A Letter: Jennifer, on the Literary Auction and her Progress

Nice sidewalk graffiti message

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…


Filed under Literary Auction

20 responses to “A Letter: Jennifer, on the Literary Auction and her Progress

  1. Lac

    People still love you. I still love you.

    Love. Live. Laugh.


    • Jennifer

      Aw, Lac! I love you and won’t ever stop thanking you. I still wanna have tea and scones with you. It’s the least I can do. xo

  2. This is beyond-awesome, fabulous, glorious news. Jennifer, I am so happy for you!

    • Jennifer

      Thank you so much, Heather! I truly believe I couldn’t have thrived during half of this “journey” without all of you. I hope to meet you some day. xo

  3. Andrew W

    Hooray for Jennifer. Lindsay and I can’t wait to hug you in person one day.

    • Jennifer

      Thank you thank you thank you, Andrew! You were the first person I talked to about The Big Mess, the first person with whom I could relate. I will make it over to the east coast again sometime and get those hugs. 🙂

  4. koreanish

    It was my pleasure to help, and I couldn’t be happier to see this. And I hope your friends find the same strength and support as you did.


  5. Jennifer

    Alex dearest, you are incredible. I still want to thank you personally. I wish our paths were more in sync when last I was in NYC. Your strength was my strength. xoxo

  6. amapofhome

    Lots of congratulations to you Jennifer. And happy rebirthday, in case you are having another one soon 🙂

    • Although this is quite belated, thank you, Randa, for the well wishing! I am, in fact, hoping to celebrate another rebirthday. I want one for every cycle of chemo I had to endure. I guess there’s two more of six. Haha. Much love to you. xo

  7. Jennifer, thank you so much for the update. It was wonderful to receive. I was thrilled to take part in the auction and am proud to add my name to your long list of fans.

    • Thea! Thank you thank you! I think your auction prize was one of The Best. I wish I knew how it went. 🙂 I’m honored to have you in my corner. Sending you love & light. xo

  8. Nate

    No, thank YOU for all of the intimate details! It’s good to know that we could provide you some measure of comfort during such an awful time.

    • Thank YOU, Nate, for the support again and for sharing that story about the beekeeping equipment. That was LOVELY to read, especially since I fell in love with Pushing Daisies during my treatments. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but the ingenue is a passionate beekeeper. 🙂 xo xo

  9. Jennifer,

    Thank you for such a beautifully written update. And how silly to blame yourself! No one deserves cancer, or chemo. I’m just so glad you’re in remission. That’s wonderful news. And thank you to Christine for introducing us to you, and for posting this update!

    • I know this is a little late, Meghan, for which I’m terribly sorry. The Gmail inbox gets flooded fast! Thank you so much for the support. If anything, I’m glad that Christine and The Hodge connected us. 🙂 Love & light to you.

  10. As a fellow lymphoma survivor, I cried when I read this. And then, as a woman who has always been the caretaker I smiled when I read about the difficulties of accepting help. It is so easy to give and so damn hard to receive. And so damn hard to let go of the inner critic who shouts we are undeserving of such outpourings of love. And yet we would give it to another without a second’s thought. Humility was a lesson learned and cherished.

    • Lisa,

      We lymphoma survivors gotta unite! Thank you for hearing my story and relating on a more intimate level. Your comment spoke to me so deeply. If you’re interested in joining, there’s an amazing new site that connects survivors, fighters, and supporters: ihadcancer.com. I’ve also joined up with & contribute to another equally amazing foundation called the mAsskickers: http://masskickersfoundation.blogspot.com/ 🙂

      Sending you more love. xo

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