I have a childhood friend who endured stage IV lung cancer. Well, endured is not the right word. She was young and healthy. She took care of her body and was physically active. And now she’s gone.
Jenny was diagnosed with cancer in March 2015 after experiencing ongoing back pain after a car accident. It was surreal. Cancer? How the hell does she have lung cancer?
She said, “I’m going to beat it.”
Listen, I believed her. I’ve known Jenny since she was eight years old. She was a good student and certified “tough” through early-life experiences. Her challenges in life motivated her to be a loving mother and a healthy athlete. I was confident that her health would improve, mostly out of naïveté. I didn’t know anything about lung cancer outcomes.
So, in the face of a horrible diagnosis, Jenny did what she’s done since 1974: she doubled down on life. She exercised, ate healthy foods, went through chemo, spent time with her family, and continued working at her job.
But then her chemo failed. The tumors grew. When she could no longer run, she walked. When she couldn’t take walks, she still communicated with friends and family in very thoughtful ways. She always asked about others while enduring the worst kind of pain.
I live 800 miles away, and I have such a small window into her world, but I know that Jenny fought hard for eleven months. When the end came, it came with brutal and alarming swiftness. She passed away on Friday.
Here’s my deal: I was supposed to see Jenny before my “Hustle up the Hancock” race in Chicago, this Sunday. (It’s a charity competition that raises money to fight lung cancer. The irony is not lost on me.) When it was evident she wouldn’t make it to Sunday, I tried to see her sooner. It was too late, though. Cancer is cruel that way.
So, yes, I’m still running up the skyscraper. Now I am doing it Jenny’s memory instead of in her honor, which is heartbreaking for a million reasons. If you’re interested in donating, the link is here. There’s no pressure. I will also take your kind wishes and individual devotions for Jenny’s family.
I know that running up a building won’t cure cancer, but I also know firsthand that nobody deserves to suffer from lung disease. Mostly I’m hustling up the Hancock because Jennifer Stein has mattered to me since 1982, and I won’t ever forget her.