Three months ago -- Kathy Hilke and I were discussing where to have turkey sandwiches for lunch. Kathy and I worked together in the Capitol Office of Senator Sam Aanestad for nearly seven years. And yes -- we also found time to take part in a bowling tournament or two -- as evidenced to the photo to your right.
Yesterday -- Kathy Hilke died. She was 52. An evil scourge called cancer claimed her last breath. A scourge that wasn't uncovered or discovered until it was far too late.
Sometimes -- life isn't fair. In Kathy's case -- it wasn't. 52 year old women are not supposed to pass away from cancer. I find it hard to believe -- even for one minute -- that this is what God designed. Kathy loved God. She was deeply religious. Yet -- she also loved life.
I guess it still hasn't sunk in quite yet. We used to talk regularly every single day of the work week. If I wasn't doing everything within my will to drive her up the wall -- then she was doing the same to me. We liked each other.
We also shared a love of all things heirloom tomatoes.
It really doesn't seem all that long ago that she left work. She complained of a shortness of breath. Like me -- she had dealt with regular back pain -- but was otherwise a completely healthy woman.
Or so it seemed.
The shortness of breath was initially diagnosed as pneumonia in that second week of June. She was given medication. She was sent home. When the breathing problems worsened two days later -- she checked herself into the hospital.
It was there they found them: the tumors. One was in her kidney -- pressing up against her spine -- the real source of years of back pain. But that wasn't the worst part. Gone untreated for God knows how long -- the kidney tumor had metastasized into many small tumors in both lungs.
The tumors were causing her lungs to fill up with fluid.
The two physicians that I work with assured me that various steps could be taken -- and they were. Yet -- at the same time -- I detected a hint of sadness in their eyes. They had seen this before. They would never tell me what they were truly thinking. But I could guess.
Still -- it's OK to pray for miracles.
Kathy showed me one such miracle of life once. It was located in the West Sacramento Trailer Park where she lived. Across the street from her home -- under a covered patio that blotted out the sun -- in the crack of a dirty driveway sidewalk -- a cherry tomato plant bloomed with prolific life.
Impossible? Not if you had seen it. I did.
Kathy would bring me a sack of these red cherry tomatoes just BURSTING with flavor from time to time. One plant seemed to yield thousands of them. Yet it received no care. It received no sun. There was no water source to speak of. It would die back in the winter and spring to life in the summer.
Who knows how long it had been there.
A child of that plant grows in the Bird backyard this year. The tomato variety known as West Sac Crack -- in honor of Kathy's discovery -- burst forth out of a crack in the inhospitable clay soil of our yard this spring. Lord knows -- we didn't plant it there. It's nowhere close to a source of water.
Yet it not only survives. It thrives. We know it to be the West Sac Crack variety because it is the only red cherry tomato that we have ever planted in our backyard. Sure enough -- it has that same -- old world tomato taste.
I guess now we will call it Kathy's Miracle. That is appropriate -- as Kathy touched and blessed all that came into her life.
Kathy is survived by her mother, Shirley, a sister and two brothers. Her father, Richard, who she adored, passed away Tuesday morning.