Sunday, April 2, 2017

40 Years of Celebrating Jaime

It is hard for me to imagine that this week will be my baby girl's 40th birthday. Wasn't it just yesterday that she just a beautiful infant (see Birthday Girl)? Wasn't she just a very loud and energetic child? Wasn't she just a snarly teenager? Wasn't she just a proud college grad? Wasn't she just a blushing bride (see With This Ring)? Wasn't she just a terminal cancer patient (see Blowing Out Birthday Candles)?

Those memories, both amazing and horrific, are all that's left. My Jaime will not be here to celebrate this milestone or any others in the future because melanoma took her life when she was 29. Thanks to her love of tanning beds, she was diagnosed when she was 20 and only celebrated 9 more birthdays. And for many of those, she wore a brave mask to cover her pain. Melanoma has a nasty way of stealing birthdays!

I know that many of you have come to know my only daughter, my best friend, my hero, my courageous melanoma warrior Jaime through my stories on social media. However, in honor of her 40th birthday, I'd like to share a few of the
pieces that made up our Jaime.

Jaime was, in many ways, unique, seeming to live life at a faster pace than most, perhaps somehow knowing that her time here was limited. She was the ultimate free spirit. No one else could make me so angry or make me laugh so hard. She had a huge heart but wasn't all sweetness; there was plenty of spice mixed in. She definitely did her own thing and wasn't concerned about what others thought. She was outspoken, sometimes brutally outspoken. Either you adored her or you couldn't stand her -- there was no middle ground -- and she didn't really care. But if you were her friend, she would do anything for you!

She always wanted to be the center of attention and usually made sure that she was, much to her brothers' dismay. Jaime was that annoying child who always had to be first in line. She never met a stranger, and she could talk your ear off. But she always had that beautiful smile on her face and a contagious laugh. And she loved to sing and dance. For Jaime, life was one big party ... her show and she was the star!

As a toddler she looked like an angel with unruly strawberry blonde curls going everywhere, bright blue eyes, and freckles flowing over her nose and down her cheeks. But when that little angel opened her mouth, her vocabulary made your toes curl up and your eyes pop out. The "F" word was among her favorites ... and remained so throughout her entire life. I tried to clean up her potty mouth by washing her mouth out with soap, until one day she gave me a bubbly smile and declared that she was starting to like the taste of that!!

At the first parent/teacher conference of each school year, Jaime's teachers would tell us that we should be prepared for them to recommend holding her back to repeat the grade, but by the end of the year they couldn't wait to pass her along to the next group of unsuspecting teachers. The school psychologist assured us that Jaime would be a powerful leader as an adult ... but because of the damn cancer, all she could do as an adult was fight for her life!

I'm sure she was responsible for giving her teachers more than a little gray hair! She was the child who got bored and roamed around the school for hours, ending up in the nurse's office every day just to chat. It was impossible to know whether Jaime was a good student in elementary school because she never really took a test. She insisted on being the first student to finish a test so she just went through and marked a, b, c, d answers, without reading the questions. We weren't even sure she could read, but she did graduate from college with honors so I guess she had us all fooled!

To my knowledge, she never discriminated against anyone, having friends of all colors, faiths, cultures, and sexual orientations ... but she did not hesitate to judge people based on whether or not they were a$$holes (a word that took second place in her list of favorites!).

Every summer Jaime participated on the YMCA swim team, not because she was a great swimmer or was competitive in any way, but because she could hang out every day with friends of all ages. For her, it was a summer-long party, and swimming a lap now and then was just the price she was willing to pay. Jaime was also goalie on a soccer team, where she spent each game perfecting her cartwheels in front of the goal box. She was a social animal, not an athlete!

Then that little girl then became a feisty, independent, defiant, moody teenager with a wild streak, who declared war on her parents and any other authority figures! One night when she was out with friends, her phone butt-dialed us. We could hear her laughing and proclaiming that "I'm so drunk! And my parents don't even know that I drink!!" Giggle, giggle, giggle! Well, her parents did then, and they weren't laughing. That got her grounded for months.

That snarly teenager blossomed into a college student but not without some bribery. Her high school dean had destroyed her confidence by telling her she could never pass a college class. But after passing the first class with an A (with a lot of tutoring from Mom), she found her lost determination and continued to take and pass classes until graduating with honors.

Jaime was very orderly and organized (must have gotten that trait from her daddy) -- and a control freak. She planned and executed the magical wedding of her dreams without a single hitch, but I'm sure her vendors were dreaming about executing her before it was over!

Her career in fashion merchandising had its start and devastating finish at Fossil, with her being told to leave because of her melanoma diagnosis. But I will save that story for a future blog dealing with cancer patients and employment. She did, however, go on to create her hand-crafted jewelry business, which I now continue for her.

And that brings us to the Jaime you are more familiar with, the one who fought melanoma for 9 years with grit, determination, and her delightful sense of humor, never allowing the cancer to define her. She made me so proud of the fierce warrior she became ... and she never lost her love of life, her spunk and sparkle, or that beautiful smile.

When we were planning her headstone, I was told to think of a 6-word saying to include on it. When I asked her oldest brother Ben about it, he said without hesitation "She Gave the World the Finger." That is not the saying that we chose to live on her grave marker for eternity, but it was oh so fitting! Jaime definitely lived life her way ... and lived it well.

Jaime was not perfect -- but she was so perfectly Jaime!!

Happy 40th Birthday, sweet girl!

Melanoma Mama (Jaime's mom, Donna) (Remember Jaime) (Pull the Plug on Tanning Beds) (Jjem Creations) (Jjem Creations)