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bri on the brain

I need a favor here, folks.

I’m a pretty independent chick, ask anyone who knows me. It’s a fairly small circle of people that I allow myself to rely upon – that I allow myself to feel safe enough around when I’m vulnerable or in need. It is just my way. This was especially true during chemo. I made mention of how chemo kinda sucked and made a mess of my ski season and my food blogging but… I never talked about the other stuff like desperately holding back tears and an unexpected wave of shock when I left the hairdresser’s after getting my head shaved despite not caring about the hair itself. Or trying to get sick as quietly as possible in the middle of the night hour after hour, night after night so I wouldn’t wake Jeremy because he was exhausted from taking care of me and working 80+ hours a week on his own demanding job. Or feeling so hungry from not being able to digest solid food for 5 days that when I dared to nibble on soft bread it felt like razors going down my throat and racked my insides for hours. Or lying in so much pain at home alone that I couldn’t get up to take my meds and I actually cried to the dog to fetch the bottle (it didn’t work – she just kept pawing at me to be let up on the bed to snuggle).

But the worst was the mental and emotional isolation. Even though Jeremy tried to always be there for me, I could see he was giving more energy than he had. Did I mention that his sideburns have started to turn grey since I began chemo? Yeah, I’ve given my beautiful husband premature grey. I couldn’t bring myself to ask more of him, to ask him to talk to me about my fears, my sadness – only to stress him out and force him to pile more on his plate – because he would do that for me. So I let those thoughts fester in my mind for a long time, alone.

And one night while I sat around waiting to get sick after my fifth round, I read on Married with Dinner that Bri‘s cancer had come back – this time in her bones, in her lungs… I don’t know how dread affects you… I’ve experienced genuine dread a couple of times in my life and it’s a sucking feeling in my gut that quietly, but instantly empties my body of breath. I had, until then, kept fears of recurrence and doubt of my own treatment under wraps – stuffing it down into the furthest corners of my brain – for my own mental well-being. I try to avoid histrionics and self-induced hysteria because I’ve seen it in others and it’s really ugly, really destructive. I don’t live that way. But I sat in the dark, in disbelief, tears rolling off my face – for Bri, for myself, for the bullshit that is cancer and the ridiculous treatment that isn’t really a treatment but more like a blunt instrument where a precision tool is required. On Bri’s blog she said, “I’ve been to a couple doctors, and one of my greatest fears has been pretty well confirmed.”

I had asked my oncologist earlier what he would do if my cancer came back. He said it wouldn’t. I was persistent and when I asked if I would have to do the chemo again, my voice broke. His jolly demeanor saddened and he softly told me I wouldn’t do this chemo again, that there would be better treatments down the road. I thought it was a non-answer, but cancer treatment is a non-answer in my opinion. I went into round 6 with a positive smile and cake for my nurses. I joked with my dear oncologist and handed him a few thank you gifts: a photo of a lovely Colorado stream, some fishing flies, a book on cosmology that Jeremy had selected for him, and a card. In that card I told him I don’t fear death so much as not being able to live a quality life. Yes, I know Bri’s fear.

When my surgeon recently removed my port, I mentioned that I had felt a tiny lump in my left breast and I wasn’t sure what it was. As I spoke, I couldn’t keep that fear in check and it tumbled out into my words, into my tears. Luckily, the ultrasound was clean and I can get on with my radiation treatment and stop freaking myself out for a while. I know each person is different as is each case, but I can’t help but feel a pang in my heart when I think of Bri and it is not sympathy, but empathy.

Bri was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 28, two and a half years ago. I was diagnosed at 36 last year. [If I had been diagnosed at 28, the first thing I would have done was quit my PhD program and tell a certain faculty member where he could stick the dissertation and all of Northern Chile.] Bri had a full mastectomy of her right breast. For those who aren’t in the know, a full mastectomy means no more right boobie, understand? This is almost guaranteed to throw any woman for a loop. And you thought hairloss was a big deal for a chick… So after this crude and barbaric surgery (I’m sure my surgeon would disagree with this characterization, but then again, he doesn’t have boobies to lose) she underwent the suckiest chemo possible because she’s young and they always come *this close* to killing you when you’re “young and healthy”. She was theoretically clean for 2 years and now it’s back and the cancer is Stage IV. Again, for anyone who isn’t up on the cancer lingo, there is no Stage V – Stage IV is teh suck. Bri has begun a different form of chemo, but it is still chemo and it still blows. In addition to the conventional methods of treatment, Bri is also attempting other alternative forms of treatment which her insurance company won’t cover (big surprise!). I won’t open up a tirade on health care in this country right now because I’d like to finish this post before summer begins…

