Saying goodbye to someone I've never met

When we decided to do an article on how patients and survivors were using social media to connect with others, I had the perfect person in mind. Lauren was diagnosed a few years ago with metastatic breast cancer. She was vibrant, engaging, angry, inspiring, and sassy. She was angry that it took her so long to be diagnosed. She was angry that her life and the lives of her two sons and husband now contained terminal cancer. But she was also determined that it wouldn't define her and that she wouldn't stop living. And that's what she did. She continued to live her life, but also began to be a beacon of sorts to people who were newly diagnosed and for those who loved someone with cancer. She "told it like it is," but she also was an inspiration to many who were looking for hope and support. She became friends with people all over the country, giving them words of encouragement. And she did most of it from her hometown in Tupelo, Mississippi.You see, I never met Lauren, at least not in person. She was introduced to me through an old friend over the Internet. Although we didn't become close, I followed her struggles with the disease through Facebook and sent encouraging notes when I could. When I read the final draft of the "Friends in Need" article, I knew I wasn't the only one she touched through social media. When she mentioned that she received a get well gift from someone she had never met, I knew that she touched other people's hearts just like she had touched mine.She shared so much of herself through this vehicle. Newly diagnosed patients were drawn to her, introduced to her via friends of friends, and she bared all about her treatment regimen, side effects, how she was feeling, both physically and emotionally, about the disease. The article captured that: But Groover doesn't fight alone. Besides her husband and twin teenage sons, she has a battalion of "sister" (and fellow) cancer survivors in her Facebook network who give and receive support.Online, she monitors the health of her Facebook friends and shares her experience with others--frequently earlier-stage survivors fearful about some aspect of their own care. "I'm very happy to answer their questions," Groover says.The network, in turn, provides her support. When she recently posted news of her liver metastases, cards, e-mails, calls, and more streamed in. "It will make you cry," she says of such outpourings. "Someone I've never even met sends me pajamas in the mail."Sometimes in this job, I have to admit, we get too hopeful. There has been so much progress in breast cancer, and patients with metastatic disease are living longer and fuller lives each year. I truly believed that Lauren would be able to live a long and happy life with her chronic cancer, helping others, offering support and hope. If anyone could beat this disease, I knew it would be Lauren. That's why I was so surprised when I heard she was looking into hospice. She had gotten on a clinical trial with an investigational treatment, but then it stopped working. I told her, "Those doctors better be working overtime to find you another treatment!" seriously thinking there had to be something else to try. Something would work. And then a couple days later, I saw that she had passed away. My heart hurt for her and her family. While her Facebook page is private, the blessings and farewells came almost immediately. It seemed like hundreds of people visited her wall, and many were like me--had never met Lauren, but had been inspired by her. She was a truly remarkable lady, and I wished I had met in her person, to be near her energy and vibrant personality before this disease took her. I wanted to share some of the photo outtakes we had of her from the "Friends in Need" article. The photographs of Lauren, I think, perfectly reflect her vibrant and loving personality.Our mutual friend who introduced us said it perfectly: "What does not amaze me is her ability to reach and touch the lives of the numerous people who have had ... the privilege to call her 'friend.' I can't even say 'what a small world' that she would touch the life of one of my social club sisters ... Because the fact of the matter is that it has nothing to do with the fact that 'it's a small world' and everything to do with the fact that Lauren was the amazing woman that she was. I am a better person for knowing her." We all are.