For the Loudenbacks, participating in Relay for Life is a family tradition.
This year will be their fifth, and, as during every Relay, they will be thinking about loved ones lost to cancer as they walk their laps and raise money to fight the disease on July 12 and 13.
Among their most loving thoughts will be memories of Jane Loudenback, the kind of mother and grandmother that families should all be so lucky to have.
“She was always coming over and helping with the house or garden, planning a family get together or just visiting with us,” said her daughter-in-law, Caroline Loudenback, of North Bend.
“She always made sure a birthday or holiday got the attention it deserved, and didn’t allow us to be too busy to celebrate what was important in life.”
Jane enthusiastically supported her family’s efforts in Relay for Life in 2004, when Caroline was recruited to be a captain for the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber’s team, the Cancer Crushers.
A few months later, during a routine tooth extraction, an oral surgeon found suspicious spots on the floor of Jane’s mouth that turned out to be cancer.
Giving care and love
It was the beginning of a two-year rollercoaster battle that would include chemotherapy, radiation and feeding tubes. There were periods of great hope, when treatments seemed to be working, and dark days when Jane lost her ability speak, and her neck and chin were overtaken by fast-growing tumors.
Throughout all of it, she was surrounded by love.
“She was incredibly strong during her battle, and was a great inspiration to all. It has also been quite inspirational to see the outpouring of support and love her friends and family gave her during this time,” Caroline said.
Jane filled two large scrapbooks, which she called her “Books of Love,” with cards and letters she received from friends and family.
“We were very grateful that she did not feel alone during the fight,” Caroline said.
Among Jane’s support network were her grandchildren.
Marika, 16, helped with Jane’s feeding tubes, and would discuss the celebrities in “People” and “US” – as Jane called them, her “smut magazines.” Jane would paint her granddaughter’s nails, and, when she could no longer talk, wrote Marika notes with advice to be sure to enjoy life while maintaining her busy student’s schedule.
Knowing that a clean house was important to Jane, Anika, 13, would vacuum and dust on her visits. And Gerrit, 10, would entertain his grandmother. He also started telling people not to smoke.
“He clearly made the connection of smoking causing his grandmother’s terrible disease,” Caroline said.
A peaceful goodbye
Jane died in her sleep at the age of 70, just two days after a family Thanksgiving celebration for which she made her famous deviled eggs, cranberry salad and stuffing, and even stuffed the turkey.
She told the family that she was ready to go, and ended the evening, and her life, with farewells and the words, “I just want to sleep.”
“It was her wish to die at home, and we are thankful we could fulfill this wish,” Caroline said. “She was surrounded by candles, her angels, and her family until the end. The experience was unexpectedly peaceful and comforting.”
In 2005 and 2006, Jane walked in the survivor lap at Relay; the Loudenbacks continue honoring Jane and others they’ve lost to cancer through their volunteer work with Relay for Life.
Anika is on the New Generation Team, a middle school youth team including the young survivor Kylie Aberle. She has donated the majority of her baby-sitting money to Relay over the last few years.
Marika is the youth chair for the Snoqualmie Relay, and plans to donate hair to the American Cancer Society to make wigs that will be free to cancer patients. She’s organizing a hairstylist station where donors will be able to cut their hair for the cause at Relay.
As a member of the Luminaria sub-committee, Gerrit will help fill and organize of the candle bags lining the track that honor cancer survivors and those who have succumbed to the disease.
Though Caroline’s sister-in-law, Carole, lives in Federal Way with her children, they walk in Snoqualmie Valley’s Relay “because of the tradition, as well as the connection to Jane,” said Caroline, who herself is serving as the online technical chair for a third year.
The Loudenbacks can’t bring Jane back, but they keep alive her spirit as they help fight cancer, one dollar and one lap at a time.