This all leads to why I went rattling on and on for several paragraphs. Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi and many other wonderful food bloggers decided to help raise money to aid in Bri’s medical costs. Jugalbandi has turned the monthly CLICK! event into a special fundraiser for Bri. The deadline for CLICK! is June 30, 2008. Part of the fundraiser is a raffle with prizes and I am contributing a matted photo to that bounty. You may recall from Menu for Hope that I offered this photo which had been featured on the NPR website:

the owl creek pass aspen stand

I’m offering this photo again because it goes so well with the yellow theme of CLICK! and LiveSTRONG. One raffle ticket costs $25 and this puppy will ship anywhere in the world. It is an original photo by yours truly at 12×18 inches matted to 18×24 inches with your choice (if you are the winner) of a black matboard with white core or white matboard with black core. I’ll plant my l’il ole siggy on it too. All materials are archival. Really, you should go and peruse all of the raffle prize offerings. You have until July 15, 2008 to bid.

Seriously though, I could care less if you bid on my photo or not. What I really want is for you to consider making a donation either by buying a raffle ticket or just donating outright for Bri (but if you’re going to donate $25, you may as well get the ticket unless we all agree that it’s Christine‘s turn to win the photo!). It’s obvious that I feel a connection to what Bri has gone through and is dealing with now. I want to help her. I guess I am hoping that we will all help her in some small way. Thanks for staying on the line this far.

42 nibbles at “bri on the brain”

  1. Jamie in Las Vegas says:


    Once again, great blogging here. Your openness and honestly is amazing.

    I just wrote a nice mention of your blog, and the fund raising efforts for Bri on my blog, Let’s Talk Wood. In fact, I put out an offer – I am going to donate the proceeds from the next one of my Sushi Dinnerware sets that sells this week on Etsy.

    If you’re not familiar with Etsy, you need to be! If you think the food blogging community is awesome, then Etsy is right up your alley. Here’s a link to my shop:

    Jamie in Vegas

    PS…feel better, Jen. We sure are sending you some good energy from Sin City

  2. barbara says:

    Jen I’ve never really talked about my chemo with anyone. I don’t think I could ever put it into words. When anyone asked I just said “It’s awful. no one should ever have to go through it”. You’ve have explained it perfectly. How interesting you oncologist is obviously a fisherman as mine was when I lived in NZ. He would go trout fishing on his days off. I now have this rather nice vision of oncologists standing in streams flicking their lines in and out of the water, a relief from the emotional sessions they have to spend with their patients every day.

  3. peabody says:

    My mom always said after chemo that she would not go through it again. But now that she is almost 7 years out when I ask her if she would go through it again, she says yes.
    What a wonderful post and so brave of you to open up about the side of cancer that people don’t always hear about.

  4. bijin says:

    i don’t know if it will help but read some of Dr. Robert Young’s book. Although I have no medical challenge my interest in health began when I had children who seem to always come down with colds, fever, somekind of infection, etc. inspite of what I thought was a healthy diet I giving them. to make long story short my journey took me to Dr. Young. check out his site especially testimonials of those who have cancer and healed. My children are healthy and if they ever get sick they know what foods to avoid.

    *link removed by jen who doesn’t feel like advertising bullshit quacks on her blog*

  5. Maya says:

    Jen , count me in. Good to read your blog. I was worried when you were rushed to the ER.

  6. bee says:

    jen, you have so much strength and grace – wish you more. thank you for your support and generosity. i wish i could bid for this, but i will be doing the draw myself, so i won’t.

  7. kat says:

    An incredibly powerful posting. thank you.

