I start my day with the sound of the train. The whistle blows. I’m certain it’s greeting me. “Good morning Jenn. You’ve made it to see another day. You’re alive still.” The sun is up early and so am I. This little light of mine can’t wait until my 3-year-old Ahzi wakes up so we can dive into another beautiful day in Edmonds. This beautiful city we call home.
When we were house hunting, we looked at homes in Bothell, Shoreline, Seattle, Lake Forest Park and Edmonds. I knew I had Stage IV Cancer then. In fact, it was in the midst of house hunting when I was diagnosed and heard these unshakeable words, “Your life will never be the same again.” That doctor was right. But not in the way we all thought.
I used to sit in my car at Yost Park. I would sit under the trees and watch them gently sway. Daydreaming that one day Kevin, Ahzi and I would have a home here in Edmonds. Could we live in a much smaller home just to be able to afford a house in this community? Would the community be what we had hoped? Would we fit in? That was a year and a half ago. We’ve been joyfully calling Edmonds home ever since.
We have a modest home in a beautifully rich city. We live in a home where the previous owner took the time to come visit and share memories of growing up in this house. It was passed down from his mother, and he and his siblings were now selling it. His mother also passed away of the same disease I am fighting. They took mercy on us. They knew we needed this home as much as this home wanted a loving family who would take care of it. A then 2-year old Ahzi answered the door and took the “big bear,” as she referred to him, by the hand. “Would you like to see my new room? Come see my big new room!” She had him at hello. He had us after tearfully sharing with us a very special memory of his mother and siblings during their time here. The first night we slept in our half-made beds and completely new space, was the night the first root was planted.
Prior to moving to Washington and starting a life with Kevin, my roots were semi-firmly planted in California. And growing up in Southern California, the water was always part of my makeup. The salty air swirls through the DNA of my veins. I didn’t know then that it would be necessary for me to stay close to the water in order for me to feel at home. When I was 17 years old and my mother was ill for the second time with the very same cancer I am battling today, there were nights I didn’t want to come home. I didn’t want to see her suffering. I didn’t want to give her the next round of shots. I didn’t want to be her caretaker. I wanted to be her daughter. I wanted her to be my mom. Not a sick frail woman clinging to life. A confused, heartbroken teen, I’d drive to the beach. Listening to music, singing as loud as I could with the windows down and feeling the salt air rush through my hair and and tear through my car. I couldn’t wait to get to the water. I had a spot at that beach. Close enough to a restaurant so people could see me, yet far enough away where I felt like it was just us — the water, my drowning soul and the crashing waves. I would lay on the sand and close my eyes. Often times falling asleep. The waves were my lullaby. The salty sea air enveloping me like a blanket. And the water has comforted my soul ever since. Now facing the same battle — this time for myself — I find the same solace and this time from the seas of the Puget Sound.
Looking back at the cities I’ve lived in, all but one of them have been on the water. Southern California, Manhattan, Seattle and Colorado. My husband Kevin and I moved to Colorado to open up the first Trader Joe’s. After living in a state without the beach, I vowed to never live without water again. When we came home and started looking for a home, I tried my best to get us as close to the water as we could afford. We are 1.3 miles from the ocean. 1.3 miles from downtown Edmonds. We wake up and look at one another and say, “Can you believe we get to live here? I can’t!” And although I’ve been very ill for our entire time here, I’m not too sick to see the beauty that surrounds us.
A few months ago when I didn’t know if I’d make it through the night, I used to thank God that I get to live in a place that I love so very much. I am so grateful that if this is the last place my eyes see, the last ocean air I take in, the last park I get to play with my daughter in — that it’s you, Edmonds. Thank you for allowing us to call you home.
Home feels secure. Safe. Yet every three months like clockwork, an unwanted visit from an old friend threatens our home. Every three months, I go in for a CT scan on my lungs as well as my quarterly MRI on my brain. And as you can imagine, it can be a pretty scary week for Kevin, Ahzi and me. A lot of praying. A lot of hoping. And the mental and emotional preparation for whatever the reports show can take up a lot of space and require a lot of our energy. To try and continue to handle this with dignity and stay grounded in our faith no matter what the reports say and no matter what the doctors tell us, isn’t easy. Not during this particular week.
