*this post was originally written on July 9, 2018, two days after my friend Lana passed away from metastatic breast cancer. It was before I had a blog so I am adding here as well as “re-sharing” as it is the anniversary of her death.
Memphis Tennessee – the home of the blues, great bbq, and my friend Lana Graves. Lana was a country girl who also loved the city and was always quick to rise to the defense of her adopted town, pointing out the good parts of Memphis – the music, food and and culture that was unique to any other place in the South.
Lana and I met – as many of my friends did – in 2012, during the year of our diagnoses and treatment for breast cancer in the forums of a site called breastcancer.org. Many of us also became Facebook friends and our little group eventually moved to a group on Facebook to keep in touch. She and I had much in common – we were the same age, we both grew up and lived in the South, we each had two children. More recently, we were even in the same line of work, both in the legal profession.
Due to the proximity of where we lived, it was easy to see that we needed to meet face to face. The first time we met, I drove in from Arkansas with another friend and met Lana and our friend Vickie, who was visiting family in Mississippi. We were all celebratory – we were survivors! At the time Vickie been diagnosed with cancer in her bones, but she was healthy and doing well. We ate, drank, talked, and of course, spent the evening on Beale Street.
A second girls’ weekend happened the next year with myself, Lana, and another group of BCO friends. More laughter, more music and the beginning of a relationship that would define the rest of her life. Lana met Vince – by all accounts her soulmate – that weekend in Memphis. Their story is not mine to tell but suffice it to say that was the beginning of something that many only see in movies or hear about in songs. I can’t help but think of Lana and Vince when I hear the song Pride and Joy by Stevie Ray Vaughan. It’s one of those standards that you hear anytime you listen to a blues show, and I distinctly remember Vince playing it the night he and Lana met.
As time went on, we all continued to live our lives, keeping in touch as people do these days mostly online. Memphis isn’t far from where I live – less than a three hour drive. But as it will, life got in the way of living. Work, family, all of the obligations that convince us that we don’t have time to do things with people we care about. And – truth be told – it takes a lot of effort and commitment for me to do things and meet up with people “in real life”. I love to go and do. But when it comes to friends and maintaining connections and relationships, it is difficult for my introverted self to actually make and carry through with plans. Lana and I would talk or post about “someday” – “someday” Trever and I would get over that way and come hear Vince and the guys play. “Someday”, we needed to plan another girl’s weekend. But as the song goes “sometimes someday never comes.”
Months went by and then years. Within our group of friends, we shared stories of everyday life and special occasions. We both celebrated joyous times and also grieved losing friends to the thing that had bought us together. Sometimes weeks would go by without anyone posting in our group, but then in mid-April, Lana had an accident. A fall and a broken arm led to x-rays and suspicions of bone lesions, which snowballed into a diagnosis of metastatic disease. Plans for treatment began immediately. Metastatic involvement with bones is rather a “best case scenario” when it comes to this insidious disease. Radiation is often a possibility and there are many many treatment options. However, scans revealed that along with numerous sites of metastatic disease in her bones, Lana’s liver was also involved. Although the diagnosis was terrifying, she still held out hope.
At first, it appeared she had a good response to the treatment; but the side effects made her very ill. She fought nausea and fatigue, lost a tremendous amount of weight, battled anxiety and depression, and ultimately was hospitalized with low blood pressure, dehydration, and jaundice. When it was determined that the first round of treatment had not worked, she had been scheduled to start a traditional chemotherapy. Unfortunately her liver was just too damaged and her body too frail. Lana slipped from consciousness on Friday and from this world on Saturday, June 7th.
Several weeks ago, when I realized how serious Lana’s condition was, I finally took that trip to Memphis. Sarah and I drove over to do some shopping and I stopped in to visit for a while. She was very very weak and tired but we chatted a while about friends and memories of the weekends we had spent together. It was a brief visit but I am thankful that I made the effort and trip – and exceedingly regretful that I didn’t do so before, when she was healthy.
Music was life to Lana – she had a beautiful voice and sang in church, performed in public, and was passionate about many genres. Gospel, country, southern rock, and of course, the blues. I remember after our last weekend in Memphis and a visit to one of the museums there, her saying that she felt a particular connection to the blues, to the people and the music. After visiting with her on those occasions and hearing the music live, I have to agree that there is nothing like it. And whenever I hear blues, I always think of Memphis, and of Lana.
Willie Dixon said “The blues are the true facts of life expressed in words and song, inspiration, feeling, and understanding”. And B.B. King is quoted as saying “The blues are the three L’s: living, loving, and hopefully, laughing…” Lana exemplified all three. She lived, she loved, and she laughed. Her life wasn’t perfect; but her love for others was palpable. She leaves behind two sons, a daughter in law, her parents, a sister, much family, many friends, and her beloved Vince.
As I think about some of those great artists of that music that Lana loved so – Stevie, B.B. King, John Lee Hooker – it occurs to me that all of them have left this life, but they – like Lana, will always be remembered. We will all miss Lana so much and her death has left so many in shock and grief, but I am thankful that she is no longer in pain and that she is at peace.
And I would like to think that – this past Saturday night – heaven had a hell of a jam session.
–Karri Temple Brackett
originally written on 07/09/18