The last two years of Kimberly Roe's life were a sea of Cat scans, biopsies, needle pricks and IV tubes. But there were also 24 months of prayer groups, piano recitals, debate competitions and gondola rides down Venice's famed Grand Canal by a seventh-generation gondolier.
Kimberly Anna Roe, 16, died in her Oak Hill home barely two years after being diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer on Feb. 8, 2001.
Before the first mass was found on Jan. 24, 2001, her mom had suspicions. By the age of 14, Kimberly had stopped growing at a regular rate, said her mother, Leslie Roe. At the end of January 2001 and barely 15 years old, Kimberly found herself at Fairfax Hospital for what would be the first of several biopsies. It was inconclusive, but the CT scans did reveal masses in her liver, her chest and her adrenal gland. Two weeks later, she was in Baltimore at Johns Hopkins University Medical Center.
In an e-mail dated Feb. 9, Brian Roe broke the news to friends and family. "The surgery revealed that the mass near the adrenal gland was actually liver cancer that had spread to the lymph node," Brian Roe wrote. "Moreover, because of the advanced state, the oncologists at Johns Hopkins do not believe that even the most aggressive chemotherapy would help Kimberly."
Before her dad left the hospital that night, his daughter turned to him and said, according to the e-mail, that "she knows, in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him."
Two days later, Brian Roe told his friends that his daughter had received the bad news. "Kimberly received the news that the cancer is not treatable in child-like faith, and is perfectly at peace with the prospect of going to be with Christ Jesus, her King," he wrote.
OVER THE MONTHS and years that Kimberly lived with cancer, two things helped Kimberly and her family: religion and e-mail. "We don't know how many people read about Kimberly and prayed for Kimberly," Leslie Roe said.
"We know they prayed for her on all continents," Brian Roe, an attorney, said. "There were people in Antarctica praying for Kimberly. She was very aware of how people were caring."
Brian Roe remembers receiving messages from a law firm where he worked in Atlanta. During the European vacation sponsored by the Make-a-Wish Foundation, a stranger approached the family on the street in London saying she was praying for Kimberly.
"She was truly looking forward to being in Heaven with the Lord," Brian Roe said.
By all accounts, Kimberly, like her parents, had an unwavering sense of and belief in God. When her parents broke the news to her at Johns Hopkins that her tumors were malignant, she didn't shed a tear, her parents said. "Don't worry Momma," the 14-year-old said. "God is showing me the way to Heaven."
"God works for the good," her father said. "Through it all, we didn't question. Not once. Certainly, Kimberly never did."
As parents and sister stood around her bed singing a hymn
"I was so amazed at God's goodness," Leslie Roe said. "I had so much joy at God's tenderness."
She also didn't complain, her family and friends said. "She did everything without a complaint because she knew God had a plan for her," said Renae Smith, her debate partner. "Her trust in God was remarkable. She knew whatever happened, it was her plan. I am sure she had plans for college and to get married, but she was willing to yield them to Him. She surrendered her plan to God, no questions asked."
AFTER HER THIRD major surgery, Kimberly had an 18-inch incision across her stomach. "That's the Tropic of Cancer," she said, pointing.
Rather than rage against the tumors that were ravaging her body, she befriended them, her parents and sister, Emily, said. Kimberly would happily "introduce" her grapefruit-sized tumors, with names like Chester (stomach) and Lester (Liver), to anyone who wanted to meet them.
At one time, she insisted on paying for the meal of a friend of hers and her friend's mother. When the mother resisted, Kimberly turned on her wit. "Would you deny this dying girl's wish," she said with mock seriousness.
"She paid for that meal," Leslie Roe said, smiling.
And Kimberly was not afraid to use her talents of persuasion to good use as a member of the local home-schooling debate team, coached by her lawyer father. "She loved to debate tax policy," Brian Roe said. "People would assume this little girl couldn't handle herself. They were wrong. She was tenacious."
Leslie Roe knew what a sweet, smart and funny young daughter she had in Kimberly. She loved her daughter's watercolor paintings and her handwriting that looked like professional calligraphy. More than anything, she loved her late daughter's quiet sensitive nature and her devotion to God. Leslie Roe home schooled her three children, Daniel, Emily and Kimberly, their entire lives. Leslie Roe said she valued the extra time she was able to spend with her children. "Kimberly appreciated that I was here," Leslie Roe said. "Before she died, she thanked me for that."
QUIETER THAN HER siblings, Kimberly had a slightly mysterious side, her parents said. Her quiet demeanor sometimes hid his daughter's personality from strangers and friends, Brian Roe said. "More and more was revealed in the last two years," he said. "They got to see the real Kimberly."
Renae Smith, 17, was one of those people. A member of Kimberly's home-schooling group in Reston from grades four through seven, Smith said she didn't really get to know Kimberly until Smith moved back and later became Kimberly's debate partner. "Kimberly was so unselfish," Smith said. "She was always concerned that I didn't do too much. Even with all of her NIH visits, she was anxious to serve me."
On April 4, about seven weeks before her friend's death, was the last time Smith saw her friend. Smith was driving with her mom when she saw Kimberly being pushed in her wheel chair down the street. "It was a perfect day and a perfect way to say good-bye. The flowers were blooming, the sun was shining and Kimberly looked so great. It was such a joy to hear her laugh all the way home
"She was the epitome of a godly young lady," Smith said.
"Yesterday, as we sang 'When my spirit, clothed immortal, wings its flight to realms of day,' Kimberly took her last breath and then went to be with the Lord," Brian Roe wrote one day after his oldest daughter died. "We rejoice and thank God that Kimberly is safely home. By His grace, we are all doing well, especially Kimberly."