April 23, 2012 at 4:29 AM
Photo of Karin Lee Gurtzweiler Perozek (K.P.) circa 2000 by Karen Rubin
Today I am attending the funeral mass for my close friend Karin (K.P.) Perozek in Perrysburg, Ohio. She was 41 years old. Many of you may remember her sunny disposition, her radiant smile and her brilliant blue eyes. She worked at Karen Rubin Photography from January 2000 to June 2002. She was famous in our studio for saying that "wrinkles are a gift from God". After reading this, you will understand why.
In Denver, she was known as K.P. because we both had the same first and middle names. Coincidence? I don't know. But since the studio was named after me, she had to find another name and K.P. stuck--just like that.
I first met K.P. in October 1999. She came to my studio to talk to me about being a photographer. I instantly liked her. At the time, she was thinking of starting her own Pet Photography business. We sat on the couch and I answered her questions the best that I could. She was so sweet and charming--I remember being VERY impressed by her.
A few months later, I was looking for a new employee and I remembered the sweet girl that wanted to be a photographer. She had written me a beautiful "thank you" note after our meeting, and I decided to call her and ask her if she was interested in learning to be the Studio Manager. She thought about it for a few days, and to my amazement--she said "yes". Little did I know that this young girl would change my life--forever.
On her first day of work, I asked her to fill out an I-9 and I asked her for her driver's license so I could keep a copy in her records. I was shocked to see a photo of a bald girl smiling back at me on the driver's license. "Is that you?" I asked. "Oh yes," she said. Then she proceeded to tell me that she was diagnosed with lymphoma many years earlier which was under control thanks to chemotherapy, radiation and a bone marrow transplant.
Time passed, and working with K.P. was pure joy. She was determined to learn, and eventually master, everything on her job description. She took photography classes in the evening, and honed her skills in my studio in her spare time. Together we wore overalls every Friday (don't ask me why) and dressed up on Halloween. All my clients loved her--she had a knack of making everyone feel special all the time.
But is wasn't always easy. K.P. had a compromised immune system. When she got sick, it wasn't just for a day--it would be for three weeks. Always three weeks. Without her, I limped along. After a while, we both realized that full-time work was too much for her. With that, K.P. officially moved to part-time and she shared the Studio Manager position with the new employee, Megan Anderson. Often K.P. would work the morning shift, then she would hand the work over to Megan for the afternoon shift. It sounds a bit awkward now, but it worked great at that time. We were the Three Musketeers, and we were happy campers.
And that was the way it was until K.P.'s wonderful husband, Tim finished his Ophthalmology residency in Denver. In July 2002, K.P. and Tim moved back home to Ohio, and Megan began working full-time at the studio with me. I knew from the day that I hired K.P. that she would be leaving in two and a half years. But it didn't make it any easier. To know K.P. is to love her--I had a gaping hole in my heart.
What I didn't know at the time, was that she planted hundreds of post-it notes all over the studio before she left. They were in log books, on shelves, inside boxes--they were everywhere. They said things like "I miss you" and "Love you" with smiley faces and flowers drawn on them. It took years before we found them all. I still have two of them (ten years later) and I treasure them.
Interestingly, it was not the end of our relationship. Although we rarely saw each other, our friendship grew stronger and stronger over the years. After two years in the harsh Ohio climate, K.P. found that her health was suffering badly. Tim found a job in Las Vegas, and the sunny warm climate was perfect for K.P. It was perfect for me too, because it was only a one hour plane ride from Denver and there were lots of photography conferences in Las Vegas to attend. We got together only once or twice a year, but we kept in touch, mostly by phone and partly by texting.
I don't remember when K.P. called me to tell me that she had breast cancer. I just remember the shock and anger. This poor girl had suffered so much, and now she was starting all over again. But this is where I really began to see the stuff that she was made of. She fought the cancer and won. And she got a "new set of boobs" that she announced on her Christmas card that year. I have to smile just thinking of that. She wasn't a "survivor"--she was a "thriver." Whenever her health allowed it, she was out hiking, gardening and helping her husband start their own Ophthalmology business "See Right Now". She was the Energizer Bunny and she amazed me.