  8. Ann says:

    Thanks for sharing. My Mom died of cancer when I was 21, she got sick when I was 19. I took care of her while she was dying – and I think I died a little each day myself during the process. I don’t think I ever reclaimed those parts of myself. Cancer is devastating – for survivors, for those who are terminal, and for all the loved ones surrounding those who are victims of this terrible disease. What a heartbreaking post, but THANK YOU for writing it – for anyone who is touched by it cannot help but want to lend a hand to this cause. I am hopeful for Bri, and will be buying a raffle ticket.

    All the best,

  9. Shell says:

    I am going to redo my budget here, and will be donating to this special cause. You so touch me with your honest words.
    will keep you both in my thoughts.

  10. Elizabeth says:

    When I stumbled across Click for Bri yesterday I thought of you and wondered if you had seen it.
    I was going to write about people I have known with cancer and the costs etc… but attitude is everything when in comes to beating cancer and I only want to share that which would lift you up, or at least not bring you down. Worry, fear and stress are killers. I have picked out 3 raffle items I want.

    I am not good with jokes but because laughter is good for you, me and everyone…

    How do you catch a squirrel?
    Climb into a tree and act like a nut. (I know childish, but I did said I was not good at jokes. ;)

    God bless,


  11. manggy says:

    It’s weird how you were keeping all those feelings from us, then suddenly something like this happens and as you liberate them and make them known to us, in a way they help not only Bri, but you and me as well. I dunno if that made sense, but it did in my head. Thank you for sharing your thoughts very bravely, I have a staggering amount of respect for you. Of course, you are always entitled to keep whatever you want to yourself (er… duh), but please don’t hesitate to write me whenever you feel like. I’ve seen a gamut of patient reactions at least *during* treatment, but the times in between, when they’re at home, and they’re just DRAINED of everything and every resource, I can only imagine the anguish. I wish I could have been of more use.

    Your photo is, as I’ve said of many of your previous landscapes, just tear-inducing. I’ve no doubt it’ll fetch hundreds of tickets!

  12. amanda says:

    “I don’t fear death so much as not being able to live a quality life”. That is something that needs to be etched in stone for everyone to see. it should be a damn motto for life. Thank you for a post that reminds me that life is worth living, no matter how shitty the circumstances.

  13. megan says:

    Your words touched my heart. I last both my parents to cancer. I’ve had Bri and you on my mind alot. I hope everything is better now for you from your visit to the ER. I also blogged Bri’s fundraiser and bought a raffle ticket. Your both in my prayers.

  14. Jessica says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this fierce and tender part of your heart– you have moved me.

  15. Madam Chow says:

    I sat here crying while I read this. I’ve lost too many people in my life to this disease. Thanks for posting about Bri. Now I’m going over to help.

  16. cindy says:

    Goddamn. And it’s a fellow fig blogger, no less. I’m in for a couple of raffle tickets. Glad to see the focus is on yellow rather than pink. I’ve about had enough of people making a fashion statement out of my disease.

    Your lump: My head when all swimmy when I read this. I don’t trust ultrasounds. They only detect tumors when the density of the tumor varies enough from the density of the surrounding breast tissue. It totally missed mine. I don’t want to tell you what to do, but you know we’re in the highest risk group there is: those who have had it once. If they (you know, those people with the needles, pills, tests, etc.) weren’t worried our cancers would come back, they wouldn’t do all those crazy hormone treatments.

    Kudos for the brave post.

  17. Kitt says:

    What a lovely photo for a deserving cause. I already donated directly (before I knew about the raffle) or I would sign up for it. Fingers crossed for Bri’s recovery.

  18. Merry says:

    Beautiful picture & wonderful post. I will mention this on my blog & buy a raffle ticket or two. I am so sorry that you are having to go through this. My sister is currently going through a reoccurance of colon cancer that has moved to her lungs. Cancer is an awful disease. I wish no one had to go through it! Stay strong & know that there are many of us who have never met you who think of you often & hope you are doing well.

  19. Ruthie says:

    My college hosts one of the largest youth-run Relay for Life’s (overnight walk/event for the American Cancer Society) in the country. I’ve been nominated to be committee co-chair next year. It’s people with stories like yours and Bri’s that inspire me to dedicate an unbelievable amount of time and energy into running our event in hopes that one day we truly will find a cure.

