This morning I'm running my most recent column for The River Journal in hopes of encouraging some more interest in tomorrow's Celebrate Life event on Sandpoint's Long Bridge. The column speaks for itself, especially through the words of my dear friend and former student Jenny Meyer. Jenny also maintains her own very inspiring blog five days weekly. You can read her thoughts at (http://www.mangymooseacres.blogspot.com/)
Celebrate Life Run/Walk, Saturday, Aug. 11
by Marianne Love
for The River Journal
Just weeks after learning she was pregnant with her first child, Jenny Meyer was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer. That was seven years ago. Since then, Jenny has moved forward with a life dominated cancer but fulfilled by the joys of motherhood. She, her husband Jeff and daughter Grace live on a farm near Elmira. Grace will enter first grade this fall. Thanks to a recently-awarded $2,000 grant award, a documentary film featuring Jenny’s life with cancer and produced by her Sandpoint High classmate Jeff Bock, will receive its final production polish. In the past year, “Jenny’s Journal” has already shown at film festivals throughout the West and Canada and at special gatherings of cancer survivors.
Four years ago, Jenny’s sister Julie Walkington, a registered nurse at Bonner General Hospital (BGH), initiated an annual event called Celebrate Life. Its dual purpose is to raise money to assist local cancer patients with personal needs and to celebrate the lives of loved ones lost to cancer and those living with cancer.
Julie couldn’t be happier with the event’s success. More than $42,000 raised from the first three events, the 2007 Celebrate Life Walk/Run across the Lake Pend Oreille’s pedestrian bridge from Dog Beach Aug. 11, beginning at 9 a.m., promises to add to the coffers.
While preparing for this month’s column about Celebrate Life, I posed some questions to Jenny whose responses eloquently exemplify the spirit of the event.
What role will you and Grace be taking in this year’s event? The same as usual. We're kind of behind the scenes...visiting and just providing moral support. Every year, I think I am going to walk it, but then decide to stay put. It is neat watching everyone cross the finish line because it means so many different things for people. Last year was intensely emotional because it was the same week as Heather’s (Gibson’s) passing. There were a lot of the same faces at her service later that evening. In fact, one person was wearing the event shirt!
What observations do you have about your little sister taking on this project? It means so many different things to people. They like the simplicity of the event. As long as we stay true to that, it will be a success. It’s a morning where we really do celebrate what is important . . . whether your loved one is gone or still fighting, we can celebrate them. If we raise money, wonderful. However, I think it’s much more powerful than that. Julie understands this, and I’m so proud of her for putting it all togther. It has never been easy. I keep waiting for the year that she doesn't have “hiccups” along the way.
Julie says she runs just about everything past you as she plans. Can you describe those sessions in a bit more detail. It’s usually just a phone call. “What do you think of this? . . . .Will this be all right?” She’s incredibly hard on herself and her work, so I feel like I just need to give her the confidence that she’s going in the right direction. Rarely, if ever, have I asked her to change something. She’s very good at what she does and doesn’t really need my input. She’s pretty much got it dialed in now. We all have the roles we play, and she can pull off this event with only a handful of volunteers.
What are some uplifting tidbits about celebrating life you can share with new cancer patients, based on the experiences you've had in your six years as a survivor? Where do I start? My life would not be as fulfilling as it is now if cancer had never come to visit. While it’s extremely difficult and scary at times, the purpose it has given me is beyond powerful. I have a mission in life. While the “C” word is frightening when you first hear it, once you start fighting, things start becoming bearable. Every moment is precious, every day is another day of survival, another day of hope. If you can hang on to that and celebrate each moment, you’ll be okay. Yes, we all have a time to go, but that’s God’s will for us. Everyone dies. We just have this little warning to make the most of life while we’re here. I feel blessed because of that.
What have been the more meaningful celebrations of life for you? Taking Grace to her first day of kindergarten is right there on top. However, watching her graduate from kindergarten was incredibly emotional. Here, I had been fighting for 5 years to get her to her first day. Then I end up making it to her last day. It was a very special moment. Holidays and birthdays are very meaningful too. You always wonder when you’re wrapping presents, “Is this my last one, Lord? Will you take me this year?” When you get to come around to the next one, you’re extremely grateful.
