Barbie Kilbourne Larson is losing her fight with cancer. Standing with her are her high school “sisters” from the La Reina High School Class of 1984.
When I talked to Barbie on July 6, her cancer had metastasized to the brain and she was having daily radiation to help with the excruciating pain.
While we spoke, her best friend since the seventh grade at La Reina, Stephanie Saunders Halverson, was by her side. Stephanie had come from Maple Grove, Minn. to Tracy, Calif. to be with Barbie.
Last year, when Barbie was facing her third bout of cancer in five years, Stephanie began “The La Reina Girls’ Dinner Club.” Class members from around the country — as well as those still living closer to La Reina’s Thousand Oaks campus — signed up, and sent Barbie gift cards for dinners, and wrote her notes, reminiscing about their La Reina years.
The girls of ’84 have not missed a week. Others, such as Father Liam Kidney, founding pastor of neighboring Padre Serra Parish in Camarillo, who led the senior retreat in 1984, have called Barbie with words of comfort.
The Class of ’84’s reunion is planned for September in Thousand Oaks, but the girls worried that Barbie might be too frail to make the trip. So they decided to have a virtual one. Last Saturday a dozen of her classmates gathered in the La Reina chapel in front of an iPad and Skyped Barbie, who was with her mother and Stephanie. A beautiful spray of flowers was perched on a chair so that Barbie could see it.
As the conversations progressed, it was clear that the friendships were deep and strong and generous. “It’s La Reina,” Stephanie said when I commented on this. "La Reina shaped us and turned us into people of faith and strength.”
Barbie added that her La Reina friends are her lifelong friends, the ones she turns to and holds in her heart. A few minutes later, one of those friends, Monica, running late, rushed in, and sat down in front of the iPad so Barbie could see her clearly. Monica, who had recently finished chemo treatment for her cancer, whipped off her hat so that Barbie could see that her hair was starting to grow back. Barbie applauded and laughed in joy.
Then we began to pray for Barbie, with different girls reading the prayers especially selected for her. Tears and tears as the Class of ’84 hugged each other in the chapel at La Reina, and Barbie and Stephanie hugged each other on the couch in Tracy.
After the prayers, Monica told Barbie that music has helped her through her cancer battle. Monica opened her purse, removed a large iphone docking port, popped her phone in it and played the Beatles’ “Let It Be.” More tears.
Then the girls of ’84 remembered that their junior ring ceremony song was “Here I Am, Lord.” Monica yelled, “I have that one, too.” We held hands and sang it. More tears.
Then the Alma Mater. Who remembers it? “Well get me started,” the girls of ’84 said, “and we’ll pick it up.” Dana started to belt it out. We picked it up. More tears.
More memories: Barbie and Stephanie coming in late from off campus lunch. Stephanie braiding Barbie’s hair in class and getting caught. Honor card stories. This time, laughter.
Then the iPad was passed around and each girl spoke directly to Barbie:
“You’re our inspiration.”
“We love you.”
“Don’t worry about your children. You have given them everything they need because you are their mother.”
“Don’t worry about your children. We will be there for them.”
Over and over again: “We’ll see you in September.” “We’ll see you in September.” “We’ll see you in September.” (Their official reunion.)
Tears and hugs and the Hail Mary, and the girls of ’84 adjourned to have lunch at the Lazy Dog Café, and I went to the Sisters’ of Notre Dame Jubilee Mass at St. Julie Billiart in Newbury Park. “Here I Am, Lord” was the Communion song.
I feel humbled and blessed because I have been part of the then and the now.
Barbie’s 1984 yearbook quote:
“There is only one way to be happy, and that is to make somebody else so.”
The girls of ’84 have got that one down.
Betsy Potts taught at La Reina from 1973 to 2010. She is currently the Alumnae Director.