  20. White On Rice Couple says:

    We were informed of Bri’s cause too and will do our best to help her out as much as we can. We’ll be donating and having something to raffle too. But our prize nearly isn’t as beautiful as your Jen.
    After reading post, I can’t stop crying. Please slap me silly when you see me, will ya?

  21. Mollie says:

    Jen, every time you post you confirm my knowledge that you are an incredible, amazing woman. I am so glad to see you back posting and so moved by you, by bri, by so many amazing stories of strong, wonderful women out there going through this awful awful disease. And men. And children. I know what it’s like to be afraid to rely on others, or even if it’s not fear, just knowing that sometimes keeping it all together is all you can do and bringing anyone else in won’t change a thing. But it does get lonely. Know my thoughts have been with you. And now with Bri. Thanks for reaching out to all of us on this one.

  22. Laura @ HungryAndFrozen says:

    Oh good grief. What a post. You put so much of the crap in my life into sharp perspective. That photo is almost as eye-wateringly lovely as your writing (sorry to sound soppy but it has been a long day).

  23. Jenn says:

    Jen – what an amazing post. I just bid for your picture and am sending you and Bri lots of good thoughts from Richmond, VA. You are truly an amazing person and to echo the comments of Laura, your words put my petty problems in perspective.

  24. Pam says:

    Jen, This was a very moving & powerful post – thanks for being so honest and open. It’s amazing that someone I have never met could move me so much. You are both in my thoughts.

  25. Pat says:

    Jen, been reading your site (and as a consequence many new/wonderful food bloggers linked from your site) for a while, even got my sister hooked. Your post today really moved me, as did the post about your sister…thanks for sharing such strong and real bits of yourself with us out here…
    Know that so many are rooting for you…for Bri. Donation completed. Wishing you all the best…

  26. Steph F. says:

    My friend and I are both rooting for you and Bri. We each have family that has been affected by cancer, and you are inspiring.

  27. jenyu says:

    Jamie – thank you so much. Those are gorgeous sushi sets, but I’m really touched that you are chipping in this way. xxoo

    Barbara – people always have an abbreviated notion of chemo unless they’ve done it. It just never seemed like it would end, did it? I love that vision of oncologists peacefully fishing in a stream… thanks for that :)

    Peabody – yeah, Jeremy told me that making that decision during chemo probably wasn’t the best time ;) Thanks.

    Bijin – sorry hon, I don’t buy into books written by people who got their degrees from non-accredited programs (a degree mill? come on – you should be doing your homework) and haven’t actually done real research in a peer-reviewed scientific field. It’s insulting.

    Maya – xxoo. I’m okay and thank you.

    Bee – no, thank you for your support. You and Jai are doing a really wonderful thing for Bri and I am just thrilled to be able to do some small part in it.

    Kat – thanks.

    Ann – I’m so sorry about your mom. You’re right, it sucks all around for those involved, but it’s important that we remember the ones who need our help. Thanks for your contribution.

    Shell – such a sweetheart! Thank you :)

    Elizabeth – that’s a cute joke ;) Thanks. Yes, attitude helps tremendously, but so does awareness and education. I hate to think that anyone who isn’t upbeat and smiling all the time somehow had a hand in their own demise? No one deserves to die of cancer, no matter what.

    Mark – well, like I said earlier, I kept most of the personal hell to myself because I didn’t think it was necessary to go into detail here. Even now it is just scratching the surface. But I wanted to share some of the experience so people had a sense of what Bri had gone through and is going through again – to motivate them to help out. All too often these days cancer has been boiled down to a stupid marketing slogan or symbol and I can honestly say that those pink ribbons made me sick to my stomach. And yes, what you wrote made sense to me too :) Thank you for your offer – you are always so sweet. xxoo

    Amanda – it sort of is my motto ;) There is a lot to be happy about, no?

    Megan – thank you and I am really sorry to hear about your loss. Sending you a hug.

    Jessica – thanks.

    Madam Chow – Oh hon, I didn’t mean to make you cry :( Thank you so much for helping Bri out.

