Friendship is Forever
By Mara Klecker
Gina Roller’s best friend, Kerri-Lynn Larimer, adopted and lived by the motto “crazy not to” long before she was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma.
For Keri-Lynn there was little question about whether to go forward with something fun or even a little bit wild. With her signature smile and laugh, she’d remind her friends and family that it was foolish—even “crazy”—to miss out on an opportunity.
The first word anyone would use to describe her would be ‘fun,’” Gina said. “Everyone who met her loved her.”
Gina first met Kerri-Lynn in 2008 and was quickly drawn to her exuberance. The two grew so close that they called each other “their person,” and Kerri-Lynn’s two sons referred to Gina as their second mother.
In November 2017, Kerri-Lynn asked if Gina would accompany her to a doctor’s appointment to learn the results of a biopsy. The two friends sat together with Kerri-Lynn’s husband, Dean, and received the news: Kerri-Lynn had Stage III melanoma.
The two friends went out for lunch after the appointment. Throughout the meal, Kerri-Lynn kept up her positive outlook, continuing to smile and laugh even as she considered what was ahead of her.
“She was pretty determined that she was going to beat it, and I thought 100% that she was right,” Gina said.
Kerri-Lynn died in October 2018, just short of a year after her diagnosis. She was 44. A few weeks before her death, Gina spearheaded an effort to renovate parts of her friend’s home in Thompson, North Dakota, before Kerri-Lynn returned from Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. The original plan was to just lay some new flooring and paint a few walls. But news spread quickly around the town of 1,000, and Kerri-Lynn’s wide friend circle stepped up to help. Nearly 100 volunteers pitched in, with some even traveling from Kerri-Lynn’s hometown in Canada.
Over the course of eight days of work, the crew painted, replaced fixtures, and gutted and remodeled the bathroom. Together, Kerri-Lynn’s support network transformed her house into her dream home, complete with the wood floors she’d always hoped for.
Kerri-Lynn was able to see the work when she returned home to transition into hospice. In Kerri-Lynn’s final days and nights, Gina stayed with her to keep her company and allow her husband Dean to get some rest. As she sat next to her bed, Gina felt helpless. She’d organized the renovation, but she wanted to do more in honor of “her person.” Kerri-Lynn was a giver herself and spent her career helping others as a social worker.
Just before Kerri-Lynn passed away, Gina started a fundraiser to buy care pouches to give to patients at the local cancer center. She raised enough to put together more than 200 pouches.
Gina and the Thompson community found other ways to remember the woman who was always quick with a smile and a hug. Kerri-Lynn had been instrumental in starting a high school softball team and the field was named after her. Gina inked the words “She keeps me safe and wild” on her foot in memory of her best friend.
“Life just isn’t the same without her,” Gina said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Gina once again felt she needed to use her time to give back. In looking at nonprofits she could support, she found the website for AIM at Melanoma.
“It was like a lightbulb moment of ‘there it is, that’s what I want to do,’” she said. “It’s such a great organization with a mission that I really liked.”
Though ONEHOPE, Gina is hosting a virtual fundraiser, selling wine to benefit AIM at Melanoma. ONEHOPE will donate 10% of the proceeds from the purchases made through Gina. She will also give her commissions to AIM.
The event, which began about a month ago and will remain open indefinitely, has raised more than $700 for the nonprofit so far.
“I’m excited to help people realize the impact they can have through something that might seem so small,” she said. Giving back and paying tribute to her best friend has helped ease that feeling of helplessness that Gina struggled with during Kerri-Lynn’s illness and after her death.
But sipping wine for a good cause seems like exactly what Kerri-Lynn would want her friends to do. After all, it’d be crazy not to.
To purchase wine through ONEHOPE and support AIM at Melanoma’s work, click here.