When I first met Edmonds resident Jennifer Sabounchi, she was living in the Yost Park neighborhood home that she and her husband Kevin Abab had purchased a year earlier. She had sent me an email in November 2017, asking if she could write a column for My Edmonds News. But she was hopeful we could first meet in person, so she could tell me her idea.
Entering her light-filled home, I met Jenn and her sweet 3-year-old daughter Ahzi, who was dressed as a Disney princess. Jenn shared that she had been diagnosed a year earlier, at age 36 — with Stage IV lung cancer. The same cancer that her mother had died of, also at a young age. She also told me that one of her unfulfilled goals was to beoome a published writer, and she wondered if I would be open to running a column about her journey fighting cancer.
Jenn wrote a series of columns, titled “Life, Thank You for Having Me.” In them, she talked about the grueling details of her cancer treatments and the strength she found in her family and her faith. She also described the joy she discovered in simple Edmonds activities like walking on the beach, visiting local parks and shopping at the summer market. And she described the many acts of kindness, from friends who decorated her home with holiday lights to the neighbor who provided a special envelope of Christmas cash one December so that the couple — overwhelmed with medical bills — could provide Ahzi with.a special present.
Editing Jenn’s columns was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. Not because of her writing skills — she was very talented — but because I often had tears in my eyes as I read what she was enduring.
Never again, I thought, would I complain about staying up late to finish a city council meeting report or having three breaking news stories happen at once. What courage and determination it took for her to finish those columns. I also was reminded how important it is to see the big picture — what really matters in life: the love of family and friends and the gift of life itself, which so many of us take for granted.
There would often be months of delay between columns because the side effects of Jenn’s treatment made it impossible for her to write. Yet, she was thrilled to find that many My Edmonds News readers commented on her columns, offering her words of encouragement and appreciation for sharing her story.
“I hope you smile knowing the role you have played in my journey,” Jenn wrote. “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.'”
Jenn wrote her final “Life, Thank You for Having Me” column in May 2019. At that time, she was still battling cancer but had recently received some good news and was optimistc about what the future held. Then, in December 2019, she pitched me a new idea: to write a column focused on the kindness of others. Titled “Coffee with a Splash of Kindness,” Jenn described the Vacation Angel Network, operated by Edmonds native John Fahey, which provided her and her family with a vacation weekend away in Lake Chelan. The vacation was especially welcome since Jenn and Kevin had learned that tumors in her lungs were growing again and that two new tumors had been found in her brain.
“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,” she wrote. “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.”
After that May 2019 column, I didn’t hear from Jenn. Finally, after a reader inquired about her health in 2021, I emailed her and she sent a long reply, noting that between homeschooling her daughter during the pandemic and dealing with some unexpected home repairs — along with still battling cancer — she did not have time to write, but hoped to return to it someday.
Saturday night, I learned that Jennifer Sabounchi lost her battle with cancer at the age of 42. Details regarding a memorial service are pending, and we will share them when they become available.
— By Teresa Wippel, Publisher