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?"

Seamus Friday: Dog Noir, Chapter 1

"The first time I sniffed her it was the tail end of another afternoon in the City of Angels. The day was fading like a car you could chase but never catch. Stepping along the far curb, she was something special all right. The kind of pooch you'd look for in a starlet's purse. So what was she doing in this end of town? And who was that palooka on the other end of her leash?"

[Ed.  Seamus Friday offers free-form musings about one dog and the joycatching opps he brings to one cancer veteran. Seamus welcomes posts from other survivordogs -- or cats or snakes or whoever.]


Laugh-Riot Grrrls to the Rescue


"What's the funniest thing that happened to you this week?"

That’s the way most conversations begin for a group of my high school friends who get together at least once a month for some laughter therapy.  We don’t really plan it as “medicinal,” but the feeling of total relaxation after we whoop it up for an afternoon is a testament to the stress-reducing properties of laughter.
We guffaw in the most unladylike manner as we recall our friend who accidentally swallowed her hearing aid battery instead of her osteoporosis pill. We collapse onto the floor laughing about another friend who grabbed a jacket out of his garage to attend a fancy cocktail party.  At the party someone asked if he knew he had a dirt dauber nest hanging on his sleeve.

That same friend accidentally maced himself while driving a borrowed car.  He thought the innocuous little can on the passenger seat was breath spray. (Ha, Ha, giggle, snort.)  

Then there’s the classmate who accidentally dropped a contact lens into the potato salad at a church picnic.  It never was recovered.  

Let’s face it, life can be pretty funny. These stories are valuable little gems we carry in our memories to be pulled up when the world crowds in on us or you get a bad CT scan. 

American journalist Norman Cousins came down with a fatal illness and was given one month to live.  He checked out of the hospital and into a hotel where he treated himself with megadoses of Vitamin C, chased with hours of laughter induced by old Marx Brothers films.

"I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had a healing anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep," reported Cousins. Long story short, he went on to live for 26 more years.

Laughter is that delicious sound that occurs involuntarily and bubbles from deep in your soul. It can sometimes leave you breathless and in tears.  I wish someone would package it.

Look, we have split the atom to the nth degree, put men on the moon and mapped our DNA, but no one has figured out how to give us laughter on demand.  Personally, I always get a kick out of America’s Funniest Videos With Rebel and Lucky Dawg at my side we laugh hysterically  – even Rebel, who is a bulldog with a perpetual scowl.

We especially love the clips involving pets, small children and people falling down at their weddings.  Ha ha ha, cares forgotten. 

Be forewarned, laughter is highly contagious and may add years to your life.  I guess that makes my friends and me about 125 by now. 

Emily Jones is a retired journalist and ovarian cancer survivor who edits The Deluded Diva, a blog for bouncing baby boomers racing retirement.  She invites you to stop by


When the curse of cancer becomes a blessing

I just experienced what I hope will be my last chemotherapy treatment for a long, long time. (Forever would be even better.)  Some cancers creep up slowly; others pounce.  Mine swept in like a hungry tiger while I was looking the other way, bemused by commonplace things like thinning hair, loss of memory and just generally growing older. 

Chemo resolved all those complaints without so much as an apology.  It took ALL my hair, left me in a brain fog that made me drop everything I pick up, and it gave me the sudden desire to live to become a little old lady! Funny how that works.

But what has been most shocking was finding that a life threatening illness can be the catalyst for more blessings than you can ever imagine. One of the most serendipitous moments I’ve experienced was last weekend when my community celebrated its annual Relay for Life.  People of all ages came out to honor their loved ones who have died of cancer and to show support for those who are surviving and fighting the disease. 

During the opening “walk of survivors,” I stumbled around the track in awe that perfect strangers would come out on a rainy blustery Friday evening to cheer on a lot of people they may not even know.  I had participated before, but never with such a personal stake in the value of the event which annually raises millions of dollars to fight cancer.  My compliments and appreciation to my friends, Brian and Diane, and all the volunteers and workers from the American Cancer Society who spent months recruiting teams and planning a flawless event.

