Friday, July 22, 2011

Jen Goodman Linn: You Were Fearless

From Jen's Blog

Two years ago, a client was referred to me. When I received her information forms, my heart sunk. The paperwork described a woman, in her thirties, who had been diagnosed with Sarcoma, a rare cancer, in 2003. She had already endured 26 months of chemo and 4 abdominal surgeries. The next day, in my waiting room, was this adorable, bubbly girl with a wide smile and beautiful white teeth. When we started to talk, she was very pragmatic. She was cancer free but wanted to put herself in the best place nutritionally in the event that the cancer came back (and she said it just like that). We devised a plan and, not one to waste precious time, she immediately implemented everything we outlined. This client's name is Jen but I no longer think of her as my client. I think of her as my friend, my teacher and my hero who I will miss so very much. Jen passed away on Wednesday and her funeral is today. 
"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it is the life in your years."-Abe Lincoln

The quote above appeared on Jen’s Facebook page where people have been sending their wishes and sharing their sadness. Jen wasn't one to stay sad though; she knew how to live. She and her husband Dave started Cycle for Survival and it’s the most successful patient initiated charity Memorial Sloan Kettering has ever had raising over nine million dollars to for rare cancers. I remember sitting with Jen, in November, she was at Sloan getting a blood transfusion and fairly weak. Never one to let an opportunity slip away Jen was signing nurses up for Cycle. Marc and I were honored to experience  Cycle this spring on Team Fearless, Jen’s team. And in all the times I have seen Jen since that first office visit, that smile never faded.

I don’t have wit in me right now but tried to capture some Jen lessons:
Rejoice in what your body can do. 
The second Jen was cleared by doctors she was at the gym trying to regain her strength. Oh and did I mention she asked for a stationary bike in her hospital room? She started Cycle, in part, because spinning was what kept her sane though her treatments and illness. I wrote about Jen before I ran Chicago this year. I was anxious about the race (the weather was much like today) and received this email from Jen:
I am so excited for your marathon next week. If you get tired running just think of the fact that many of us take for granted what a privilege it is to be able to run. With my stomach cramps and tumors, I haven't been able to truly run in years. I miss it so, so much. So enjoy all 26.2 miles because you can! I will be cheering for you from afar.
I will run this morning before the funeral Jen, because I can, and I'll think of you; I’ll play Chumbawamba too.

Know when to see the trees instead of the forest.
Jen endured a roller coaster life of progress and setbacks. When she received news that wasn’t good, she wanted a plan. When the plan for the new treatment was in place, Jen would focus on the steps involved or the treatments. She was like a quarterback who could hone in on the play without getting distracted by all that was happening around them. I think this helped her live fearlessly.  So when you are daunted, sit back and make a game plan. Anytime you feel shaky just refer to the plan. There is something very Zen about this.

Vanity is Good
Jen often joked, “I can be bald or fat but not both” and wrote a great WebMD piece about this. I had found it hard to figure out how clients battling things way more important than weight cared about their weight. Jen’s doctor explained it “being vain is a GREAT thing. It shows that you have a true desire and willingness to live." There is something about our hair and our weight that is integral to who we are. It isn’t shallow to cling to these things when tested. It shows you are hanging on.

Tell People What You Need (or Don’t Need)
Jen was her own advocate. I heard from Jen regularly and at one point didn’t get a reply. I panicked. I  sent Jen an email “everything OK?” I made a mistake and said “I’m worried.”  Jen emailed back all right. She said, “please don’t say you’re worried. It makes me anxious.” While I was daunted at first, I learned a lot about communicating with people when they are ill from Jen.  I made another mistake on July 11th.  Jen’s doctors had some concerns about her blood work and we were emailing about what she should eat. I offered to drop off some things after work. Only, it got late and I didn’t think I should bother her. Jen sent an email I got in the morning “I didn’t know if you were coming, no package was left.” She called me on it and that was my last email from her. I'm sorry Jen, what I would do now for one more conversation, to see that smile one last time.

 Jen turned 40 this past March. She was the happiest person in the worth to turn 40. It was a gift and she did a “dance” video in her own honor. This makes me smile; please watch it to see Jen in action.

In Jen’s words:
“We all have a choice in how we want to live our lives … I have chosen to be Me Fearless. I have applied this approach to every aspect of my life and, in the process, I’ve discovered that amazing things present themselves. My mission now is to encourage those around me to apply that philosophy to their lives and relish in the results. You can become You Fearless.”
Let’s all try, in Jen's honor. 
Jen chronicled her journey on her site


  1. read and am holding on to every word you (and Jen) have said....these are truly words to live by, stand by, love by....I "met" Jen in the blogosphere through you and, although I didn't formally meet her in person, I followed her blog devoutly and feel like I became good friends with her.... Thank you for introducing us and may her never-ending spirit and intense determination live on in all of us, not just when we're struggling, but in every single day of our lives, every breath, every single step!