    Cindy – yeah, I hate pink ;) I understand your alarm. It was a lump I could barely feel and both my surgeon and radiation oncologist were unable to tell that it was any different from the rest of my boob. My mammogram came up negative the first time, but the ultrasound (and MRI) found it. I trust this ultrasound and my surgeon (if I didn’t trust him, I’d have cleaned his clock by now). I can email you the gory details, but I think my girls are clean right now and then there’s 6.5 weeks of radiation to make extra sure that is so.

    Kitt – thanks for your contribution!

    Merry – I’m wishing your sister the best. I really appreciate your positive thoughts. Thank you so much.

    Ruthie – that is awesome. Thank you for your efforts!

    WoRC – you crazy girl :) Best that you get all of that crying out of your system now because when I see you in a few months, I just want to see your beautiful smile (and the pups and the garden!!) xxoo

    Mollie – you hit the nail on the head. It is exactly that bringing someone in won’t change a thing! Brilliant. Thank you for that and thank you for your supportive words.

    Laura – thanks dear. We cancer patients are not trying to belittle other troubles. I would rather you never ever EVER have to experience the hell that is cancer, okay? Just so we’re clear, never ever. I want you to spill coffee and swear and we can laugh about it together.

    Jenn – perspecive is always good, but let’s hope that my experience is enough perspective for everyone reading and that they don’t have to go through it themselves :) xxoo

    Pam – thank you.

    Pat = thanks for your support and contribution. It means so much that people who have never met one another can reach out and help someone in need. I really appreciate it!

    Steph – thank you for your good vibes and sweet words.

  28. Tartelette says:

    I have always thought that if anyone would put into words with grace and eloquence some aspects of chemo and treatment then *you* would be the right gal to do so. I have relived some of my brother’s treatment and as he did not want to scare my parents, he used to call me and talk about pain and fears. It was hard on me and it still is to replay those conversation but as I always said “big deal, I am not the one going through the pain…let him get it out” That was the least I could do. You Rock A$$. Period.

  29. jenyu says:

    Tartelette – I often wonder if it is equally hard for loved ones to watch those with cancer suffer and be helpless to ease the pain and fear. I don’t know, but I don’t ever want Jeremy to have to go through that again. It was an unbelievable amount of stress for him and well… he never complains. I’m glad you were there for T and I believe you made a difference in his life. xxoo

  30. roohbaroo says:

    what a beautiful entry, and what a beautiful gift to bri. i will be purchasing my ticket and encouraging others as well.

  31. Dyana says:

    Hi there – I saw your site a few months back from Your recipes are great but to me, the real story here is your attitude on cancer. A few weeks back you had a post (I think the recipe was Petit Fours) that really struck home for me. My husband and I have a saying, “it’s not cancer”. Whenever something seems really terrible, we look at each other and say, it’s not cancer, just to put things in perspective. Well, this time it was cancer. A few weeks back, in fact. For some reason, on the day we found out that I would have to get some tests done after a “suspicious” finding, you happened to write about what you’re going through. Sure, cancer sucks, the treatment is pretty awful….but what are you going to do? Die? Or live your life and give cancer the middle finger.? Me? I’ll take the latter for $1,000 Chuck.

    As dramatic as it sounds that post changed my life. I went from being totally devastated, to saying what the hell? I’m still alive and I plan to stay that way. I believe in signs and you flashed me a huge one that day.

    So, a $50 donation to give a big EFF YOU to cancer and a much needed boost to a good person? Count me

  32. Christine says:

    Jen – Thank you for this post. I didn’t know about the event and I’m glad to have found out. Strong women have it tough to [almost always] be tough — don’t you think? There’s not much I feel I can say to what you’ve written here – you’ve spoken from the heart and I won’t forget your words.

  33. Pam N. says:

    Hi Jen- I had a bilateral mastectomy last May and I just finished breast reconstruction a month ago. I have found to be really helpful. Here is a hug for you!Kick ass and take names!

  34. jenyu says:

    Roohbaroo – thank you.

    Dyana – I’m sorry to hear of your diagnosis, but a lot of people go through it and get through it each day. Hopefully you and I and Bri are no different. Thanks for helping Bri out, and I’m sending you good juju over the internet. Shaka sistah.

    Christine – yeah, sometimes it’s tough to be tough :) It helps to have friends… friends like you :) xxoo

    Pam – thanks and all the best to you.

