Back in September 2010, we held a literary auction to help our friend Jennifer Derilo beat Hodgkins Lymphoma (and pay some of her bills as an uninsured cancer patient). Thanks to your support, we raised $5,870.18.
I’ve been remiss in not providing you with an update on Jennifer’s health. Many of you have wondered how she is doing, and understandably, been hesitant to ask. I talked to Jennifer about the conundrum, and she decided that she wanted to provide you with an update herself, in her own words, as well as her thoughts on the literary auction.
So here’s Jennifer…
“People love you.”
This was the first line of the very first email Christine sent to me once the literary auction ball was rolling–in particular, when one of our favorite mentors at Mills, Justin Chin, agreed to participate. He was just one of a handful of writers to immediately reply to Christine, “Yes, I want to help Jennifer.”
And then I started to cry.
I made it, dear friends. I’m alive. It has been a little over a year since I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s (April 27, 2010) and almost a year since the outpouring of help, concern, and empathy I was lucky enough to receive not only from our mutual friends but from Christine’s dazzling personal network of friends, colleagues, and peers.
I admit that I cried often from these gestures of love and hope and care, especially from people whom I never met. And I don’t know how to express the depth of my gratitude, how much weight these words would impress on a printed page, how much longer these sentences would run, possibly to infinity if we had that kind of time.
I finished chemo treatments on January 13, 2011. I would’ve finished in December 2010, but I was hospitalized for pneumonia in November and had to delay chemo. It sucked, but I lived through that, too. In the end, I completed six cycles (twelve infusions) of ABVD, the standard Hodge cocktail. And I didn’t need radiation. Victory!
I was declared in remission again on February 3, 2011, which I now consider my Rebirthday. The first time I was in remission was August 2010, after only two cycles (four infusions) of chemo. To be cautious, my oncologist wanted me to continue treatments.
So here I am on my second Cancer Victory Tour in Midwest City, Oklahoma with my dad and his side of the family. For my first Cancer Victory Tour, I was in New York City for three unparalleled and overdue weeks. I took a quick hiatus from NYC and popped over into D.C. when my First Cancerversary (April 27) rolled around. I’ve already celebrated my Rebirthday four times this year, and I don’t intend to stop.
I want you to know, too, that the auction saved me in so many ways. I could not stay on UCSD’s charity care, so the funds paid my hefty share-of-cost for emergency medical coverage–not health insurance–for six months. I saw an acupuncturist regularly during treatments to alleviate nausea, pain, fatigue, and toxicity from chemo. (I’ve recommended this to every cancer patient I’ve met. It made such a difference!)
The funds also helped cover incidentals, such as vitamin supplements, organic food, personal medical aids, and self-care products. I even treated myself once in a while–ice cream, a nice meal out or movie (when my white blood cell count was up), a massage, chemo-hair upkeep (most of my hair stayed…it was just thinner.)
Most important–and this is where I still get weepy–the donations gave me some of my sanity back, as well as respite, dignity, comfort, hope.
To be nakedly honest, it was hard to accept that I deserved such grace, compassion, and generosity. On one hand, and I know how wrong it was to feel like this, I blamed myself for getting cancer; I believed I deserved it because I was irresponsible. I got myself laid off/fired, and I opted out of Cobra, which, ironically, was less expensive than this not-really-health-insurance coverage I have now. Also, maybe I deserved it because I was actually not a good person.
But the auction, the energy around it, and the people involved proved something else to me: no one deserves to be sick like I was (like so many people are these days), and certainly, no one deserves to be abandoned in this context, to be told that one’s cancer was not bad enough to receive emergency federally-funded health insurance. No one should feel like dying in order to be worth saving.
According to statistics, there was never any doubt that I wouldn’t survive. There was a regimen, a go-to list of side effects and meds, scientific evidence. These are the undisputed facts of surviving my cancer, my dysfunctional relationship with The Hodge.
But my doctors never told me about you. They couldn’t have dreamed of such a constellation of support for a patient like me, the dreadful triple threat–uninsured, unemployed, and poor. They didn’t know that besides the cytotoxins “curing” (ravaging) my body, I had friends, friends of friends, and strangers rooting for my survival, psychically making it happen.
Actually, until Christine approached me about this fundraiser, neither did I.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart, the entirety of my cancer-free body. I love you, people.
And there you have it. A happy update from Jennifer.
Jennifer would like to hear from you–so if you’d like to get in touch with her, please leave a comment below. I’ll forward all comments to her.
(for the record, Jennifer’s in the picture above–she’s the one in the running shoes).
Jennifer below: on her last day of chemo with her…chemo, and her fambam in San Diego…