At dawn today, I sat out on my back porch and breathed in the combined fragrance of maturing mint and rosemary while making a list of all the good things that have occurred as a direct result of illness.  I won’t go into all the minor details - like losing unwanted pounds without a diet, getting a great head of hair (which I hang on the bedpost over night), and  falling in love with those heretofore dreaded green vegetables. The latter is thanks to Margaret Ann Wood, a restaurateur and longtime friend, who introduced me to Goya seasonings which can make the lowly canned green bean taste like the nectar of the Gods. 

The Big C also gave me a bizarre sense of humor.  I still chuckle at the look on that truck driver’s face when I was pumping gas during high winds which blew my wig right off my head and carried it across the parking lot.  He stared in dismay, probably confused by the smiley face a friend had drawn with magic marker on the BACK of my head.  I also got a kick out of the long black “Cher” wig my son sent me as a joke.  One morning I went door to door pretending to be an encyclopedia salesperson and not one neighbor recognized me.  Come on people, who sells encyclopedias these days?  

The greatest gift has been the deeper relationships formed with my family and friends who I often took for granted; the absolutely religious experience of feeling good again after being under the weather;  learning not to judge others who may be suffering from their own set of stressors; and the realization that material things will never provide lasting fulfillment.  That lesson was way overdue, but I’m a slow learner and like they say, it takes what it takes.

Someone once said that the hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings, but when we do, they seem to multiply.  Oh, and here’s something else to look forward to.  I heard mosquitoes will take one bite out of a chemo patient and fly off to wash their mouths out with soap, spitting all the way.  Ah, Ha! 

Emily Jones is a retired journalist who edits a blog site for bouncing baby boomers who are entering retirement.  She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in November, 2012.  Check out her blog at


Meet Emily Jones, Guest Blogger Number One!

Hey my people, I'm so excited to introduce you to Well Again's first guest blogger, syndicated columnist Emily Jones.  Emily hails from Mississippi, source of 10 thousand funny stories and 10 million good recipes, most of which she can at least fake. Thanks to a run-in with ovarian cancer, Emily recently joined us here in survivorworld, but that's not the most important thing about her. 

Emily Jones is:  1. Hilarious.  2. Incisive.  3. Guru of her own website,, where she self-describes as a "retired journalist and master piddler who is slogging through the new world of culinary delights, gardening prowess and holding old age at bay at all costs."  As the Deluded Diva, Emily speaks to "bouncing baby boomers facing their second adulthood" and often facing the fight of their lives in the form of cancer.

Well Again is lucky enough to bring you a column from Emily Jones twice a month until she gets tired of us, which I hope will be never.

Emily's Well Again column debuts tomorrow.  Read, enjoy, share, and congratulate Emily on kicking cancer to the curb!


Social Media for Cancer Voyagers

Hey my people, Having a great exchange with Lynn, a new friend on our Well Again page on Facebook. She wants to send pix of her crocuses but she's not sure how to post. Anybody relate???? While the digital world was taking quantum leaps forward, a lot of us  were having cancer treatments that temporarily took up all our mental storage. So now here we are, and it feels like the world is just galloping ahead and how will we catch up? 

What if it's a matter of openness and generosity? We already know that isolation is one of the most painful things about cancer. We already know that the online world is an awesome tool to bring us together. Doesn't it seem like we could figure out a way to help each other master the online basics, so we could reach out and connect?

Anybody care to post on my Well Again wall and tell Lynn in three steps how to post a picture of her crocuses?  


Friends Help Friends Thrive

Hey my people, my friend Lisa Gates, a life coach with mad social media skills and a heart of 28-carat gold, took time today from running her own site, The Daily Thrive, to help me with Well Again. Check out Lisa's site and you'll see her generous spirit all over the place. It's this cool team of experts in various fields who are helping women learn more about balance, money, tech, organization, and…the toughest for most of us…negotiation. Lisa, thanks again!

The Magic of February 29

So today has been a gift of survivorship. We've enjoyed this rare leap-year phenomenon, February 29. Some of us had chemo today. Some of us got that first cold-water diagnosis. Some of us got—I love this expression—a clean bill of health! Some of us played with our kids; others, our dogs. A lot of us worried about various fixes we found ourselves in, which is another way of saying that today we were alive. Hope this was one of your good days, wherever you are.