Monday, January 4, 2010

With heavy heart....

r.i.p. jenn g xoxo

Starting a nonprofit comes with a lot of worry- you worry if your mission & services are needed enough to warrant your work, you worry if you can raise the funds you need, you worry if you can pull it off at all. For me, there was an additional concern when starting BRICKS for Young Adults- could I handle working with people with cancer, after just losing my husband to the same disease?, could I handle it if any of them died?

Sadly, today I had to face that very question. I was taking my lunch break at work and checked my email, only to find a message from one of the contributors to the booklet Im working on, John. His girlfriend Jenn, a young adult cancer patient and fellow booklet contributor, had passed away. I was filled with more grief than I could have imagined, given the fact that she and I had only ever exchanged emails. I was angry that Id never had the chance to spend time with her in person, and that I had been lazy about replying to the awesome email she sent me last week. John & Jenn supported what I was doing- they wrote amazing stories for the booklet, John came to the blood drive, and earned a cupcake to take home to Jenn who wasnt feeling well enough to come out that day. We swapped emails over the last few months, and it was good to know they understood what I was going through AND what I was trying to accomplish.

Id like to repost here the last email she sent me. I think it says a lot about who Jenn is. And maybe, tomorrow, or the next day, I'll write back to her here. Its never really too late, is it? And maybe, just maybe, if we all read it together, the universe will make sure she hears it.

hey you
Jenn Gaugler December 29, 2009 at 9:59pm

i hope christmas brought at least as much (if not more) joy the sadness for the two of you. as john mentioned, we've been thinking of you a lot.

I read your guest blog on "Everything Changes", which led me to the the author's (what i assumed to be edited) conversation with Rick. i almost fell over when i got to the line (and i paraphrase here) "Cancer is not a battle or a war for me. It's more of a second job." that's how i've felt since my date of diagnosis. i once had a batshit crazy psychiatrist suggest that i visualize and conquer my tumor. "it really works!" my response to her, through tears of hysterical laughter, was that if this method of self actualization actually worked, then how come she had yet to visualize and conquer her love for polyester. ten minutes later she told me i was a perfect candidate for shock therapy.

i've always felt funny telling people about my illness(es). they usually take the Susan G. Komen "battling this horrible disease" route. i've never been a fan of hyperbole, and i'm certainly no hero. i'm just a girl who won the cancer lottery. so i go to "work", i worship at the altar of science, and i hope to god my surgeon got enough sleep the night before he is to cut me open. if one was able to wage war on cancer, you and i wouldn't be having this discussion.

and now for something completely different:

i would be honored to help you in any way i can getting the booklet together, though i am a bit reticent in offering my services. i am due for surgery soon (stupid blood clot has delayed it). my understanding is that the recovery time is rather short, but other factors are at play...i am very weak (i know i don't need to tell you this) and there are days that i consider walking the five steps to the kitchen a huge success. that being said, i really, really want to help. perhaps when can come up with a way to work around these things. it would mean a lot to me to have the opportunity to be involved in this project, if only to make up for that incredibly cynical piece i wrote for you. :)

anyway, i must now continue my search for a primary care physician who actually handles more than bronchitis. know of any good ones?

thinking of you,


Im thinking of you too, Jenn. Im thinking of you too.


  1. What a beautiful email! Thank you for sharing it with all of us Charissa. I'm so so so sorry to hear about Jenn's passing. It's just not fair.

    That first cancer death after the one that meant everything to you is almost as tough as the first one. My good friend's dad was battling lymphoma the same time Jason was, and I was so hopeful that he would beat it when Jason didn't. 4 months to the day, that hope was lost. It's just awful.

    Mourn her, but use your grief like you did with Rick and channel it into continuing your amazing work. I didn't know Jenn at all, but based on this one email, she sounds like the kind of girl who would say - come on, get over it and keep on working! I'm not going to say get over it, because I know better...but for the others still out there, use this to ignite your passion even more than it already is.

    Big hugs!

  2. JENNIFER GAUGLER-BENJAMIN Share E-mail Visit Guest Book
    Age 34, of Lawrenceville, formerly of Bethel Park, passed away on January 4, 2010. Daughter of Sandy and Dick Benjamin, soul-mate of John Ellisf, sister of Allyson Speizer, Kathy Dowins, Teresa Fox and Michael Benjamin. Also survived by numerous aunts, uncles and cousins. Friends will be received on Wednesday 1/6 from 12 to 9 pm at PAUL L. HENNEY MEMORIAL CHAPEL, 5570 Library Rd. Bethel Park, where services will be held at 11 am on Thursday 1/7. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made in her name to the American Cancer Society , 320 Bilmar Dr. Pittsburgh, PA 15205.
    Send condolences at