Hello again. I say again because it’s been two years since you and I first met here via My Edmonds News. And three years since I was told, “I’m sorry Ms. Sabounchi. You have stage IV terminal cancer. It’s spread to your brain and to your bones. A genetic mutation of lung cancer. The same your mom had.”
A lot has happened since then. And My Edmonds News readers have been with me through some of the most grueling and triumphant steps of my journey. Thank you. Through my series of columns, “Life, Thank You for Having Me,” I invited you in and much to my surprise, you welcomed me with open arms and eager eyes, witnessing this young mother’s fight. I initially wrote so that my 2-year-old daughter Ahzi (Ahh-Zee) would have a place to come and read about her mommy. A place where she could learn about me and hear my voice. I wrote from what I was certain was my death bed. I had no idea that as I tore the heavy covers off of my aching frail body that I was actually also uncovering LIFE. With every article, every kind correspondence from you, every cry out to God and the beautiful tether of the to and fro, I began to rise. Out of that bed and away from the death sentence I had been given, I reached out and grabbed onto a miracle. And have been living one ever since.
Ahzi is now a kindergartner and 5 1/2 years old. That half really matters to a 5-year-old. She’s proud of it. And honestly, I am too because I never thought I’d get to be here for it. A moment my husband and I were so very scared we’d never get to see together. It’s a milestone for us. Just like other “normal” every-day occurrences have become. What normal events are for most are now celebrations for us. And I am certain I wasn’t given more life to sit in our sweet little home in Edmonds simply grateful that I didn’t die. I’m here to spread a message of hope. Hope is real.
Hope doesn’t mean life is perfect. Far from it. For us, it means there is always hope to be found. We’ve learned, even in the struggle. Especially in the struggle. And that’s why I’m to keep sharing. To continue writing. And most of all, I’m to continue LIVING. I am living with cancer. Not dying from it. My story doesn’t end here. My story leads me to yours. To ours.
Kevin, Ahzi and I didn’t get here on our own. Our young family hasn’t survived this disease alone. If cancer has taught me anything, it’s that we need each other. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s actually OK. I don’t know any newlyweds or young families who have a cancer savings fund. We sure didn’t. We are so very thankful for the sincere kindness from those we are in relationship with.
Community is beautiful. Necessary.We were made to be in community. And it’s because of the kindness of others — of a community (near and far), that our little family is able to dream BIG. Still. In the midst of our battle. The kindness we’ve received has helped fuel our hope. I’m convinced kindness and hope are cousins.
For some time now, I’ve wanted to transition my column, “Life, Thank You for Having Me,” into a piece highlighting this kindness that’s kept us going. The kindness in our community. It’s happening all around us and often. A life-threatening disease opened my eyes to it. It slowed me down enough to stop and see. In a world that’s constantly moving, often circling chaos, I hope this spin-off article titled, “Coffee with a Splash of Kindness” is a cozy corner you can curl up to and be reminded that kindness isn’t an extinct creature but instead, still king.
I’m kicking it off by sharing a recent act of kindness that our family experienced thanks to John Fahey, an Edmonds native and founder of Vacation Angel Network, who recently gave our family a gift that I’d like to share with you. (Some of you may be familiar with the family name as his mother, Barbara Schaffer Fahey, served as Mayor of Edmonds.)
At the end of this October, I was approaching my three-year anniversary of receiving the life-changing news that I had stage IV metastatic lung cancer. We were also celebrating a successful three-year run of keeping it at bay — enough that the last PET (positron emission tomography) scans reflected no detectable cancer in my body — when we were told that my tumors in my lungs were growing again and that two new tumors in my brain were found. After Kevin and I had digested the news and after sharing with our closest friends and family, I shared the news on my Facebook wall just like I have this entire journey. Our loving army and community started reaching out, praying, and letting us know that we weren’t alone.
