I first met Jan about three years ago. She was quite the woman – a former competitive skier and physiotherapist, she was brilliant, funny, kind, and beautiful. She was also dying.
Jan, a vibrant mother of three grown and equally gorgeous children, had been diagnosed with scleroderma, a rare condition that was slowly hardening her skin and internal organs. Her body was basically turning into scar tissue. As her condition worsened, she lost an incredible amount of weight, her facial skin tightened and pulled back so she could barely smile, and she began having trouble walking. She couldn’t even sit down or stand without help, and she must have been in incredible pain.
I say “must have been” because Jan never complained. Even when her illness was at its most pronounced, she fought to live a normal life–and what was normal for Jan would be considered extraordinary for most people.
She still went to movies, danced at socials, and sang karaoke to the best of her ability. Most of all, she loved
music and went to every concert she could. She even took her three kids on a concert tour across Europe and Canada. She gave everyone in her life generous presents, had a million friends, and adopted just about as many homeless animals. Jan was a force to be reckoned with.
I often wondered what it was like for this dynamic woman, who used to be a star athlete, to lose her mobility little by little each day. Jan managed to have enough energy for three people, and let me tell you–it was pretty embarrassing to be pleading exhaustion from a social and wanting to go home when she was still on the dance floor.
When Jan was first diagnosed with the most aggressive form of this terrible disease, they told her she wouldn’t see her fiftieth birthday. Everyone who loved her (and there were many who did) cried, but Jan had other ideas. She decided to prove those doctors wrong, and she did. She celebrated her fiftieth birthday with style and the disease went into remission. Everyone was hopeful that she would live to a ripe old age.
Jan loved almost any kind of music, but especially classic rock n’ roll. One of her favorite bands was Aerosmith. During a recent concert tour, she seized the chance to bring some awareness to the disease that was threatening her life. She came to the concert in a wheelchair, bearing a huge sign directed to the lead singer’s attention: Kiss Me Before I Die, Steve. And Steve Tyler noticed, and kiss her he did. This was only one highlight in an extraordinary life.
Jan passed away this month at age fifty-three. To show you what kind of amazing person she was, even her ex-husband moved back to the city to take care of her when her disease progressed.
Why am I telling you about Jan? Because Jan is a great example of living your best life. She didn’t start living this way because she found out she had a terminal illness – she’d always lived this way. Jan took risks, and she didn’t let other people’s judgements or opinions get in her way. I wish I could have spent more time with her. I wish I could have known her longer. But I knew her well enough to know that the lady didn’t have any regrets.
In Jan’s honor, I challenge each one of us to live our lives a little more fearlessly. We never know when scleroderma, cancer, or even a misguided bus will suddenly bring a tragic end to our plans.
I’m not sure what kind (if any) of afterlife I believe in, but I like to think Jan has found her Rock n’ Roll Heaven. She’s with the band now.
**Thanks to Jan’s daughter Laura for the photos.