Karen Beebe, a Redondo Beach resident who worked as the gym director for American Martyrs School in Manhattan Beach, passed away from breast cancer Monday evening. She was 59.
According to her husband, Karen Beebe had been under home hospice care for a week, during which her family left the front door open and people streamed through.
"It was unbelievable," Bill Beebe said Wednesday, adding that she wasn't in any pain at the end.
Karen Beebe was first diagnosed in 2005, but she was declared cancer-free after a mastectomy that removed her right breast and 23 lymph nodes. When it returned in June 2010, she discovered it had metastasized to her liver.
She was known for her sunny smile and for wearing a variety of fun hats and scarves after she lost her hair during chemotherapy. Wigs made her feel like she was wearing a "stuffed animal," she told Patch last year.
Despite her death, the much-loved gym director's memory will live on.
Her battle with cancer was the inspiration behind her son's "Long Hair Don't Care" project, which sells T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan, Karen Beebe's name and a pink ribbon for $15. As of last summer, the project had raised more than $14,000 for cancer research.
Brett Beebe's project was not the only one his mother inspired. In fall 2010, for a school project, a group of then-seventh-grade students at American Martyrs sold pink bandanas for $2 each to raise money for the National Breast Cancer Foundation.
Ellie Nolan, who also attended American Martyrs last year, sold 300 handmade braided bracelets and mosaic crosses symbolizing breast cancer awareness and donated the proceeds to the Breast Cancer Foundation in Karen Beebe's name.
"Karen Beebe is like an aunt to me," Ellie told Patch last year. "I used to bring her fuzzy beanies and socks to wear to keep her head and feet warm after chemo. I brought her a fuzzy blanket and a Pillow Pet to use during the day when she was tired."
Brett Beebe, who is attending Western Michigan University, is now organizing a paddle-out in his mother's honor. Scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Sunday at the end of 15th Street in Manhattan Beach, the event is sponsored by Tarsan Stand-up Paddleboarding Shop and The Yard in Hermosa Beach and will include food, drinks and music.
A flowered lei will be sent out to sea as part of the ceremony.
"It's my way of honoring my mom," Brett Beebe said. "Everyone is welcome."
He told Patch that he was inspired by the amount of support people have shown his family during a difficult time.
"I've gotten hundreds of emails from all over the country, from Canada, everywhere," Brett Beebe said. "People were touched by my mom, whether they met her once or knew her for years. She always saw the good and genuine in each person she met. My mom truly believed in everyone."
In an interview at the beginning of the year, Karen Beebe told Patch that her New Year's resolution was to continue battling her cancer.
"I want to remember how blessed I have been," she said. "Most of all, I want to make more time for my dear family and friends that have made my battle worth fighting. Then I am going to buy more bandanas."
Beebe is survived by her husband, Bill; and her two children, Brett and Krista.
A memorial is scheduled for 2 p.m. Monday at O'Donnell Hall at American Martyrs Church, located at 1624 15th St. in Manhattan Beach. The family requests that people wear bright colors, not black. All are invited.
Katharine Blossom Lowrie contributed to this report.