Wednesday, January 25, 2017

For Cohen

There aren't words to express the role Cohen had in my life. We met in 7th grade when my family had just moved and I was the new kid at school. While we weren't immediate friends (she once flung a spoonful of oranges at me from across the lunch table after I called her Deanne), I never would have guessed that we would eventually become inseparable friends. Our 7th grade year was the start of a beautiful friendship that would blossom over the years until we became sisters - we were part of each other's families.

I thought Cohen and I would always have each other. I never imagined that the closest friend I've ever had, the only sister I've ever known, would pass away at the age of 28. Five years ago when she called to tell me an optometrist had noticed something weird about her optic nerves, I would have never thought that she would be gone a short time later. I never thought I would have to know how to do life without her.

I will never be the same, but that's because Cohen changed my life for the better. She taught me about love and friendship and sacrifice and faith and staying positive when things aren't going your way.

She fought through five years of a devastating, terrible illness. She didn't lose her battle; God was ready for her to come home.

There are so many things I could say about Cohen, but I don't think words are enough. After all, Cohen loved taking photos as much as I did. And this is our story, and what a story it was. I can hardly think of any aspect of my life the past 17 years that didn't have Cohen in it. She's part of me, and that part will always be missing, but she left me with memories of a relationship I didn't even know was possible, one that taught me that not all families are formed by blood.

This is our story.

Deanne (Dee/Cohen) Rochelle Landes
January 16, 1989 - January 19, 2017

My dad captured this picture of Cohen and I in middle school track. This was the beginning of it all. She always kept her hair so short those days, and because we were young and didn't yet have the bodies of young women, everyone always mistook her for a boy. She would never correct people, but I always had her back (often to her embarrassment).

This was our first camping trip together with our friend Jessiy and her family. What I remember most about this trip is Cohen jumping out of our canoe and flipping the whole thing over.

This was my first time spending the night at Cohen's mom's house in Fort Wayne. We loved playing with her brother Seth when we would visit (I think Seth was probably about three years old when this picture was taken).

Here we are in the backseat of my mom's car, probably driving to visit Brandon at college. Cohen was always with my family.

The 1963 Ford Fairlane. This car took us to prom. It drove us to school and back. It took us to Fort Wayne to see Cohen's brother Brice when he was born. She named it Magneto, and it was a big part of our high school and college days. This car meant the world to her.

We had a tradition of spending Halloween together. Her mom, Brian, and the boys would come and we would all go trick-or-treating. (Well, Seth and Tyler would trick-or-treat and Cohen and I looked forward to dressing up).

This is one of my favorite photos of us, and this is the Cohen I will always picture in my head. Here, we were at Walmart with her mom and brothers and, for some reason, decided to take a photo in front of the paper towels. 

This was us every summer out on the lake with Cohen's dad. We would swim for hours, knee-board, go tubing, and sometimes even spend the night out on the lake under the stars. 

Another one of our Halloweens together. We dressed as fugitives and both of our little brothers dressed up as Batman (much to Cohen's excitement). 

I have this picture hanging up in my home - all of my siblings together. Here we were visiting Brandon while he was away at college at Purdue.

We made it - high school graduation, class of 2007.

My dad did our senior photos for us, and I love this one after the shoot was over - brothers are the best. My little brother recently said that he couldn't remember a time when Cohen wasn't around, and that's because he was four when Cohen and I became friends. One thing I loved about Cohen was that she loved Tyler and would always invite him to hang out with us. She was a sister to him and he loved her.

Visiting my brother at Purdue right before we went off to college for the first time. Our parents discouraged us from going to the same school and living together because they thought we wouldn't be friends afterward, but it ended up being one of the best decisions we ever made.

Our freshman year of college was the best. We lived in an old house on campus that was falling apart and had no air conditioning, but we finally had something that we could make our own. We skateboarded in the basement, got involved with a campus ministry, and had our first college boyfriends. This photo is of us at Cohen's surprise 19th birthday party.

Cohen and I ended up living together all four years during undergrad. Our freshman year, it was just the two of us in a big, old house on campus. Our sophomore year, we lived with two other roommates in the new student housing. Our junior year, we did the same thing but with two new roommates, and our senior year, we lived in a two bedroom suite. Here we are during our junior year, spending the evening walking around a park near our university. 

This was at Cohen's 21st birthday party, which I will always remember as one of the most wonderful nights I've ever had. My favorite memory of this night was singing karaoke (Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody") with Cohen. (And, if you look close, you can see Justin photo-bombing our picture). 

Our senior year of college. I was graduating and going to grad school at the same school and Cohen had one more semester to get through. I remember us talking through what our next step would be and where we would live. (We ended up getting an off-campus apartment together where we lived for almost two years).

Our senior year spring break. Cohen and I drove 32 hours round trip to see our friends Emily and Elisabeth in North Carolina. This trip was amazing, and it was a great way to say goodbye to our college days. 

I can't even begin to tell you how loyal Cohen was. She made this sign for me and held it up during my college graduation, cheering so loud that I could hear her in the giant auditorium. I still have this sign, and it reminds me how she would do anything for me to make me smile and feel loved. 