Immediately I was contacted by Carolyn Douglas, a dear friend and active member in the Edmonds community. She mentioned that her friend John Fahey would like to donate his home to our family for some vacation time away. I couldn’t believe it. The timing, perfect. I so badly wanted to escape this news and needed to go somewhere for a couple of nights with my family, yet we didn’t have the money for an impromptu vacation. We needed to reserve all we had, including anything in our savings account, for this next round of chemo, brain radiation and all the unexpected costs of cancer.
“Kevin! Kevin! I just got a message from Carolyn. She has a friend who wants to donate his home to us for a weekend getaway! In Lake Chelan! Can you believe it?!”
Kevin responded, “Wait what?! How?… Who?”
“I know! Isn’t it amazing?!” I replied. “This gentleman — her friend John — has an organization called Vacation Angel Network, where they donate vacation rental homes for a couple nights’ stay to families like ours battling cancer!”
“Oh my goodness Jenniejoon!” he replied. (Adding joon to the end of a name is a term of endearment in our native language, Farsi. It means sweetheart). “We could really use a vacation.”
“I know honey. I know. This would be such a nice treat and time I could enjoy you and Ahzi before starting chemo again. Before getting sick again.” Kevin gently put his hand on my cheek as I happily surrendered to his embrace. This was an answer to our prayers. An opportunity for us to rest before life got turned upside down again.
Weeks later, our family found ourselves excitedly packing up for our trip to Lake Chelan. It would be our first time visiting this magical place we kept hearing about from friends who knew it well. John’s Vacation Angel Network has homes all around the Pacific Northwest. What started out as a small family business has grown into a large group of vacation rental homeowners who donate their rental homes for an arranged stay, typically a weekend getaway to families dealing with serious injury or illness. What an incredible idea and gift to families like ours!
“Mommy, mommy! I have my backpack ready,” Ahzi enthusiastically yelled as her curls bounced up and down from her twin-size white wooden princess bed. “Let’s start packing my clothes. Will you help me mommy? Is it OK if I bring Cindy?”
“Yes of course!” I replied as I set down the dirty dishes. They could wait. “Where we go, Cindy goes. Do you want mommy to help you pack Cindy’s clothes too, honey?”
“Yes mommy. You are her grandma. Grandmas help pack, right?” Ahzi talked as she started gathering her favorite headbands.
“Ok sweetheart,” I answered. “This grandma is on it!”
Cindy is an American Girl doll that was sent to us from a kind friend. Ahzi has adopted her as her daughter. Cindy is surviving cancer too. Bald like I was. She is now a part of our family and comes with us everywhere we go. Kevin and I the proud grandparents. This sweet doll has helped make cancer less scary, more approachable and a topic Ahzi shares with others when introducing them to Cindy.
We made our way from Edmonds to Lake Chelan. I’ll never forget the drive as we got closer. The trees were just as John described, breathtaking this time of year. We all marveled at their majesty.
We pulled into the driveway to two newer, identical craftsman homes. They sat side by side with a pool in between.
“Mommy, daddy, are we here?” Ahzi asked.
“Yes honey, I think this is it,” I replied.
I was elated. I could tell Ahzi and Kevin were also.
“Wow mommy! Look how big the house is! It looks fun!” Ahzi exclaimed. She was right. The house looked warm, inviting and fun — even from the outside. We opened the front door and each took a deep breath in. We were free. From cancer. The demands of medical bills, doctor appointments, infusions, school assignments, the day-to-day race. It was just the three of us, this beautiful home and the water. This was home for the next three days.
“Last one to the pool is a rotten egg!” The only race to be had during our time in Chelan.
Ahzi immediately tore through the hallway. I followed. Up the stairs she ran.
“Mommy, daddy, can I have this room? It’s perfect for me and Cindy!”
This room on the top floor. A sweet nook that encased a white wrought-iron bed perfectly dressed with an inviting quilt. I knew if I told Ahzi yes, she’d still end up sleeping in our bed. Five-and-a half-year-olds are funny when it comes to their independence. Very selective. Kevin and I are always happy to oblige when we hear her little bare feet shuffling their way into our room on family vacations. Still happy the next morning even after being taken hostage in our own bed by this small yet space-invading child.
