For Liz Karnes, It Was A Life Well-Lived
Posted: Thu, Jan 1, 2009
By Michael Kelly
Reprinted with permission from the Omaha World-Herald.
Originally published: 04/27/2003
Liz Karnes loses battle with cancer, the headlines say, and I'm just not buying it. Liz died, but she didn't lose.
For 12 years after a delayed diagnosis of ovarian cancer at age 41, she scrapped and brawled and slugged it out. She confronted her cancer, bombarded it, waged war with it. She grabbed it by the throat and pummeled it - dueling, feuding, attacking, scratching, clawing. She was a gladiator, a warrior princess.
For a while, the cancer departed. But there were other complications, and then cancer returned. No matter. She lived for life, for family, for friends, for goodness, for knowledge, for love, all of which were worth fighting for. And so she fought. In public, the petite and gracious former homecoming queen sparkled. She earned a doctorate in education and served her community in a hundred ways. In recent times, she worked on a book, " Fifty Ways to Help a Friend in Need." To so many, Liz was a friend indeed. She grew up as Liz Lueder, pronounced "leader," which she was. As an adult, she served on boards for Westside schools and the Omaha airport. When U.S. Sen. Edward Zorinsky died, husband David Karnes was appointed a senator at 38. Liz enjoyed giving Nebraskans tours of the Capitol, riding on the senators' train. Famous lawmakers and seemingly everyone else called her by name.
She was a great storyteller: When her husband was appointed, jeweler Ike Friedman of Borsheim's in Omaha said that the Karneses would have to attend glittery events and that she could borrow necklaces any time. She declined. He insisted, saying the jewelry was insured. A Southern senator's wife soon suggested that the young couple find a place in a ritzy area of McLean, Va. Liz said they couldn't afford that, but the woman eyed Liz's necklace - not knowing it was a loaner. In the telling, Liz imitated the woman's drawl: "Liz, honey, with diamonds like that, you'd fit right in out here."
Liz loved to laugh, often at herself. At a roast, a friend poked fun at her cooking disabilities, saying that she was having her kitchen replaced - with vending machines. David said that when he needed to hide a present, he put it in the oven.
After the Senate, the Karneses served civic and charitable causes and raised four daughters in Omaha. Liz knew she wouldn't live to an old age, but was determined to see them graduate from high school - and did so, attending lots of soccer games and other events along the way. She endured so much. Hundreds of days in hospitals, millions of dollars in medical treatment, numerous surgeries, infections, blood clots. For four years, she didn't eat or drink, and was fed intravenously.
After treatment in Boston, glory be, she could eat again. At a 1995 New Year's luncheon in Omaha, 55 women were asked what they most hoped for. Liz wrote: "To live one more year." Three years ago in Florida, she received a "Great Comeback" award for demonstrating that life with a colostomy can still be active and productive. Optimism, passion, energy, inspiration - Elizabeth Karnes exuded so much life.
Her body wore out, but not her spirit. Because of her effect on so many, she was a winner in life, not a loser. She was always interested in others, writing notes of encouragement. She didn't wallow in self - pity. Was there anyone in the Omaha area more beloved by more people than Liz Karnes? Dr. Karnes was an educator, and she taught us so much by the way she lived - that life is worth the fight.