A plucky, selfless, desperately ill nineteen-year-old girl captured the hearts of thousands with a Weblog detailing her struggles with leukemia, her romantic aspirations, her pain, her disappointments, and her exemplary courage.
The girl, Kaycee Nicole Swenson, a former high-school athlete, wrote frankly and with skill as she recorded everything from objective accounts of her treatments to her most personal thoughts and observations.
"I kept having this vision of myself today. I was sitting on a white fence surrounded by thick grass and a field spotted with wild flowers. It was a perfect clear, warm day. I had this feeling of being so content. What I remember most is... no pain, just this massive glowing sensation of being whole. The constant pain inside my body wasn't there," one example of Kaycee's Weblog reads.
Her on-line champion was Randall van der Woning, a man who had lost both his parents to cancer, and who was, naturally, immensely moved by the girl's situation. So much in fact that he donated his time and money to maintaining Kaycee's Web site, 'Living Colours'.
It was van der Woning who originally pressed Kaycee to make her diaries public, and it was he who became the on-line friend most personally involved in her off-line life.
He chatted with Kaycee via AIM, and exchanged letters, family photos and telephone calls with Kaycee's mother, Debbie. He dutifully published her diaries, and in time, Kaycee had touched hundreds of cancer survivors.
Nearing the End
After learning of a particularly bad turn in Kaycee's medical progress, van der Woning writes, "I was sick inside. I began actively looking into flight bookings, thinking that if time was indeed short, I didn't want to miss the chance to see her before she died."
And it must have been this urgency to visit Kaycee, van der Woning reckons, which brought her eminently inspiring life to an abrupt end.
A few days later, he says, "I received a phone call from Debbie. She sobbed into the phone that Kaycee was dead. I was completely stunned; I couldn't believe what I was hearing."
And well he shouldn't. Kaycee, if you haven't guessed by now, was the literary/theatrical fabrication of Debbie Swenson, who played the roles of both concerned mother and sick daughter online for about a year. 'Kaycee' was compiled from three people Swenson knew in real life, all of whom had cancer.
Van der Woning reports feeling embarrassed and betrayed, as do a number of other people who followed Kaycee's story with personal interest.
But the fact is that the girl, however fictitious she may have been, however much a product of the Internet masquerade, united people in concern for another, and inspired them to exhibit some of the finest of human inclinations.
Whether she was real or not seems beside the point; surely the experience of compassion and the impulse to do good ought to be relished regardless of the impetus. Surely, after being moved to empathy and tenderness and personal sacrifice, embarrassment is the last thing anyone should feel. ®