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STORY TOOLS
Bob Welch: Through pain, friends forge unique strength
By Bob Welch
Columnist, The Register-Guard
Published: Sunday, September 25, 2005

This is a story about the friendship of three women with leukemia: one gone, one going, one who soon will be left.

They met in the winter of 2004 at the oncology ward at Eugene's Sacred Heart Medical Center. Karen "Kaz" Humez of Eugene, then 52, started treatment in December; Amelia Worth, then a 20-year-old University of Oregon student, in January; and Kathy Alden, then 57, of Springfield, in February.

They seemingly had little in common: Humez, a social worker at Looking Glass and, as Worth recalls, "kind of `mother earthy' "; Worth, an anthropology major from Coos Bay and far younger than the other two; and Alden, who worked at Umpqua Bank.

"It's like our friendships were forged by our illnesses, but nurtured by our love for each other," says Worth, the UO student.

When coming for chemotherapy treatments, they would share of their lives, their hopes, their fears. And laugh at their hair-loss adventures. But, last winter, it was fear that trumped all: Humez died Feb. 21.

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"It was horrendous," Worth says. "My initial thought was: `Kaz is so strong and yet she's terminal; that's what's going to happen to me.' Then I realized I was being horribly selfish."

After Humez's death, the friendship of Worth and Alden deepened. They went wig shopping together, Worth once choosing a wild pink, blue and white one. She joined Alden and her family for dinner. And got rides from Alden to her medical appointments because she didn't have her driver's license yet.

"She's been like a guardian angel to me," Worth says. "I remember first seeing her at the hospital and she was wearing this black satin robe. It astounded me that someone as graceful and wonderful as her could have cancer. And it helped me come to terms with my own."

Worth found a role model in Alden: "She didn't judge people - and was so patient, in a way I'm not."

Alden, a mother of four children and grandmother to five, found courage in Worth: so young, yet so determined to beat this disease.

"Kathy became a mentor to Amelia," says John Alden, Kathy's husband. "Kind of a mother figure."

She introduced Worth to Cafe Yumm; Worth introduced her to ceramics.

Last summer, Alden went to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle for some procedures designed to help improve her condition. Nothing worked. Basically, she was sent home to die.

She has perhaps only days left to live, John says.

Still, the two of them are making plans. Their idea is a "Last Wish" fund, for Amelia, whose Oregon Health Plan insurance doesn't cover the care she will need.

"There's no way we can save my wife," John says, "but if we can make her death mean something more by helping Amelia, then, yes, there's loss, but also something gained."

John sent out the e-mail to friends and family Monday, telling the story of the women bonded by this struggle. Telling how much Amelia meant to him and Kathy.

"This is an absolutely wonderful young lady (who) needs our help," he wrote. "We would like you to help Amelia instead of sending flowers."

He and Kathy are giving Amelia one of their three cars. But Kathy already has given her more than she needed to, Amelia says. "She's given me strength and hope and a positive outlook on life," she says.

And has given similar gifts to others, say those who know her. "One of the more gracious people I've ever met," says Lorri Morse, an Umpqua Bank vice president for whom Alden worked.

One of those people who makes those in her presence feel special. "She's a rare mom and a rare employee," Morse says. "Heaven will be better because she's there."

Our loss. "But," John says, "what a great tribute to her if Amelia ends up winning."

The Amelia Worth Medical Fund is at Umpqua Bank, savings account No. 970711487.