have asked for something more tantalizing; like a truckload of vodka or a giant Hershey bar.
On November 11, Cara notified us that her CT scans and PET scan showed that 65-70% of her liver was affected, but she reassured us that she only needed 20-25% to live. She also informed us that she was going to start into chemotherapy and at the same time, would be traveling to University of Chicago for a second opinion. She also told us more about Taco and Bella, her two dogs and what a pain in the ass those dogs were. God, she was so thoroughly funny.
On November 16, Cara informed us that she was taking the “all too accurately named 5FU” chemo drug. She was so effing funny, even in the face of fucking cancer.
Later in the same month when Cara learned that another young mother friend of hers from Seattle had just lost her battle with cancer, we stood up to the challenge and supported her while she waffled a bit. She deserved to mourn. We deserved to carry her during this trying time. We were honored to do so.
On December 2, she celebrated her birthday on Facebook by admitting she was a bit overwhelmed, raising two little dudes, taking care of two busy puppies and kicking cancer in the face. Who could blame her? Not us. We rallied once again for our girl.
And she responded by posting this, “All of you are the best community of support I could wish for.”
The next week, she started chemo #3. She also went Christmas shopping for the kids. She wrote about their school functions, daytime television and the trials of everyday living we all so clearly understood.
For the holidays, she flew off to Pennsylvania for a much needed family trip with the boys and we cheered her on. By the New Year, she wrote about a new technique she was trying; the art of visualization. She was going to visualize the cancer cells dying. She was visualizing a healthy body and we were delighted to hear it. We did the same in our own free time. By mid-January, she reported that tumors were dying. More needed to die, but progress seemed to be happening. As a group, we could not have been happier. But it was a roller coaster ride and by the very next week, she declared – out of pure exhaustion -- that “Everything’s annoying. Even Facebook. Love you all nonetheless.”
And we did. Love her.
Through her next few months of astrological inspiration, yoga, cancer massage treatments and a newfound love of reiki, we listened, read, commented and liked all her stories. We were fascinated by the details and in love with the fight. What a girl.
In February, Cara posted lyrics to a new song she found on YouTube by Melanie DeMore. “I am sending you light to heal you, to hold you. I am sending you light, to hold you in love.”
Friends sent around a www.breastcancersite.com url for clicks to fund mammograms and Cara encouraged us to share it. Another friend sent a realplayer video about nursing staff dancing around a cancer center and it just tickled Cara and she “liked” it and thus, so did we. By the end of February, a friend started a virtual gift fund to raise money for Cara (at www.youcaring.com) because of all the financial difficulties that come with battling cancer on your own. We used www.signupgenius.com to create a schedule so we could all help with housework, too. The dogs and the boys needed help while our girl still needed help. We were there to lend as much help as we could. For some, it was showing up and cleaning the kitchen, while for others it was daily prayer from far away. Cara needed it all and was so grateful for each and every contribution.
In the middle of March 2013, Cara announced that she had bad news. Chemo #9 started showing new signs of growth. Cara ensured us that her doctors were on the hunt for the next best thing and she was willing to buckle down for the long haul. We were too. By March 22, Cara was able to post that she had had “a pretty damn good day!” And we were thrilled for her and the boys.
April brought a day trip to an indoor water park for the boys and a mouth full of sores for Cara. Magic mouthwash made her smile, as did we. Another success story for April was that Cara finally got her book published. She sent the Amazon link out and we all celebrated for her.
At the end of April, Cara posted a long, descriptive note detailing financial hardship, overwhelming pain and fatigue, numb fingers and toes, and whoozy chemo brain – and yet, she did it all in a very positive, funny manner. She left the message by writing, “Okay, that’s all I can muster right now. Peace, love, and happiness to all of you wonderful, awesome friends! Xoxo”
We responded in kind, in line and with notes of prayer and inspiration. It was all we could do and we wanted to do it all.
In May, she posted about planting petunias with her parents. She wrote of the kids often. She gave us updates that were sometimes foggy on medical details (to protect us probably) and other times laid it out like a doctor’s journal. It’s amazing how much a cancer patient has to become a cancer expert in order to make sense of it all. We were in awe by this, by her. We left comments to inspire and lift, but along the digital journey, we learned a good deal from our dear Facebook friend Cara.
It was during this difficult time that a close friend started to provide some of the updates for Cara, for us. She told us how the doctors finally confirmed the chemo was not working and that they were working on a new plan to cut off the blood supply to the affected part of the liver. Then they would try new experimental therapies to kill the cells. Sounded like a plan to us. We cheered and wished well. We liked and commented with prayers, poems and moments of inspiration.
