Buen Camino, dear Jessica.

Jessica Jahnke died two nights ago, in Seattle, much too soon. If you've ever read my writing in this space, you know that Jessica was my role model for courage and defiance in the face of cancer. You won't remember -- but I do -- that Jessica sought me out several years ago. She was doing what she loved, traveling in her Nissan pickup. She was cheerful despite the fact that the truck was pretty much all she had left in the world after her cancer returned, her insurance ran out, and her condo foreclosed. 

Jessica had a plan to walk the ancient Camino de Santiago in Spain, where she also had family. She was not deterred by the metastatic tumor pressing on her spine. "The doctors told me that if I fall down, it could end my life," she said. "So I don't fall down." She told me this in the midst of a two-mile walk.

Jessica did find her way to the Camino. By then she was too sick to walk the distance. She went back home to Seattle. True, she was dying, but no way was she losing the battle with cancer. To struggle as Jessica did, with all the joy and heart you possess—that's not losing.

I spent the day with Jessica not long ago. She was just getting the hang of the motorized wheelchair that had been lent to her. She was delighted to be out of bed. Although her right hand was clumsy -- the tumor that had already deadened her legs was now numbing the hand as well -- Jessica made that wheelchair obey.

Without our friends, Jessica and I would not have met again. Phil Todd, chair of our Well Again board and my stalwart friend, bought my airline ticket. Thank you so much, Phil. The extremely capable and kind Seattle-based cameraman Brian Miller volunteered his day and his world-class equipment to help me film Jessica at her best, as she told us the story of her cancer journey. If you are ever filming in Seattle, please hire Brian and pay him double. 

I asked Jessica what she expected to find on the far side of death. That was the only question she turned aside.  "I don't want to say," she told me with an uncharacteristically diffident smile. "I don't want to be disappointed."

Jessica, if there's any justice, the disappointing part of your journey is all done. I see you on a new Camino full of endless sights and sounds and friends at every albergue. On this Camino, you won't fall down. Not ever.

Photo courtesy of Laurie Masover and Monserrat Riu Jover.

Grout Me Out

Hey my people,

Opinions please: Does a cancer diagnosis bring on DIY fever? That's how it's been for me. My temperature registers in the lower end of the spectrum, I admit: When I get a grand idea, like making a little covered hut out in the yard to house all that exercise equipment we never use, It takes all my energy to buy the list of materials. Every label has to be read and, half the time, deciphered with the help of YouTube or Wikipedia. Is it water- or oil-based? Toxic to children and animals? Long-lasting? Quick-drying? Does it require molly bolts? (I am not interested in molly bolts. The term sounds like a Revolutionary-era sexually transmitted disease.)

If you're like me, you spend a lot of time whipsawed between that cancer-survivor urge to take control of your environment and the chemo-brained reality that you are willing to exert yourself only in short bursts and then only on ideas you've already had.

I do get tired of the half-assedness that plagues all my projects. Also, it's new year's resolution time. So when my nephew-in-law, a professional tile guy, explained how to regrout the kitchen counter, I decided to Do It All the Way.

I was at it for three days, digging out all the nasty-greasy old grout in preparation for the fresh batch. Then came the rubber gloves, the cool water--not too much!--the bucket, the stirring, and, in about two minutes, the frenzied race to the finish. The instructions said to ply the tile float at a nice even pace, just ease that grout on into the crevices. Yeah, well. Not the way this stuff was drying. I wound up tearing around the counter at a dead run, raking big globs of black muck out of the bucket and stuffing it into every hole I could see.

It was like finger painting. It was fantastic.

There was collateral damage, it's true. Talk about the fog of war: There is now a thin layer of gray-black grout all over me, the floor, the dog, and the cat.

But I did it. No pile of unused supplies taking up permanent residence in a corner until I forget what they were for. No big swath of countertop left undone, with the promise to resume "next weekend," meaning "never in this lifetime."

No, for once I followed all the way through. That's what I told my nephew.

There was a brief silence on the phone. Then he asked, "You regrouted the whole kitchen?"

My Dinner with Fran Drescher and Friends

Hey my people,
Talk about your holiday cheer! This week I dined under the stars with the one and only Fran Drescher and her close-knit creative family at TV Land's "Happily Divorced."
How'd I get invited? The famed comedienne from Queens is also a committed cancer activist who graciously gave me a listen about Well Again. Fran answered her own cancer diagnosis with her bestselling book "Cancer, Schmancer." After that, she created the Cancer, Schmancer Foundation, which continues to advocate for better healthcare, stronger awareness of environmental carcinogens, and above all, early detection. (Check it out at

Fran stands out among cancer heroes because she can share serious information with a laugh--in her case, a laugh that deserves its own star on the walk of fame.

In person, the laugh and the lady are for real. Like Lucille Ball before her, Fran Drescher is a pro's pro who not only stars in "Happily Divorced" but also writes and executive produces it. "TV's very fast," Fran pointed out. "If you're not playing pretty close to yourself, you're sunk."

