Childhood sleep-overs and camping trips, always there for me with a joke; wiping tears of laughter from her cheeks as she attempted (and usually failed) to get to the punch line. My aunt.
Everyone has a story to tell about a person who helped shape them into who they are—someone who inspired them to be a better person. For me that person was my Auntie Jan.
Jan lived each day thoughtfully, with purpose. Her relationships, her commitment to fitness, her love of the outdoors and putting family first—she lived well by valuing what is important. I sometimes forget. Thinking about Jan reminds me.
She used to play this game where she’d make eye contact with a stranger passing by and smile at them. She’d keep smiling until they eventually smiled back. They almost always did.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of sixty, far too young and too healthy for the likes of cancer, we were crushed.
Her initial biopsy was on my birthday, but despite her frightening day, she still phoned to leave me a Happy Birthday message. Oh my god her phone messages were the best—veering off topic and looping back again, laughing so hard at her own jokes.
Then she texted a clip of her infamous “Closet Cooking With Jan” shtick – video clips of her ad-libbed, misadventures in the kitchen, usually involving dramatic mixing and a variety of flour dusted surfaces. We jokingly called her the ‘Swedish Chef’ from the Muppet Show. She was hilarious and a natural entertainer—so full of life.
When she was really sick, my brother sent her a Swedish Chef doll to make her smile. When we Skyped with her, he’d suddenly pop into camera view with a “Bork, Bork, Bork…” until she started laughing. Which wasn’t long.
Mastectomy, chemo, and more chemo when the cancer spread. She could have easily turned inward; no more “Jan’s Kitchen” antics, no more Smiling Game.
But instead she surrounded herself with friends and family and used humour to maintain the normalcy of life.
Jan passed away December 27, 2014 and we were heartbroken.
The world doesn’t feel the same without her and with Christmas approaching, the space where she belongs feels emptier.
I talked to my mom about writing this. I worried it might be upsetting for our family. They don’t need reminding of the anniversary next month.
She said, “You should write about her. Jan would want that. She was always helping people. This program helps people.”
So I’m writing to help spread the word about Doves of Hope—a very simple but meaningful way to honour and remember loved ones who have been impacted by cancer.
I created a Dove for Jan, decorated with pink lipstick kisses of course, because anyone who knew her knows she never left the house without her pink lipstick.
On the Doves of Hope website there are thousands of digital doves scrolling across the screen. Each Dove represents a unique story and is a symbol of love, resilience, and enduring hope.
I found it beautifully touching to think about loved ones creating a dove—carefully choosing the colours and adding symbols to reflect the person they are missing.
To grieving families, or those facing cancer today, paper and digital doves “fly” in an incredibly meaningful display of hope and strength.
Disclosure: This post was written in partnership with/and in support of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation.