Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I'll be bald or fat but not both

If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound of her laughter.  An infectious laughter that was sure to be accompanied by her huge smile.

I first met Jen my freshman year of college.  We were taking a break from an endless game of quarters at the Sigma Chi dorm and were sitting on large bench outside, enjoying the warmth provided by the Indian summer in North Carolina.  We talked for several hours...about everything from college classes to roommates to boys.  And just like that, we became friends.

Almost as quickly, it seemed, college was over and I was living back in Portland, Oregon.  This was before the days of my myspace or facebook or even email (yes, I remember life before email) so it was much harder to keep in touch with everyone after graduation.  Over the ensuing years, all my friends were going to graduate school or being promoted or getting married and having babies.  In early 2003, I remember hearing the news that Jen had recently married a wonderful guy named Dave Linn and was living in New York City.  Unfortunately, the next news I heard about Jen was almost a year later when I found out she had been diagnosed with a rare and often fatal form of cancer called sarcoma.

Jennifer Goodman Linn
As you might expect, this story doesn't have a happy ending.  Jen passed away in July of 2011 at the age of 40.  But the real story here is what Jen did after receiving her diagnosis in December of 2003, one short year after she and her husband had gotten married and were beginning their lives together.

Over the ensuing years, Jen fought her cancer.  And she fought it hard.  She endured at least eight rounds of chemotherapy to shrink the tumors and six surgeries to have them removed.  But the cancer kept returning.

"I'll be bald or fat but not both." Jen so famously said this to her doctors after her first surgery when she asked to have a stationary bike brought into her room at the hospital and was about to begin chemo treatments that would lead to her losing her hair.

Always thinking of others, Jen wanted to give something back to the doctors at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center who had helped her through her initial treatment.  As someone who loved spin classes, Jen and her husband set up a fundraiser at their local Equinox gym with a goal of raising $10,000 for rare cancer research.  They raised $250,000 that first year.  Jen's charity was officially founded in 2007 as Cycle for Survival and since that time, it has raised over $25.1 million for rare cancer research (with 100% of funds going directly to research).

Cycle for Survival has expanded from the single Equinox gym in NYC where Jen first hosted the event to 10 cities nationwide on 5 different days and 13,000 riders.  I was honored to be part of a team last February in NYC with three other women who were also Jen's friends from college.  It was the first year of the event since Jen's passing and it was both an emotional time and a time for us to celebrate Jen.

Jen riding in Cycle for Survival
riding in memory of Jen (February 2012)
There isn't enough time or space for me to write about all of Jen's accomplishments...her appearances on the Today show or her interviews with the Wall Street Journal and New York Times or the awards she won or the thousands of people she inspired with her life.  For anyone interested, you can learn all about Jen's life and legacy from her You Fearless website.

Or, if you'd like to be entertained, you might want to watch this video of Jen celebrating and dancing on her 40th birthday -- a birthday that so many women dread.

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Jen believed anything was possible if you lived a life without fear.  "What I once viewed as obstacles, I now see as opportunities."  Imagine what we could do if we lived life with this perspective.

Jen has been on my mind lately as Cycle for Survival events are taking place all over the country this month.  I've been thinking about Jen and trying to identify what I am afraid of in my life.  How I can live my best life and how I can be fearless.

What are you afraid of? 

- Kristen

20 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this story and sharing your Jen with us! Lets squash fear!

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    1. I can't imagine what the world would be like if we weren't afraid of anything. :)

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  2. Wow, Kristen. Jen's story is so beautiful, so inspiring. She truly *got it*! Letting go of fear most certainly leads to a much happier life, and that's always me goal :) Thank you for sharing Jen's story!

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    1. Pretty amazing what one person can do, that's for sure!

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  3. Wow! What an incredible woman! $25.1 million for rare cancer research. Unbelievable. I should see if there is an event in my area -- I'd love to participate.

    And the fear question -- I'll get back to you on that. :)

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    1. Yeah, $25.1 million. Unbelievable, huh?! You would love it -- it is the most fun I've ever had at a charity event.

      I think I need to answer the fear question for myself, too...

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  4. What an inspiring woman!

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    1. Kinda makes you want to go do something big!!

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  5. That was an incredible story about your friend. I haven't even heard of Cycle for Survival. I will see if there is one taking place around here.

    I remember a time when we had to write letters to my friends way before email.

    I'm afraid of two things right now...1.) I will finally get to my marathon week and I will be injured (backstory: been injured alot with non running injuries). 2.) I will not have a steady income when I make my big move.

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    1. I hope you stay healthy and the employment gods send a good job your way! And glad to hear I'm not the only one who remembers writing letters to friends. :)

      If you find a Cycle for Survival event in your area, you definitely should consider doing it. It was so much fun and supports a great cause!

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  6. That made me cry, what a legend. It is amazing that in the face of mortality she did more for the world then anyone I know has done in good health!

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    1. I know -- amazing!! I love that her story and life lives on through her legacy. :)

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  7. Kristen, this is such a powerful, inspiring, beautiful post. I had goosebumps the whole time and you and Amanda both inspired my change in attitude and my post for today. Thank you! Thank you! For sharing your friend and her amazing purpose in life. One that is still being fulfilled.

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    1. Ahh, Tayarra, I am happy to have inspired you after the many times you have inspired me! Loved your post, too, and can relate 100% to not always keeping the blessings in my life in perspective.

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  8. What an amazing woman! That photo of Jen on the spin bike just radiates energy. Thank you for sharing her story!

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    1. Thanks for the comment, Stephanie! Yes, she was FULL of energy to the very end!! :)

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  9. Ah, so glad I got here tonight Kristen. What an inspiration Jen is/was. What a fighter. A light. A messenger. Thank you for sharing her story.

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    1. Amanda, so glad you got here, too. She will always be an inspiration to me and to so many others.

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  10. I'm sorry I got to this post so late. Living without fear - that is HUGE. If she could do it, why I am so scared? Really amazing, really impressive. And really inspirational - what a woman Jen was! I love that photo of her on her spin bike - it's happiness and love bursting out of her!

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    1. Petra, you are so right about that picture of Jen -- happiness and love! She really loved life and appreciated every minute. Such a good lesson for us all to learn!

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