McCrabb: Miami alums, all roommates as seniors, rallying around friend diagnosed with breast cancer

Seventeen Miami University seniors living in an eight-room house sharing three bathrooms.

That’s two women per bedroom and three women in the largest bedroom in the house off Main Street aptly named Landmark.

“And that didn’t include boyfriends,” said Roisin Hughes, 44, one of those who graduated from Miami in 2000.

If only those rooms could talk.

Every story would start, “Remember the night”.... and end ...“I’m glad they didn’t have cell phone videos back then.”

Since graduating 22 years ago, the 17 women have remained remarkably close, though their careers and family commitments have taken some of them thousands of miles from Oxford. They have attended birthdays, weddings, including several Miami Mergers, and baby showers together.

But now, due to a catastrophic health setback suffered by housemate Diana “Di” (Harsh) Keen, the bond is even tighter. In August 2014, Keen, then 36 with two young daughters, was diagnosed with a rare and incurable type of Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC) known as Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC).

“Really shattering news” is how Hughes described the diagnosis.

The women covered Keen with get-well cards, calls, visits, care packages and prayer.

“Those initial days would have been impossible to remain hopeful without our Landmark sisterhood,” Keen said. “The showering of love was and still is overwhelming. Landmark taught me how to receive unconditional support in significant ways that only decades of friendship could provide.”

In 2019, on Keen’s fifth cancer-versary, a milestone not reached by many with her diagnosis, she wanted to give back to others with a similar diagnosis.

“‘Di’ is living proof,” Hughes said. “There is hope.”

So Keen’s roommates founded Roots & Wings Charitable Foundation that raises money for women facing a devastating prognosis and overwhelming challenges.

The name of the charity comes from a bracelet Keen’s roommates gifted her when she moved from Chicago to London for graduate school years earlier. A medallion reads: “ROOTS’' on the front and “WINGS” on the back.

The inaugural fundraiser in 2021, MOVE IV MBC, a virtual walk/run, gathered more than 500 participants worldwide and raised $40,000 to support stage IV metastatic breast cancer patients. The second fundraiser, also a virtual event, is set for Aug. 7.

“This is such a magnificent group of women,” said Hughes, a recruiter in St. Louis. “We’ve all been impacted by her journey.”

That journey started when they were freshmen at Morris Hall, then at Minnich Hall and during semesters at the Dolibois Luxembourg campus junior year.

Then as seniors, they found Landmark, divided up the rooms and fought over the bathrooms.

“We were our own kind of sorority,” Hughes said. “It was a fun house with a bunch of girls. I knew we were pretty exceptional back then, but we’re still as tight today. There was some sort of magic that brought us together.”

Now they’re praying for a little medical magic.


HOW TO DONATE

WHAT: MOVE IV MBC 2022

WHEN: Sunrise to sunset Aug. 7

HOW: Run it. Walk it. Bike it. Move it.

WHERE: Everywhere and anywhere

MORE INFORMATION: rootswingsfoundation.org

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