"Make new friends, but keep the old". That's a song they used to sing often in Katie Hibdon's Brownie troop. 10 years ago, her mom, Lynnetta Hibdon, was Katie's troop leader when she was a second grader at Murfee Elementary.
At the time, Lynnetta had stage 3 Inflammatory Breast Cancer. That's also when little Katie launched her own fight against breast cancer... because it was personal. "When she only had a few hairs left, I didn't want to say it, but I was real scared," Katie told me years ago when her mother began losing her hair.
Lynnetta was diagnosed with Inflammatory Breast Cancer at age 30. She died 3 years later. I remember Katie looking at me with those big brown eyes and saying "I just think - Dear God - help me and my mom to through this".
Recently, I sat with Katie again in the library of Coronado High School. She's all grown up now, a junior there. "Even though we were going through a terrible time with so many struggles going on," she told me, "I remember a lot about her desire for a good education." Katie told me she is most proud today that she is following in her mother's footsteps as she takes the next big step in her life, graduating a year early with honors, just like her mother did. "She would be proud", she said with a big smile.
Many of us remember how hard Lynnetta worked to achieve her doctorate. She was finally awarded that degree while she was at home on hospice just days before her death. Just as her mother used her illness to educate others, Katie has always done the same thing. From the very beginning, she came up with the idea to sell T-shirts at her school to raise money to fight breast cancer. The shirts said in bold print The Lynnetta Support Team. Whatever money she made, she used it to buy cheerful videos for patients at Joe Arrington Cancer Center, where her mother was undergoing treatment.
Today, Katie still carries the torch wanting to major in non-profit business management. "I'm just more focused now on getting people to be aware of breast cancer." That's why she is quick to recite every detail of IBC. Although rare, the type of breast cancer that killed her mother is typically sneaky, deadly and very aggressive. "IBC- just because it doesn't have normal symptoms by the time a lot of it is found, like my mothers, it's already in very late stage just due to the fact that it's not noticeable when it first attacks," she says.
I remember that little girl at Murfee Elementary telling me what she did to comfort people like her Mom and others with cancer. She said, "I give them cards and flowers and mostly thank them for the person they are." Katie says her graduation day at Coronado will be bittersweet without her mother to help her celebrate. But she says, "I have to honor her and let people know that I am what's left of her. I remember her sweet prayers and kisses before bed. She was one of those people who wanted to cherish every last moment because she knew there weren't very many left. Education was so important to her. She will definately walk the stage with me."