Tell me what you've done or where you've appeared with the “Jenny’s Journal” video. Reactions? What do you want to see happen with the video? Let's see...we’ve shown it at Bonner General, to a breast cancer support group in Bonners Ferry, various friends and family, the nurses at North Idaho Cancer Center, the board of directors for the Komen Foundation in CDA, and that's all I can think of at the moment (in addition to the film festivals). Most of those showings were without me present, but I actually gave talks at Bonner General and with the breast cancer group. I felt like I made the biggest impact with my chemo nurses down at CDA. I had chemo after they saw it, and I kept getting stopped and hugged all day. It was pretty powerful to know that I had given these nurses a new perspective. It made me feel like the film really has a purpose and direction. I’d love to see it go down that road, as a tool for medical professionals and for patients going through cancer.
What’s happening with your treatments and how are you feeling? I feel pretty good despite what’s going on with my body. The cancer has spread significantly in my liver, which has been frustrating. It’s been a tough year in that regard. However, we’re holding on and hoping for something new on the horizon. Right now, I'm doing weekly treatments and have very few side effects. It’s a drug that we’ve used before. It’s been effective in the past before my body got used to it. When you live long enough to try it again, that’s a great thing!!!
How does farm life help you with day-to-day challenges? I think living on a farm has a lot to do with my sustained life. Every day I HAVE to get up and take care of the animals. I have to keep the place up. I don’t have time to sit around and stare out the window. Things need to be done around here. That plays a huge part in my therapy. There is something very peaceful about country living. It’s hard work, but it's so rewarding. This just spills over into other aspects of your life and in my case, my battle against cancer.
What gets you down? When I let the doubt and fear creep in, I can find myself thinking about how soon it could all end. It’s been an amazing ride, but I’m not ready to be done yet. There are days, however, that you wonder if you’ll make it to the end of the next month. If you stop and look at all the numbers, statistics, and odds, I don’t have much time left. That gets me down. I make the choice not to think about it and think about what I need to do to enjoy the day. Those moments in darkness are brief, but they do exist.
What lifts you up? Powerful moments come and lift me up when I’ve been looking forward to a date and then it comes and goes. I find myself complaining about it going by so fast. I love that. It brings me so much joy to make it to something that I've been looking forward to doing.
How have you been able to help other cancer patients? What’s your advice to someone newly diagnosed? I would hope that I give them hope by just being here. It’s so strange to them to hear me talk about my chemo. In the beginning, people are given a number of treatments so they constantly ask me how much I have left. When I respond, “I’ve been doing chemo for 7 years consistently with only a year-long break,” they’re not sure how to respond. I want to live by example, not by words. It’s much more powerful that way. Old Waldo says, “Who you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you are saying.” If I live by my faith and hope, I will send a stronger message. My advice to someone who is newly diagnosed is always, feel what you want to feel. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should feel. The emotions you experience are your own . . . you can be scared, mad, frightened. Nobody knows what you’re going through, so process it how you want to . . . then make the choice to fight it with all you have within!
How is the money for the Celebrate Life run distributed? Who administers the funds, and how is it decided who gets help? What I love about the Celebrate Life fund is that there are no forms to fill out, no income specifications, no standards to meet. When you go in to the clinic, you always chat with your nurses. They can tell what kind of day you’re having and if they think you need a pick-me-up, they can hand you over a coffee card. Or maybe you need help with groceries during the week. Maybe you’re expecting company, but don’t have the energy to clean your house. They can get you someone to do that. The fund has now helped out Hospice as well. The nurses have a fund to bring flowers or buy cards or gifts to help make someone’s day. I believe that there are larger gifts given in certain circumstances, but mostly it’s about making the battle a bit easier with a small gift of encouragement. Little things like that help a cancer patient see past the pain and make it through another day.
If you are unable to participate in tomorrow’s walk and would like to contribute to the Celebrate Life Fund, you can send checks to Celebrate Life, PO Box 420, Ponderay, ID 83852, or drop them off at Meyer’s Sport Tees in the Ponderay’s Bonner Mall. Your donations will be appreciated.