  35. Strawberry Lemon Bars, for a good cause « eggs on sunday says:

    […] If you’re a regular reader of food blogs, you’ve probably read the news that Briana Brownlow, of the wonderful blog Figs with Bri, was recently diagnosed with a recurrence of the breast cancer she first fought over two years ago. Bri’s blog is a true delight — not only does she celebrate locally grown, organic food, she has a lovely writing style and I can usually count on all of her recipes to be ones that I immediately want to rush into the kitchen and make. In addition to the grueling chemotherapy that she is undergoing, she is also going to be pursing more holistic therapies and integrative medicine — all in hopes that she can treat the “whole body” and beat the relentless beast that is cancer once more (hopefully for good.) And the wonderful food blogging community is rallying around her: Bee and Jai of Jugalbandi are sponsoring a special edition of the CLICK! food photography event in Bri’s honor. Yellow has come to symbolize the fight against cancer, and while the color theme for this month’s entries is yellow in support of Bri’s fight, Bee and Jai have also organized a fundraiser and raffle to benefit Bri and assist with the cost of the alternative therapies (that insurance companies usually never cover.) More information on the event specifics can be found at the bottom of this post; there are some really fantastic raffle prizes; I myself am bidding on Jen Yu’s gorgeous, gorgeous photo of the aspen stand. […]

  36. Bri says:

    Jen, it’s so true. Everything you said about chemo, and more. I have a new oncologist this time, and both he and his nurse on separate occasions said, “Oh, was chemo hard on you the last time?” As if I was somehow weak or something because it was hard. Then, when I went to pick up the prescription and the pharmacist realized what I was buying, and the fact that he was looking at a 30 something year old, he didn’t say it specifically, but I could read on his face, “Oh. You have to take this. How awful. I feel for you.” It was a maybe 30 second interaction that made me want to cry because I knew (obviously from some personal experience) that he felt some of my pain. I know you do to. And I know Jeremy does too. It is so hard on the caregiver. All we can do is our best. I plan to make a full recovery and keep my spirits up, but sometimes it just all feels too crappy. I send you my very best wishes for your journey through radiation. I didn’t do it, but my mom did, and I have friends who have. I guess the little blue tattoo will just be yet another reminder. Hang in there. xoxo, Bri

  37. jenyu says:

    Bri – I find it incredible that folks who haven’t been through chemo like to judge those of us who have, or perhaps just assume that it can’t be that bad – particularly those who administer the stuff but have never had it done to them. Still blows me away that this is even considered treatment. Akin to burning down the forest to rid the trees of a parasite. Great job. I know you’re going to have some shitty times ahead (just looking back, we both know it!). Drop me an email with your addy some time when you feel up to it – I have some little fun things that might cheer you up :) I’m wishing you the best possible recovery. xxoo

  38. industrial poppy says:

    This blog entry was truly difficult for me to read: while I haven’t personally had cancer, both of my parents have. As a family member, you know, absolutely know, that whatever you try to think of to help, is not enough. That there is more, so much more that is unspoken, possibly buried just beneath, that you can never share, much less alleviate. Everyone is so helpless. And yet….we carry on, like soldiers battling an enemy that we can’t really see, with weapons that are crude and, unfortunately sometimes inadequate.
    Wishing you and your family strength.

  39. jenyu says:

    IP – I’m really sorry about your loss. It’s hard to know which is worse, being the patient or a loved one who watches someone they care about suffer. I think they both just suck. Thanks for your comment.

  40. Talulazoeapple says:

    I just read your response to my entry. I request that you delete my entire entry. No need to be mean.

  41. steamy kitchen says:

    Honey. I’m so honored to be a blog-friend of yours – you are true strength and beauty.

    xo, jaden

  42. jenyu says:

    Talulazoeapple – Sure, I can delete it, but if I had deleted the whole entry to begin with I’m guessing you might have harped about that too. No need to be mean? No need to tell me (or others) how to worship. You don’t know me and you clearly don’t respect me. So please refrain from commenting until you can accept that others have a right to live as they choose if it doesn’t harm anyone else. Sheesh.

    Steamy Kitchen – babe, you are AWESOME and it’s MY honor to be your blog-friend. Absolutely.

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