Cara wrote, “Who could fail to thrive in the loving arms of such awesome people.” And I cry each time I imagine her typing those words of comfort to us.
Shortly after that, Cara took a whirlwind trip to San Francisco, to visit her brother and his lovely family. She took the boys to Alcatraz. They ate Chinese buffet at R&J’s. They rode the cable cars and they jumped at a trampoline gym. Then they returned to Illinois to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Right after she returned home from Northwestern, Cara took to Facebook to fill us in on the exciting news. She was going to be BEDAZZLED. (Her words!) Tiny glass beads full of radiation were going to be injected into her bloodstream through an artery in her thigh. Those beads would build a defense against cancer from the inside out. She was so thrilled to be part of this learning and her words filled up with excitement and hope. She even published a link to a video where we could learn more: www.therapheres.com
Our response, of course, was to applaud. To cheer our dear girl on. BEDAZZLED or not, she was our shining star.
The new therapy left her beyond exhausted and on June 29, she described how difficult it was to even lift a toothbrush. Prayers came in waves from across the country.
July started with fluid in her belly and a blocked bile duct. She told us about what was happening to her in vivid detail. Her eyes were yellow, she exclaimed, but we felt her smile coming through in each new update. It was this time, though, and it was the first time, though, that Cara asked for no visitors. Reading these words left a hush across our virtual community as if we had all agreed to hold our breathe for her, hold her heart for her.
As quickly as the hush fell, she rebounded with a note of joy. She had asked for more (better) pain meds and she got what she wanted. We were thrilled to read that her pain was subsiding, even momentarily. She also told us about a family trip to New Hampshire she was preparing for and we were all thrilled and wished her and the boys the very, very best. Photos from the trip poured in; big, floppy hats, yellow sundresses, lakes, swimming, fishing, napping, smiling. Gorgeous Cara and her beautiful baby boys. The images uploaded to Facebook provided our small community more comfort and joy than anyone can possibly imagine.
Cara returned home and on July 23, left a message about biting nails that we all knew she didn’t have, while waiting for blood work results and CT scans. Later in the same day, Cara reported news we didn’t want to hear. News she had not hoped for. News that the radiation didn’t work and the tumors had grown. She was jaundiced. Her liver had distended. She said there was nothing left to do but pray.
And so we did.
Prayers and stories from all corners of Facebook poured in and peppered our dear Team Cara page with hope, support and above all, love for Cara.
Hospice was called in and our small circle of Facebook friends responded by turning inward and supporting each other as Cara would have demanded. We knew she was in no shape to share or comment, but the family reassured us that they took time to read Facebook comments to her every day. So everyday we posted fresh stories and prayers.
And in the end, all we prayed for was peace.
One friend wrote this:
“Went to bed with you on my mind and woke up with you on my mind. I guess it helps to write it down on this page. Thinking a lot about your boys and how much they love and need you. Hard to work like it is just another day…but it’s not.”
Another friend posted this:
Another friend posted this brave and heart-wrenching essay on Cara, Facebook and the importance of staying connected online and in real life, on a public Facebook page:
"Facebook is a time-wasting, attention-span-draining self-fest. But, like most technology, its functionality can be user-defined. Facebook is also a revolutionary method of communicating with the people whom, throughout every chapter and circle in our lives, we hold of value. If one can see beyond the games, likes, YouTube shares, selfies, political rants and laptop farming, there is a genuine connection, albeit digital, wherein we can share moments as important as the ones which brought us together. I'm not proud to say that I must have been lost, distracted or absorbed in the wasteland of my own self-service that I lost sight of what is truly important. A dear old friend, Cara Andrichak Rossen, had been posting updates as she entered each round of chemo treatments in her fight against cancer. I had known about her battle, but regretfully assumed she was on her way back to health. I missed many opportunities to wish her the best at each and every stage of her fight. I got news last night that Cara, who had entered hospice last week at the ripe old age of 41, had passed away. I turned to her page and saw her smiling face, along with photos of her two young boys who are growing way too fast. As immature and mindless as Facebook can be, let's not forget its simplest, most genuine ability to connect us together.— with Cara Andrichak Rosson."
My dear sweet friend Cara Rosson passed away on August 1, after putting up one helluva fight. Amid all the grace and foolishness, Facebook was there for us all. There is now a public Facebook page dedicated to the memory of Cara Andrichak Rosson; pulled together from her own Facebook timeline and her beloved friends from all over the globe. Thank you Facebook, for being so global, so local and so emotional. Thank you Facebook, for allowing our girl Cara to go onward and upward in peace, among friends.
Until we meet again, love.