After our conversation came dinner, hosted by Fran's ex-husband and forever creative partner, Peter Marc Jacobson. The long table on his outdoor terrace glittered with glassware and candles. Healthy veggie dishes kept coming. Short ribs too. And chocolate. I faced Peter's blue-lit pool; behind me were the lights of Hollywood far below.

The conversation was even more fun than the view. I sat next to cast members Robert Walden, a straight-ahead nice guy who plays Fran's dad; and Tichina Arnold, Fran's onscreen best friend, who enlightened me about her own cause: the fight against lupus, which affects three out of five African-American women. Faced with Tichina, I'd say lupus hasn't got a chance.

And then there was Rita Moreno. One of my personal goddesses -- if you haven't seen her in "West Side Story," don't speak to me until you have -- Rita plays Fran's mom on "Happily Divorced." At 65, Rita is more beautiful than ever.  At least that's what I was thinking until Fran announced that tonight was Rita's birthday. Her 81st birthday

I had to laugh at life's endless unpredictability. When I was first diagnosed and the doctors were giving me 50/50 odds, did they imagine that 11 years later I'd be eating coconut cake with Rita Moreno?  Not a chance.  So if you're reading this, hold tight to life. Because even if it kicks you today, tomorrow it will throw you all the joy you can catch. 

So apparently the cancer's in the fine print

Hey my people, I just came across a mind-blowing story in Time magazine. It goes something like this. Scientists mapped the human genome a dozen years ago, and the 3 billion base pairs that make up our DNA boiled down to just 22,000 genes in different combinations. That accounted for 2% of the genome. The other 98% got labeled junk. This was clearly incorrect. The only existing substance that's 98% junk is Hostess Twinkies.  

Sure enough, science has now ascertained that the 98% of "junk" in DNA contains the mechanisms that tell the other 2% how to behave. I think this is nature's version of the fine print in the iTunes terms and conditions. You just click Accept, because nobody would read through that mess.  The cure for cancer could be hidden in there and you'd never know it.

Oh, wait. That's exactly what's going on in our DNA. Cancer happens when a cell gets ridiculously grandiose instructions, right? "Live forever." "Never stop growing." "Stand out from the crowd." Like a biological Nike ad that wants to kill you.  That bad advice is hiding out in our genetic fine print.  Knowing where is the first step toward achieving cancer treatments that fix our programming instead of bludgeoning every cell we've got.

And that's it. The cure for cancer. We can't quite reach it yet. But for the first time, we can see it.  It's one more reason to stay strong.  Because your future is on the fast track.

Check out this story for yourself: "Don't Trash These Genes," by Alice Park, in the Oct. 22 issue of Time. Here's a snippet to carry with you:


True story: "Well again means giving more than I take."

Cancer Vets Speak: A Well Again Series

Hello, my people! Here's a tremendous message about life beyond cancer treatment. Thanks for letting me share this. We want to hear your truth, so don't be afraid to join in. Everybody's cancer story is different. Somebody out there needs to hear yours. —Warmest regards, Anne

Gregory's Story

"Three weeks after a year of aggressive treatment for rectal adenocarcinoma, a PET scan showed a golf ball sized tumor. So now I have another year of treatment ahead. I worry about burning out the people who support me. I was strong and athletic, and I don't know what to fill that part of my life with."

What's my Well Again?

"Being well again for me will mean a life without how are you doing? and the kind, loving pats on my arms and back. Well means giving more than I take; when I can ride my bike as long and far as I want; when I can lift weights without someone asking, should you be doing this? Being well will mean running into friends at the supermarket and talking about avocados and children and dogs, not my health.

"Some experienced nurses tell me that cancer patients are the easiest to work with. If that"s true, why are we like that? Is it because we try so hard? Because we're so grateful? I think it's in the way we make peace with our fear, but I can't say for sure."

Disclaimer: Well Again does not give medical advice. For cancer advice, see a doctor.


Welcome to Well Again


I’m Anne Stockwell, founder of Well Again™, a new organization for cancer survivors and the people who love them. Well Again is not about fighting the fight or finding the cure. Thousands of wonderful people are meeting those challenges.

Well Again is about something more mysterious. It's about helping each other find the road back from cancer and into the rest of our lives. 

Medical treatment is so set on mapping our progress, you’d think they'd have a map to get us home. But no. When you’re diagnosed, everything happens in a jumble. It’s almost hysterical—like a cartoon ambulance screeches around the corner, and cartoon orderlies jump out and take you off to Cancerville, where amazing people save your life. But then…it's over. The cartoon ambulance spits you out again—Bye bye!—and they’re off to save somebody else’s life, and you’re alone. 

What now?

I've faced that question three times so far, and it's always been a gift. Crazy as it seems, cancer filled me with the capacity for joy. It showed me that my life was an adventure, and for 11 years, that's how I've lived it. (Check out my gallery for a few of the wonderful adventures that have come my way.)

Well Again is about helping every cancer survivor get home from Cancerville and rejoin the adventure of life. In my blog, look forward to Well Again updates, photos and stories from cancer survivors, links I love and your content, too! More on that next time.

Warm regards,