It was 2008 when her lungs filled up with fluid. She was short of breath and needed supplemental oxygen. Tim took her to Los Angeles and she had a long and difficult procedure to eliminate the space where the fluid was accumulating around her lungs. I was scared, Tim was scared and K.P. was scared. K.P. couldn't talk because she could barely breath. That was when our texting was fast and furious. She had been such an inspiration to me, that I felt the urge to give back. I began seeing "visions" and described them to her in text messages. In the visions, time had passed and the plants in her garden had grown tall and she was old and happy, hiking with Tim in the hills near her home. She and Tim were taking a car trip with the windows down, feeling the wind in their gray hair. They had a new puppy and they brought the puppy to Denver. Together, we went to a dog park and later we enjoyed watching an afternoon thunderstorm on the patio, followed by a rainbow. These were some of the visions I shared with her. So real were the visions, that we all believed in them. And K.P. survived the event and healed.
Back in Las Vegas, K.P. and Tim were working more than full time at "See Right Now". Anyone who has started their own business knows how much work is involved. Megan and I flew to Las Vegas for a weekend. It was such fun--we laughed and laughed, just like the good old days. We bought healthy food and cooked for Tim and K.P. and just enjoyed life. We went to the gym and K.P. worked out with an oxygen tank at her side. She was dedicated to being strong and healthy. She was a rock star and she was my hero.
K.P.'s health was slowly deteriorating. She was on many medications and inhalers. She had several suitcases packed full of medical records sitting by the front door in case she needed to leave on a moment's notice. She had trouble getting through the day without a nap. She was tired. But she didn't give up.
In December, K.P. began coughing up blood. Not a lot, but enough to be concerned.
In February, K.P.'s beloved dog, Luigi went to heaven.
In early March, K.P. noticed four glorious days on the calendar where she was feeling pretty good and she had no Dr. appointments scheduled. She was desperate to visit her nieces and nephews. She and Tim flew to Ohio and loved being with her family again. But only a day later, the children woke up with the stomach flu and K.P. had to go home immediately because of her poor immune system. She could not take a risk of getting the flu. With a heavy heart, she flew home. Her nephews and nieces were so sad she had to leave. To cheer them up, she spent the four hours on the airplane writing down 105 reasons why her trip to see them was so wonderful. It included the little things like, petting a soft kitty and brushing her niece's hair. She also sent them a letter telling them why her illness had made her stronger.
In the middle of March, K.P. and Tim went for a pulmonary consult at Cedars Sinai in LA. K.P. was admitted to the hospital after the procedure because she had a lot of bleeding in her lungs after the biopsy as well as a lot of lung spasming. The doctors couldn't understand what was happening, but it wasn't cancer. From that time on, K.P. seemed to be in a mystical place. Her Facebook postings were even more spiritual and uplifting. The change was obvious.
On April 1st, K.P. posted a beautiful photo on her Facebook timeline showing her and Tim in front of their car in the desert. It was taken by a "Groupon" photographer in the Fall of 2011. They are sporting big happy smiles, and they look like supermodels. They really do! Tim told me that after the photo session, K.P. went to the Groupon photographer and talked to him about how to be a "real" professional photographer. She was worried that he wouldn't be able to stay in business. (I wonder where that came from?)
Back in Las Vegas, K.P. could not be left alone. She needed someone with her at all times in case something happened to her. And it did. On April 17th, K.P. went to work as usual. That night she was relaxing with her husband and writing in her journal (including a letter to God). Afterwards, God called her home. She died with her loving husband by her side. It wasn't expected--it just happened.
So now I say goodbye to K.P., my hero, my inspiration, my girlfriend. In the book, "Life is a Test" by Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, I understand that God gave you many trials and tribulations in order for you to grow and realize your true potential. And you did. You are a beacon of light and an inspiration to everyone. I have felt your presence the past few days and it has comforted me. "A long life is not good enough, but a good life is long enough." The lessons you have taught me, and all who have been blessed to have you in their life, are many. Thank you my friend--the torch is passed.
Photo of K.P. & Tim Perozek Fall 2011
By: Karen Rubin