A note from Jennifer’s oncologist, Dr. Andrea Wang-Gillam
I want to share a few words with you about Jennifer, who I and my nurses had the privilege to take care of over the past few years. Jennifer was young when she was diagnosed with rectal cancer and she underwent curative resection in Atlanta. She came to see me after she relocated to St. Louis. She was having neuropathy at that time, and unfortunately we found that her tumor had recurred. I had to mentally prepare myself to inform her of the bad news; this is the hardest part of my job. To my surprise, she was very calm about the news. Jennifer was very rational in her response about the next steps, as if she simply refused to let cancer take over her emotionally. She never seemed to be scared or even worried about the “C” word. She had been fighting cancer without a fuss. I have taken care of many cancer patients, and I constantly have been inspired by the strength and courage patients have. Among all of my patients, Jennifer was very special in many ways. Whenever she came for chemotherapy treatment, she brought a sense of fashion and dignity. She dressed trendy, carrying the cutest purse. She always wore light make up, like she was going to the kids’ school function. I have to say how a person carries herself during a difficult time truly reflects how he or she views and lives life. Jennifer loved her family. Over the years, we chatted about life and family. I got to know that she had two lovely children, and she told me about homeschooling them during one of her clinic visits. I asked her, “how do you that?” what I really meant to ask was “where do you even get the energy to do this?” Please bear in mind, she had been on chemotherapy almost constantly for the last 4-5 years. I have three children, so I know what is like to take care of them all day. Jennifer made the concept of homeschooling sound effortless, but in my heart, I knew her love for her children just trumped the pain she endured. Jennifer had the best attitude you can have for fighting cancer. She did not complain. I frequently joked with her. I would say, ”If all my patients were like you, my clinic would go smoother, and the waiting time would be much shorter”. One time, I noticed that she was limping. She simply brushed off my concern, and told me that she may just need a little stronger pain medication. I felt that was her easy way of dealing with cancer, doing her best to make everybody around her comfortable with her diagnosis. She was petite but she was a giant when it came to handling the challenges in life. Jennifer inspired me to be a better doctor and a better person. She inspired me to do research to develop new drugs to cure cancer, and moreover, to find out what was causing her to develop cancer at such young age. Jennifer has endured so much physical pain and emotional drains during her journey of fighting cancer. Today, you are at her celebration. We know she is with her mother, at a much better place.
Siteman Cancer Center