We continued through the home, past the beautiful kitchen, dining and living room, finally making our way outside again. And then, there it was. The Pool. Every kid’s dream while on vacation. When John and I spoke on the phone we talked about this pool. This perfect little cocktail pool that he keeps warm year-round. “Mom, dad, we are so going into the pool!” Ahzi exclaimed as she loosely dangled sweet Cindy over the water.
And go into the pool, we did! Overlooking gorgeous Lake Chelan. Completely surrounded by the vibrant colors of fall. The serenity of the trees unrivaled except for the peace we so warmly wore. The crisp cold air on our cheeks, our bodies bouncing in the water. Here we were, a family of three. Together. Living. Our souls soaking in the love and generosity of John and his organization.
I had no idea something like Vacation Angel Network even existed. It took a friend who was kind enough to let me know about what her friend was doing for the community. Many cancer survivors such as me don’t like to ask for handouts. The Vacation Angel Network exists so that I didn’t have to ask. When speaking with John, I was reminded of what kindness is. What kindness does. John can’t take away my cancer. But what Vacation Angel Network did for Kevin, Ahzi and me was invite us to a very special place. A place where we got to create moments together. And those moments are now memories that will far outlive this disease.
One moment I will never forget — and I pray Ahzi and Kevin won’t either — is the night we all woke up around 2:30 a.m. For some reason, we were all having trouble sleeping that night. Restlessness, piled up in our bed.
“Hey guys, wanna do something fun?” I whispered.
“But mommy, it’s nighttime,” Ahzi said. “It’s dark outside.”
“I know!” I replied. “It’s perfect. Come with me. Daddy, you want to come too?”
“Of course I do,” Kev eagerly responded, always a good sport.
“We gotta grab our coats and hats!” I said as we rolled out of bed.
Moments later, the three of us, bundled up, were on the back deck that overlooked the water.
“Look up Ahzi,” I said as I pointed to the sky.
“Wow! Look at all the stars mommy!” Ahzi exclaimed. “Daddy look!”
“Yep,” I answered. “This is what I wanted you to see Ahzijoon. Aren’t they
I knew I’d never forget this special moment.
“I love you Jenniejoon,” Kev said as he held the small of my back, with Ahzi and Cindy hoisted up between us.
“I love you too sweetheart,” I answered.
“Mommy, daddy?” Ahzi began.
“Yes Ahzi…” Kev and I both said in unison.
“I’m so glad you’re my parents. I love you mommy. I love you daddy.”
With tears in my eyes and a tidal wave of gratitude in my heart, I held my family tight. Just as I will this memory, for the rest of my life.
And so I thank Vacation Angel Network and John for the life-giving work they are doing. Work where kindness is king. This is just one act of kindness of the many we’ve encountered during our family’s fight. I can share countless with you and I’m convinced we aren’t alone, that you have stories too about people in our community who spread kindness.
When My Edmonds News Editor Teresa Wippel and I talked about my idea for this aritcle, we thought it would be cool to open this up to you, the readers. There are moments upon moments happening all around us where individuals are taking it upon themselves to be kind. In a day and age where Instagram, Facebook and Twitter are avenues where we are all searching, what are we finding? What are we consuming? Celebrating?
Wouldn’t it be cool to make a celebrity out of the everyday hero? Celebrate kindness. If you have someone in our community whom you’d like to celebrate, someone who has chosen to be a conduit of kindness, please feel free to reach out to me via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps, we can share that story here and continue to celebrate and share the kindness that’s happening in our community. Hope is contagious. Kindness is too.
Good Morning, from Edmonds. With my Coffee and a Splash of Kindness
— By Jennifer Sabounchi
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. She invites readers to get to know her and her family via Instagram at instagram.com/writefuljoy or on her Facebook page.