  2. Shari, that's the hard part. How does one have that spirit apart for the ultimate test? Can you live fearlessly by choice or is it that Jen was just so, so special? I really thought she would keep on fighting this, forever.

  3. That was a very cute video. You could tell she had such an indomitable spirit.

    Those are all wonderful life lessons. As we discussed earlier this week, I completely agree that vanity is good when patients are battling something life-threatening. It strengthens their will to fight their disease.

  4. Very touching post, Lauren. Based on what you wrote, I think this is exactly what she would have wanted to read.

  5. So, so sad, but beautifully written. Have been reading her blog all morning - what an incredible/inspirational woman. Good luck today :(

  6. This is an incredible dedication and you have left me in tears. Jen sounds a lot like my mom, who has been a fighter since 2002. Every year getsa little harder but she keeps moving forward, positive attitude and all.

    Jen sounds like an AMAZING woman, truly an inspiration to us all.

  7. Jen sounds amazing and I'm so sorry for your loss. Would love to do the next Cycle for Survival, in honor of her legacy.

  8. Like Shari, I knew of Jen through you, Lauren, and her blog. I started reading her blog soon after cancer took my dad. I read Jen's blog because of her positive outlook, thoughtful opinions and her hopeful nature. It seemed like she could beat the cancer through sheer willpower. So sad, but so inspirational. I'll be thinking of you and Jen today.

  9. Sam, the irony that I returned to my office later that afternoon to the news of Jen's passing. Andy thank you. Carolyn, I keep going back to her words too, I have reread so much. Justine- done, maybe we can set up a team. Marie, I'm glad you "knew" Jen. I too felt she would keep on fighting. She left no stone unturned.

  10. What a beautiful tribute, Lauren. You are a wonderful friend.


  11. This was a beautiful post Lauren. Please do not focus on that last email exchange, it in no way defines your relationship. You were always thinking of her and on your toes to help in whatever capacity you could. I remember one of the first times I met you you handed me a bunch of cards to spread the word to vote for Jen as for the Enegizer Bunny Keep Going Contest. You were always forwarding her blog posts in amazement and I know you will continue to do so. You aren't the friend that didn't leave a package, you're the friend that discovered and sent FEARLESS CHOCOLATE! You are both very lucky to have known eachother, and I know how hard it is going to be to adjust to this new way of thinking about her.

  12. This post stirs up so much emotion... So much awe and inspiration yet so much heartache. I have dealt so much with cancer indirectly through my mom with primary amyloidosis and my good friend who is dealing with AML right now. In fact I just wrote about them on a recent blog post because they've had such an impact on my life.
    They also taught me so much about how to communicate with someone that is ill. My mom never liked to be called a hero or for people to say "you are so strong." She just wanted to be back to normal, to live life... So I am sensitive now to how I word things because of her.
    Thanks for posting Jen's amazing story Lauren!!

  13. There are no words, Lauren, but I will try. This post struck me on so many levels and I sit here feeling raw emotion and sadness for a woman and a family I will never know. Today I am thinking of you and everyone who knew this wonderful, inspiring woman. Thank you for introducing me to this brave and beautiful soul. xoxo

  14. She was brave, beautiful and bold and touched so many people. I think she's going to touch many, many more.

  15. This is a lovely post and full of wisdom. Thank you.

  16. Lauren,
    What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful person. I am so sorry for your loss. She will always be remembered for the beautiful person that she was. She will be remembered.

  17. This hits close to home for me since you know that my mom is battling cancer as well. I'm so sorry this had to happen, especially to someone as young and beautiful as Jen.

    I'm thinking of you Lauren...

  18. wow what a moving post and amazing woman we can all learn from those lessons, thanks for sharing Lauren

  19. this was beautiful, Lauren. so many of us take our health for granted -- she seemed to shine no matter how she was feeling. we can all learn from her attitude and actions and strength.

  20. Beautiful post Lauren and Jen sounds like an amazing person. I'm so sorry for your loss. I can't help but smile, though, at her incredible dance video, and thanks for the reminder to be fearless!

  21. this is truelly an amazing inspirational post. i got chills reading it.....thank you for sharing jen with us. her story is a lesson for all.

  22. What a beautiful tribute to a beautifully inspiring woman!

  23. Lauren -- thanks for making me smile while remembering Jen. I can't believe she is gone but know she is a part of me forever, as she is a part of you.