While her brother, who was sleeping next to her, held her hand tightly, Liza Burke took her last breath. She wouldn’t wake up ever again.
The story of Liza, a stunning 21-year-old University of Georgia senior who organized a last-minute pre-graduation spring break trip for 53 friends to Cabo, has gained international attention. While there, she had a brain bleed, and it was later discovered that she had an aggressive malignant brain tumor. She had made one final trip before.
Her mother, Laura McKeithen, stated that “her brother slept on the sofa and held her hand all night long” until she passed away on April 28. As she drew her last breath, Jack held her hand.
Liza’s mother, 55, who describes her daughter as having “lived it large,” “extremely real, and shamelessly herself,” offers the following advice: “Don’t waste time worrying about stupid things. Dare to try. ”.
That served as Liza’s guiding principle and inspired her to travel the world.
Liza texted her mother images of herself performing handstands on the sand, sailing, and cliff diving while on vacation in Cabo. Around a bonfire on the beach, the group huddled together as they sang and told each other tales of her final night. She left breakfast early the next morning after working out with her lover and told friends that she had a blinding headache. She went to her room to take a nap, but hours later, someone found her unconscious in bed.
When medical professionals in Mexico discovered Liza, her brain was bleeding. They amputated a portion of her skull to stop the bleeding because they thought she might have an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) that had ruptured. Liza’s mother flew to be with her, brought her back to Florida, and drove her to the Mayo Clinic. After the doctors ruled out an AVM, she was found to have an aggressive and malignant brainstem tumor.
Laura recalled that when Liza first awoke from sedation, her daughter removed the ventilator from her mouth. They were concerned that she wouldn’t be able to breathe on her own, but Laura said that she was fine.
Due to the tumor’s stress on the part of her brain that kept her awake, Liza had trouble falling asleep.
Her mother said that when she was awake, she was wriggling her toes or squeezing my hand to communicate. She didn’t grab my hand when I asked her if she was scared after asking her a number of other questions, “Liza, are you scared?”.
After starting the daily radiation therapy meant to last six weeks, Liza started to feel better, allowing her loved ones to spend a few more days with her.
She was pedaling a bike, squatting, and attempting to walk.
But a few days later, doctors found that she had a fresh brain bleed.
Because of Liza’s contagious spirit and her mother’s desire to prevent another intubation, discussions with her medical team started.
Laura questioned whether Liza’s headaches in her first year of college were precursors to the brain tumor and if they had been identified earlier. Would her daughter be alright?
While speaking with Liza’s oncologist, Laura recalled asking, “Do you think things could have been different if we had caught this when she first told me that she thought there was something wrong in her head?”.
The doctor looked around the woman’s furnished room, which was “full, full, full, full of pictures of her and her friends,” and said, “Well, I can tell you one thing for sure: She wouldn’t have all of these pictures.”. Then, he allegedly said to Laura, “We would eventually be exactly where we are now. ”.
The family discovered that the treatment was failing and suggested hospice care, so Laura had to look for a place where she felt confident that her daughter would be happy.
She would want to be somewhere beautiful, where she could be with her friends and family and everyone could celebrate her, and she could be outside and enjoy the beach or the mountains, her mother recalled thinking. ”.
Laura decided on an Airbnb by the sea and rented it for a month after making sure the owners were okay with it being used for hospice care. Liza and her immediate family moved into the house on April 19; friends and grandparents frequently dropped by.
At that time, Liza was awake but unable to speak. Laura claimed that her child communicated by “a little gesture with her mouth or her eyelids, but she would wiggle her toes. ”.
On April 27, everyone attended the premiere of Interstellar, starring Matthew McConaughey and Jessica Chastain.
After the movie, Laura gave her bedroom an explanation of why she made the decision she did, saying, “I knew if I were with her, I would probably drive her crazy, staring at her and squeezing her hand and squeezing her toes and kissing her. ”.
About two in the morning, Liza died. m. while snuggling with her brother Jack in bed on Friday.
After her final breath, Liza sighed and transitioned to the next dimension. Laura added, “Liza has now been reunited with her sister, and they are making up for lost time. Due to MPS1, a rare genetic disorder, Liza’s older sister Edie passed away in 2008.
If I could, I would hang onto Liza and follow her, Laura wrote in an online journal as she expressed her heartbroken feelings. ”.
Laura had received Liza’s letter to her future self in the mail on May 2 as a class assignment from her last year of high school. The teacher promised to mail the letters to the students after they completed college. Liza will graduate on May 12, 2023.
Beautiful, that was. “It was all her,” Laura remarked. At my memorial, I’ll read from it. ”.
Liza’s ashes will be scattered by Laura, possibly some in Mexico and some in the mountains. Libby was cremated.
Although the cancer took her life, it didn’t stop her from moving forward. Laura remembered her daughter as a strong, fearless, free-spirited, and happy young woman. She led a life.
Her legacy is to fully savor every day. Everyone should know that she lived a good life. I wish I could be as successful in life as she has been. ”.
Her mother is asking for contributions to The Liza and Edie Burke Education Fund in order to “honor two sisters and the genuine, dynamic, playful, and fierce way they gave back to the world. ”.
It is very tragic that Liza is gone because she was so young and had such a promising future. In this difficult time, we send our condolences to the family, especially Laura, who lost her second daughter.