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The Tentacle


August 23, 2002

Joan Raffensberger: An Indomitable Spirit

John W. Ashbury

She lost her nearly 12-year battle with cancer on Monday morning. The bastard won.

Joan Raffensberger's death leaves a void in this community. For all the time she was with us she demonstrated an indomitable spirit second to none. She persevered; she championed; she moved us all to a better understanding of what life is really all about; and she did it all with a dignity surpassed only by her own determination to live life to its fullest, no matter the time she had.

At the funeral home on Wednesday afternoon, her husband Regis, who fell in love with her while still in high school, gathered around him four good friends from Frederick. The room was filled with many who came to celebrate this woman's remarkable life.

"For the past few months I have bought a dozen pink roses for Joan every couple of days," he began. "She loved flowers and pink roses were her favorite.

"Our daughter would put them in vases and place them around the house, always being sure than some where close by Joan, wherever she was in the house. On Sunday I bought another dozen, and Kathy put six in a vase and put them on the dresser in her bedroom," he continued.

"Joan passed away at 4:10. And hour or so later Kathy came to me and said, 'Dad, you have got to see this.'"

"She took my hand and led me back to Joan's bedroom. In that vase of six beautiful roses, one - just one - had wilted, its stem bent over the lip. I took a picture of that, because no one would believe it without proof."

It was a fitting tribute to a remarkable person. Even the flowers that surrounded her felt the loss and left this world, too, perhaps to be with her forever.

The bells of Heaven's churches sang their beautiful song loud and long on Monday morning, seeming to say "She's here." Perhaps when God endowed us with His spirit he gave Joan Raffensberger just a little more than the rest of us.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, she, like so many before and since, was devastated. However, she never gave up. She was determined to win, but in the end, she lost. But during her struggles she gave of herself to others that they might better face the battles ahead.

A fellow cancer victim, Delegate Louise Snodgrass, tells of the time she ran into Joan in the 7th Street Safeway. Both had undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatments for their disease. They met quite by accident in one of the aisles.

"Joan," Louise said, "how are you? You look like a million bucks. Things must be going well."

Without answering the question, Joan, who had, a few minutes earlier, completed a radiation treatment, inquired about how Louise was doing, as usual putting others before herself.

"I put on my eyebrows," she said. "We girls have to put on our makeup, you know."

Louise spoke frequently to Joan over the years, on the phone and in person. "She always wanted to know how I was doing before she would tell me anything about herself."

When patients at the cancer center heard that dreaded word for the first time, the doctors knew there was one person in town who would help them recover from the initial shock, and that was Joan Raffensberger. She welcomed scores into her Whittier home. It mattered not their station in life. She brought them to her kitchen table or her living room, encouraging them and lifting their spirits. She gave of herself, even when she wasn't doing so well. She had a certain glow about her that medicine never took away.

At her lowest ebb, she never once said, "Why me, Lord?" Never once did she complain. She struggled, for sure. But those around her seldom knew she was in pain.

Without Joan Raffensberger, there may not be a Relay for Life in Frederick. That is the annual event, held in recent years at the Frederick Fairgrounds, that raises funds for cancer research. Joan and her husband founded the local program and participated when her health allowed. More than $250,000 has been raised here.

Two years ago, the Relay began with a walk around the paved track led by Joan, Barry Richardson and Louise Snodgrass. Joan walked with her head held high, a smile from sea to shining sea, happy to see so many gathered together - triumphant over cancer. That was her goal -- to see everyone beat it.

But it was not to be. Her struggle has ended. Ours never will. But with the example she provided, we can go forward with a better understanding of the disease and how to face it.

She showed us that we must never give up.

We must fight to the very end.

Stand tall.

Provide comfort to those less fortunate.

Never let the enemy see your weakness.

Smile in the face of tragedy.

Laugh at life's vicissitudes.

Bring joy to others. And give 'em hell when they deserve it.

This was Joan M. Landsman Raffensberger. May She Rest In Peace, comfortable in the knowledge that those of us who were privileged to know her are better people for it.

May God Bless!



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