The cancer diagnosis was a blow. But Lisa barely wavered from her optimistic personality. She met her last health battle with unprecedented courage and grace, with style and good humor.
Lisa loved to travel, take cruises, snow ski, water ski and to party, to drive shiny, sporty cars and especially to shop for clothes. She was a non-stop bargain hunter literally to her death.
Earlier this year, she leased a Jaguar ("You can't take it with you.") and shopped less at the malls and more from catalogs and the Internet. From the comfort of her Woburn condo, she purchased a portable commode, which she prayed she would never have to use; a couple of wigs to replace the thick black hair she would lose after radiation treatments; and any number of stylish articles of clothing and jewelry.
Lisa was a natural beauty who had a smooth, olive complexion, pointy "pug" nose and straight, white teeth that formed a smile that could light up the darkest of nights. She had an infectious laugh, one that Diane (Johnston) Dutton described as "a bust-out, full-force, wonderful laugh."
She looked radiantly beautiful all the time and was upbeat -- even bubbly -- about her life despite whatever the doctors told her about her kidney disease and cancer.
She tried to live a "normal" life despite many health battles over the years, including a near fatal infection of e-coli in her foot just a few years back. She kept her car, her clothes, her hair and her home in impeccable condition.
Lisa was the type of person who wrote thank-you letters to friends and relatives who sent her cards and flowers or visited her in the hospital.
She cared deeply about her appearance and about the comfort of those around her.
A few months ago, Lisa arranged to have her guest room painted even though her condo was so sparkling clean and beautifully decorated it could have been on the cover of Metropolitan Home. She said she wanted to have it painted and to buy new linens just in case someone offered to stay with her "if" she got sick with the chemotherapy. (No one moved in; she spent her last weeks of life at the Mass. General Hospital and at Whidden Memorial Hospital in Everett where she received hospice care.)
After months of chemotherapy and radiation, she needed a break in June and traveled to Florida to visit her cousin's boys, particularly her godson, Jared. She had also begun making plans to travel to California in the fall with her cousin, Karl Olsen, and her aunt Claire Olsen.
Lisa had hundreds of friends from her childhood, college years and adulthood. I became friends with Lisa when we met in 7th grade at St. John's High School in Cambridge, Mass., and was proud to call her my best friend.
We were best friends through high school and remained close confidantes throughout our adulthood.
I admired her character, her faith that good would triumph, her gracefulness and graciousness and her sense of humor. I envied her beauty, her warm, bubbly personality and her poise and humility under strain.
In seeking the highest quality medical treatment all her life as well as miracles, Lisa became an expert in kidney disease, dialysis and cancer, and she developed her spirituality and sense of humor to a higher plane. She told me about a healing service she went to in February or March at a church in Roxbury, led by a Father McDonagh.
"You know how when these guys touch you, people fall back, faint, etc.?" she wrote in an e-mail. "Well, I was really scared when he came over to me. He told me to sit in the pew. Then he proceeded to say prayers over me and PUSH me down onto the bench!!!
"I fought him every step of the way. (What a jerk I am.) ... Who knew???
"So, I guess I wasn't open to the Holy Spirit. My aunt was mad at me. ... Oh, well."
Though months -- perhaps years -- might pass when our busy lives would not intersect, whenever we did get together or called one another, Lisa and I rarely spent less than two or three hours catching up.
She was an irreplaceable friend and soul mate.
Lisa was an honor student in high school and college who worked hard for her grades but found time to enjoy sewing, arts and crafts and skiing. She also played the piano in her younger years, and although she was good at it, she made the surprising (to me) revelation recently that she never had the ear for it; she had to memorize everything. (Chalk it up to a good Catholic education.)
Lisa was popular with her classmates at N.C.C. She was the student council president and was named queen at our senior prom. I still remember shopping with her at Jordan Marsh for that prom dress. She slipped on this fluffy pastel gown and was transformed into an even more beautiful goddess. I sat speechless, in awe of her beauty, as she twirled in front of a mirror asking, "Whaddaya think?"
She graduated from Bridgewater State College with a bachelor's degree in psychology and held several office jobs before her kidney disease and the treatments became too disabling.
She still had a lot of spunk and energy, though, so she began working part-time at the Walnut Street Center in Somerville, an agency that provides programs and work opportunities for mentally retarded people. Lisa was already a volunteer there; her cousin Karen is a client, and her aunt Claire Olsen is the executive director.
Lisa was an executive assistant to Claire and organized fund-raisers and other activities for the center for years.
Claire Olsen described Lisa in an Aug. 19 letter as "a lesson to us all in faith, hope and strength of character." Lisa's mantra these last few months was taken from an inspirational saying she saw on the wall of a medical building. It was a list of what cancer cannot do:
It cannot cripple love. It cannot shatter hope. It cannot corrode faith. It cannot eat away peace. It cannot destroy confidence. It cannot kill friendships. It cannot shut out memories. It cannot silence courage. It cannot reduce eternal life. It cannot quench the spirit.
Lisa's cancer did none of those things.
Lisa was preceded in death by her parents, Joe and Ruth Mahan, and is the second graduate of NCC's Class of 1973 to die of cancer. She is survived by her closest relatives, Claire, Karl and Karen Olsen and Kristine True.
She was also loved by a small group of supportive friends who visited her often in her last few months: Sheila Mallard, Donna Chronis, Julie Thomas and Pat Sorrento and by dozens of other friends.
She is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge.
Donations in her memory may be made to the Kidney Foundation, the American Cancer Society or the Walnut Street Center Inc., 300 Somerville Ave., Somerville, MA 02143.