But, for the very first time in this year-and-a-half battle, as I lay in the MRI machine and the loud banging of the MRI machine surrounded my brain, I felt peace. I know I’m in God’s hands. And I’m certain it’s because of every prayer from each person I’ve met along the way on the stage IV cancer battle. When we moved here, the beauty I saw was in the trees at Yost Park. The water at Brackett’s Landing. The vibrant flowers at the Farmers Market. I didn’t yet see your faces. I still haven’t seen most of them. But I now know you’re here. I didn’t know just how my life and all of yours would intersect. And now, I am certain that your prayers, love and blessings have carried me here. To a place of peace.
I hope you smile knowing the role you have played in my journey. And continue to. Close your eyes and imagine my short hair and big-lipstick smile. (Don’t worry. I won’t get any on your shirt). Imagine me hugging you so very tight as I enthusiastically yet softly say to you, “Thank you friend. Thank you so very much for your support. For your love. I am honored. Humbled. And completely blown away. Even energized by how it feels to have you in my army of love.” An army full of friends — some I’ve never even met, but I’m hopeful I will, one day.
Last weekend, I met one of those friends. Ahzi, Kevin and I rushed through our homemade cocoa pancakes to make it to the very first Edmonds Farmers Market of the season! Invited by other parents at Ahzi’s nearby preschool, Kev and I thought it would be fun to get to know them a little better — especially when their daughter and our daughter play so well together. And also because I’m not sick, stuck in the confines of my bed. I get to be present today. At the market! Just like the other moms there.
We perused the market but not before Kevin got a slice of mushroom pepperoni pizza, which he thoroughly enjoyed as we moseyed. We’ve been waiting all season for the market to open up, to try this pizza. I may have persuaded Kevin a bit. Still on the hunt for pizza that tastes like my days spent in Manhattan. Looks like we found a wonderful contender and definitely worth the wait through winter!
We spotted our friends at the falafel stand. Another fantastic vendor. Ahzi and her sweet little friend Claire played as we adults chatted. I took a moment and looked around. Scanning the smiling faces at the market, I said: “Kevin, honey, can you believe we live here?!?”
“No I can’t sweetheart,” he replied. We embraced, both of us taking it all in this time together. This is Edmonds. This is the city we get to call home.
Ahzi and Claire got their faces painted by some very kind girls raising money for cystic fibrosis. And although my fight is different, the need is still the same. Awareness and money. Because of the generosity we have experienced from friends, readers, even strangers — I now give. And more often. Thank you for showing me just how powerful giving can be to those receiving. You have forever changed me.
Ahzi and I gave Kevin a tight squeeze and wished him a wonderful day as he needed to get to work. Ahzi and I made our way to “the tomato guy,” who apparently has the best tomato plants around. He and I started chatting. He took the time to explain the different plants and just how to plant them. A kind woman to the left of me asked, “Are you taking all of these plants?” I replied, “No. If you want one, I definitely don’t need to take them all. Which one do you want? I was thinking of taking these two.” That opened the door to more dialogue. She and I began talking, and after telling me that he was in fact the best tomato guy around and that she’s purchased from him before, she leaned in closer and quietly said, “I love your column, by the way.” I not so quietly replied, “You do?! You recognize me?!” “Oh yes,” she replied. “And that must be little Ahzi?” she asked.
“I enthusiastically answered, “Yes. Yes! This is Ahzi. Ahzi, say hello to this kind woman!” “Hello,” replied a coy 3-year-old. This was a moment in my life I will never forget. I was meeting a woman who had read my words and then recognized me at our local Farmers Market. What a joyous and important meeting. She shared with me that she has read every article. And that there are more of you out there reading. Tears began to flood my eyes. In that moment I felt so alive. I am in the fight of my life and yet God is allowing me to write. And to be heard. From my bed.
What a gift.
After we talked some more, I asked if I could take our picture together. I explained to her what a big deal this was for me. To meet a reader! And in this way. This was a first. She smiled and said yes. I asked her permission to include our picture in my next piece as I wanted to share my love and appreciation for our city we so thankfully get to live in. She smiled and said, “Sure.” Followed by, “My name is Joan.”
“Hi Joan, I’m Jenn!” What a goof! She already knew who I was. Duh. I was just so excited that I formally introduced myself.
“My name is Joan Bloom. I actually served on the city council.”
“Wow! How apropos that we are meeting over tomatoes and your last name is Bloom! (The writer in me really enjoyed that cute coincidence.) We both chuckled. I gave her a hug. “What a pleasure it is meeting you! Thank you so very much for reading my column. For taking the time to read about my journey. This is a day l will never forget. For as long as I live! Thank you for saying hello. This is so inspiring to me. It makes me want to keep going. Keep writing. I am so very humbled.”
