The day Rachel passed, before even leaving the hospital, we, her family, decided we needed to make something good come from the unimaginable. Hence, the decision to create a memorial scholarship fund in Rachel’s name. This way, we could continue to honor our daughter and continue to help her light shine on for years to come. If she were alive, she would have continued to make a huge impact on the world. In her death we must help to carry that light on – and encourage others to do the same.
Rachel was born with wonder in her eyes. As the first born and the only sister to two younger brothers, she was a natural born leader. She was a girly girl growing up, loving pink and frills. However, she was also a tomboy who loved sports, fishing, getting dirty and collecting rocks. A favorite memory was when she was about five and swimming off a boat in a lake with a life preserver on. When we pulled her in the boat, about five pounds of pebbles and rocks spilled out of her life jacket. She said they were all too pretty and she wanted to bring them home. We told her adding rocks to a life jacket kind of defeats the purpose!
Growing up Rachel never shied away from showing compassion and love for those around her. We have countless videos of Rachel assisting classmates during holiday programs, handing a rebound over (“aren’t I supposed to share?”), to befriending a kiddo on the playground, Rachel embodied the concept of loving others.
As a student, Rachel immersed herself in her studies. She took her education extremely seriously and while she was an excellent student, she had to put much time and effort into the results she desired. She consistently achieved honor and high honor grades in high school and knew the effort she put in would pay off as she earned the Presidential Scholarship at Valparaiso University.
In addition to being an excellent student, she was involved in many clubs, sports, and activities. While in high school Rachel played volleyball and was a member of the marching Barbs for all four years. She was involved in student council, softball, principal’s advisory council, theater, and NHS all while working part time at Oak Crest Retirement Center – a passion she had working with the elderly.
The Valpo Years
While she thrived in high school, she looked forward to carving out her path at Valparaiso University – lovingly known as Valpo. Within three weeks at college Rachel called us to let us know that she found her “home” at Valpo. She began establishing those life-long relationships with floormates and classmates right away. Within a month or so, she was recruited to participate with the Track Team as a Thrower – something she had never done but did not hesitate to join! She quickly immersed herself in the Valpo life and joined Chi Omega where she instantly gained 60+ new sisters and memories that bring smiles to our faces to this day. She became a Resident Assistant, joined mission trips (Thailand stole her heart!), joined AcaBellas; a female acapella group, all while studying nursing and working part time at HealthLinc. To say she completely filled her four years at Valpo would be an understatement.
During a family vacation when Rachel was twelve, we traveled to Colorado. While visiting the top of Pike’s Peak Rachel said, “I am going to go to college, graduate and start my life in Colorado. I feel God here and I want to be here.” So, upon graduation Rachel set her sights on securing a Nursing position in program which would help grow her as a new nurse, concentrating her search in Colorado. Six weeks post-graduation she moved out to Denver to begin her nursing career on the Med/Surg Floor at Anschutz Medical Center, Aurora, Colorado.
Anschutz and its staff helped develop Rachel into the nurse she wanted to be; caring, compassionate, patient focused and competent. It wasn’t long before Rachel became a preceptor to help new nurses assimilate. Not only did she love her position, her patients and her co-workers; she loved the view, the new friendships formed, and the experience. Her experiences here helped her prepare for her dream to become a travel nurse.
Sweet Home Chicago
Rachel decided to accept her first assignment as a travel nurse back in the Chicago area at Northwestern Hospital, with views of Lake Michigan daily! She was able to live the “downtown” experience for six months and planned to head to California for her next assignment. Insert COVID-19. Upon much contemplation, Rachel decided that it would be best for her to do another assignment in the Chicagoland area. What we didn’t know then is that this would be a blessing in disguise as it allowed Rachel to live with us for five more months before planning to head out to her next travel assignment, scheduled back in Colorado.
Our World Turns Upside Down
Unfortunately, near the end of her assignment at CDH Winfield she began to experience debilitating headaches. After being misdiagnosed with a urinary tract infection, mono, and quarantined for COVID (which was negative), she felt like crud and had no answers. The night before she turned twenty-five, she began to exhibit stroke like symptoms. The Emergency Room was suspicious of COVID – but we kept insisting that was not the case. A decision was to do a CAT scan of her chest. I urged the nurse to please have them do a CAT scan of her head as she had headaches for the past three weeks.
At 12:01 AM, a text message came through of her father singing Happy Birthday to his princess. At 12:23 AM the doctor would come in and change our world forever more. It was surreal, almost movie like as the ER doctor paced slowly and folded his arms before saying a word. He went to the head of the bed and asked both Rachel and I if cancer ran in the family. Then, he dropped a bomb and said they’d discovered a 2.6 cm mass in her breast and a 4 cm mass in her front right brain lobe. Everything became a blur. They admitted her, sent us away as her COVID test needed to be negative before we could be with her, and told us that a Neurosurgeon would be speaking to her in the morning. We left our sweet Rachel, on her twenty-fifth birthday, in the hospital – alone, scared yet stoic and ready to fight what she needed to.
Once her COVID test came back negative, we were able to visit during the day and leave at 10 PM so we got some good time with our girl. A craniotomy was performed three days later, and they removed a large portion of the tumor which was later classified as Stage IV Glioblastoma. Rachel slightly came back to us following her surgery. We were encouraged with hand squeezes, the verbalization of “Beaky Beaky, Wink Wink Wink” (a very special and tender daddy/daughter inside and endearing phrase), sitting up with physical therapy and her final words to us, “Drive safe Daddy." Little did we know we would lose our sweet Rachel the next day due to a catastrophic event with the brain rebelling against her body.
Saying Good Bye
Luckily, we were able to gather as a family to have a final moment with our Rachel. Matthew was able to travel in from Texas and AJ drove down from Wisconsin and the five of us had a beautiful moment of goodbye. As hard as that moment was (and is), it was beautiful. I thank God we had that time together and I am sure that she heard and felt us.
We kept Rachel alive while we awaited results for organ and tissue donation. As a nurse, we KNEW she would want to help others by this donation. Unfortunately, the pathology results were slow to come. Once the report came back, we were informed that was not an eligible donor – not for tissue nor organ. We thought, okay – what would Rachel want. We attempted to donate her body to a cadaver lab, but that seemed an impossible task as well. Finally, we decided it was best to bring Rachel home with us.
Be a Light!
Rachel lived and loved life to the fullest. In her short twenty-five years, she filled a hundred years of experience in it! Although we miss her terribly, we know we must keep her light alive. We are thankful to those who were part of her earthly journey and appreciate those working to continue her legacy.
Thank you and Be a Light!