Right after my graduation, Cohen's dad flew us out to Boston to visit him. I can't even begin to describe how fabulous that week in Boston was. We took a haunted tour, walked around the city, visited Harvard, and went to a Red Sox game. I'm so grateful for that time with her. 

Later that year, Cohen graduated with a Bachelor's degree in journalism and a minor in film studies. I may not have had a sign, but I was right there cheering her on at graduation. She had big dreams of working at a radio station (which she did) and traveling the world.

A few months later, Cohen moved to Fort Wayne to intern with Star 88.3, a Christian radio station. She called to tell me that a routine visit with her optometrist showed that her optic nerves were swollen and that she would need to see a specialist. To make a long story short, she saw many doctors who couldn't figure out what was wrong with her. At one point, I went with her to the hospital to get a spinal tap done. She was so sick afterward that we ended up in the emergency room just to be sent home. Her family doctor thought she had encephalitis and admitted her to the hospital for treatment. After a week in the hospital, she was released. She was able to make it to my bridal shower, but she didn't feel well the entire day. Even though she was sick, she pushed through it so she could be there for me. 

A month later, Cohen stood beside me on my wedding day as my maid of honor. I was very adamant that I only wanted family in our wedding party - my brother Tyler (the best man) and Justin's brother Ryan stood with him and my brother Brandon and (sister) Cohen stood with me. It was a beautiful day and Cohen looked amazing in her orange dress. However, we all noticed she wasn't feeling well that day, either, despite the doctor telling us she was cured from encephalitis.  

Cohen's symptoms persisted. A few months after my wedding, her symptoms got so bad that she was referred to a specialist at Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. I skipped my last week of graduate school to go to the hospital with her and her family. Pressure was building up in her head, so her doctor decided to put in a shunt to relieve some of the pressure. The surgery was long and I remember writing my last papers for grad school in the waiting room. Eventually, the doctor came out to tell us everything went well. That night, I had a nurse pull a cot into Cohen's room so I could sleep next to her. She was groggy and in pain, but we stayed up talking and eating crackers out of white paper boxes. A couple days later, she went back into surgery to have a brain biopsy. The doctor told us that there was something wrong, but that he wouldn't receive the results of the biopsy for a couple weeks.

The results came back that Cohen had a brain tumor - an oligodendroglioma grade II. In May of 2013, she had surgery so that the doctor could remove as much of the tumor as possible. The surgery injured her eye, but it went well. However, the doctor gave us the devastating news that Cohen's tumor would return and that there was no cure. Her condition was terminal. 

Despite her prognosis, Cohen still kept going. This picture was taken outside my house during one of her visits, summer 2013. Shortly after this photo was taken, my grandmother passed away and Cohen was right there beside me at her funeral. 

This photo was taken a few months later at Cohen's sister's (Amanda) baby shower. We all came together to celebrate new life, and Amanda now has a beautiful three-year-old boy named Adam who loved his aunt dearly. 

This photo is of Justin, me, Tyler, and Cohen at a benefit concert that was organized by some friends we went to high school with. So many people came out to support Cohen and donate to help her with medical costs. It was amazing to see our community rally around her. 

Cohen's tumor continued to grow. She went through chemo, radiation, and steroid treatments, and at one point, her tumor had shrunk. We prayed for God's will to be done, and Cohen's faith never faltered. She trusted God and never doubted or questioned him about what was happening to her. She inspired me everyday and continued to be the best friend and sister that I had always known, encouraging others and talking to them about her faith. 

But that's not the end of our story. Cohen fought hard against her illness, and while she went into a coma-like state in July of 2016, her spirit continued to encourage and inspire others. At one point when I visited her in July, we didn't think she was going to make it. I said goodbye to my best friend, but she still had some fight left in her. As her birthday approached this year, we all celebrated with her at her home. I like to think she knew I was there. I like to think that she could hear me telling her I loved her and that she was my favorite and that I missed her. 

As I drove home later that day, I felt unbelievable sadness knowing that, at the age of 27, I was going to lose my best friend and the person I had been closest to on this earth. But I also had a sense of peace knowing that, after all of her pain and suffering, she would join our Lord in heaven in a new body. 

And five days after her birthday celebration, I got the call that Cohen had passed away peacefully in the middle of the night. 

Our story is unique. We were unlikely friends, but since the 7th grade, we formed and grew a beautiful relationship that is unlike any other I will ever have. I can hardly fathom not being able to talk to her, to hug her, to laugh with her, to share in life's joys and adventures with her. We were stuck like glue for 17 years. I watched her grow from a 12-year-old tomboy into a wonderful young woman who was an amazing daughter, sister, aunt, and friend. I will never be able to put into words what she meant to me, and I'm sad that some of you didn't get to meet her. Had you met her, you would have seen her intense and contagious happiness, her joy, her strength, her compassion, her generosity. 

I will never forget you, Cohen. You will always and forever be my sister and my best friend. I can't wait to see you again someday.

And, as we always used to say to each other:

"We're still perfect. Immaculate." 

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