I couldn’t wait to share with Kevin the exchange Joan and I had.
Love is going to win this battle I’m in. It always does. It already is. Thank you Joan for giving me a glimpse of the magnitude of this blessing.
We will receive the MRI results in three days. I’m not going to wait three days until I breath again. I took a slow deep breath in as I was submerged in the MRI machine. I felt peace then and I feel peace now. I made a couple of new friends during my appointment. (It’s always my favorite part of any of this. And it makes me feel like I’m still me. The very best of me). I left with a happy spirit, so I thought I would stop by my brain oncologist’s office to pass out treats and hugs. I thought, “Why not go in when I’m feeling great?! Let me not only go in when I’m sick. Let me go celebrate with the people who are helping me live. Even before we receive the results. Because today, today I feel good. That’s reason enough to be joyful! That’s reason enough to say thank you and that’s reason enough to take the time to go spread the love I have been given. (The love from you and yours).”
I decided to go to a local Trader Joe’s for the treats — one that I don’t normally go to as it’s far from our house (But being the proud and thankful spouse of a Trader Joe’s employee, I geek out inside when checking out a new store. This store was gorgeous and sparkly and new)! While there I met a very kind man who at the very end of our conversation shook my hand and revealed he has had cancer twice. He flashed a winning grin and said, “Good luck.” In that moment, I got it. I GOT IT. What started out a curse, has turned into a blessing. I made my way onto my oncologist’s office.
All of my doctors weren’t there. I couldn’t believe it! What are the odds? Perhaps the same as beating this stage IV cancer? Their staff was. I gave them their goodies. They gave me hugs. I even saw one of the scientists — Carol, who engineered the radiation mask I would wear on my head during the laser radiation treatments. She used to work for NASA. We embraced like two long-lost friends. She had a new hairstyle. I did too. After the eruptive exchange of collective happiness, I stopped by the chapel on the way out. This wasn’t my first time. The minute my foot stepped into the dimly lit room, I started to weep. I want those reports to show no signs of cancer. I want so badly for the MRI reports to show a tumor free brain. But this time, I do not need those reports in order to say — Thank you God. I sit here in a puddle of tears as God’s love reigns down on me. As your prayers rise to the heavens above. I feel love. I feel free.
I took a moment to read the journal that always sits on the podium. In it, the words of other believers. Other cancer patients. Other families. All praying for healing. Many, hoping for a miracle. Just like me. And this time — unlike before, I no longer believe that I don’t belong here. That I am different than they are. This is exactly where I need to be. I am battling cancer. I am a cancer patient. After a year and a half, I’m accepting it. And this is precisely when the healing has room to take place. I am starting to see. And truly understand. The winning isn’t in the reports. The winning is in the love that has been birthed. Fostered. And that continues to reach farther than I could have ever reached on my own. Thank you for being a part of my life. For not running from the battleground but instead putting on armor and backing me up. For continuing to read my column. I am not alone. I am alive. I am loved. And I am filled with life. From the bottom of my Converse shoes to the top of my denim jacket, life is pulsing through my veins. And will continue to as I relentlessly choose life in the face of death.
I’ll report back as soon as we hear any news. But I thought it was important to share just what your support is doing for me. Thank you for reading. For responding. For giving me the wings to fly into my Father God’s arms. Beyond the MRI machine, loud noises and fear. I wait for the results in hope. And love. Thank you – Each of you. You’re blowing me away! And I have a feeling, chasing the cancer out of this body.
Cancer, we’re coming for you. Me and my army! With our feet firmly planted in the ground because our roots are starting to intersect. Even bond. My life isn’t the same. That doctor was right. But not because of the physical and emotional hell this cancer is. But because what started out a curse, is now a blessing. A death diagnosis that’s become a fruitful journey. And because of this heaven known as Edmonds that Kevin, Ahzi and I get to call home. A city with swaying trees. Salty ocean air. And a sea of supportive characters. Edmonds, Washington, thank you (again) for being home.
Writing from a place of peace and an Edmonds address!
Edmonds resident Jennifer Sabounchi has served as a special events manager for The Ritz-Carlton in New York, a private chef to families in and around Seattle, and founder of an allergy-friendly food company. Recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Jenn’s new column — “Life, Thank You for Having Me” — provides an intimate portrait of her fight for her life. She also invites readers to get to know her and her family by visiting her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/jennifer.sabounchi