By Carol M. Ostrom The Seattle Times
SEATTLE — It’s not surprising that Jeanne Sather wrote her own obituary.
She was, after all, a writer. And a cancer survivor — a longtime, assertive cancer survivor, a title she fought for with every breath and held for 15 years, until she died Monday, Nov. 11, at Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle.
She was 58.
In her blog, “The Assertive Cancer Patient,” she detailed her struggles with doctors, with drug companies, with her cancer. More often than not, she got what she went after, and her guidance and advice helped countless patients.
“She was an independent spirit and heroic cancer fighter,” said Jackson Holtz, a friend. “That may seem trite, but in Jeanne’s case it was the truth.”
Even when she was sick from her various treatments or from the disease itself, Sather battled back, and rallied herself to help others, dispensing advice and inspiration.
Readers showered her with praise. “Jeanne — early on in my diagnosis, your blog made me understand that I could be a very active and informed participant in my own treatment,” one wrote. “I am so grateful that I found you. Your interaction with your doctors has been inspirational to me, and made me change the way I think about and deal with my own diagnosis and treatment.”
Another said: “I want to tell you how much your blogs have helped me over the years. Sometimes, you’ve helped me see my own strength; other times to see how even ‘futility’ has its uses.”
Many referred to her “ferocity of spirit,” her inspiration, her “sharp, funny, deeply human read of cancerworld,” as one reader put it.
Sather was born in Tacoma, the second of four children of Dr. Donald Sather, a veterinarian, and Carol Appell Sather. She grew up in Hoquiam, graduated from Hoquiam High School in 1973 and received an undergraduate degree in communications at Michigan State University.
She studied in Kobe, Japan, and completed a master’s degree in Japanese language with the help of a grant from the East-West Center in Honolulu; she earned a second master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.
In Hawaii, she met Kazuhiro Babe, who was from Japan. Married for eight years, they adopted a son, Akira Babe.
In the mid-1980s, she spent five years in Tokyo, working as journalist and translator. Back in the U.S., she taught journalism for a year in California before returning to Seattle in 1990, pregnant with her second son, Robin Sather.
Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998, then a 43-year-old freelance writer with two children, she thought she was done with the disease after a mastectomy and chemotherapy. In late 2001, she discovered the cancer had spread to her bones.
She detailed her struggles in “Jeanne’s Diary,” featured on a health website. Fired while undergoing cancer treatment and unable to work a regular schedule, she brought such bad publicity to the company it quickly settled. She used the money for a down payment on a house and to pay off some of her mounting medical bills.
In Seattle, Sather wrote for several newspapers and wire services and won a first-place award for “Running with Fear — Confessions of a breast cancer poster child,” which ran in Seattle Weekly in 2003.Robin Sather said his mother was always interested in his education. “She was very interested in what kind of person I would become and in helping me fulfill what I wanted to be,” he said. “And she made sure I could write well.”
In 2005, she wrote the first draft of her obituary. And in 2006, she started her blog. There, and in a story in The Seattle Times, she recounted her fight to be included in a clinical trial of a drug that was effective against her cancer. Every three weeks, she patched together the cash and help to get to Southern California to receive it. In part because of her efforts, the study was expanded to Seattle.
Her blog’s subtitle: “Living with cancer — and an attitude” was her mantra. As she wrote to the FDA at one point: “My life depends on it.”
Toward the end, as cancer invaded her brain; her judgment wasn’t always the best. “She sometimes rubbed people the wrong way,” said her friend, Laurie Fronek. “She sometimes pushed people’s buttons on issues that were important to her.”
But her main focus was staying alive and showing others how to do it. “She wanted to have as long a life as she could with quality, and she was willing to work to make that happen.”
Always, she resisted sympathy and the word “terminal.”
“I am not terminal until I am actually dying,” she said two years ago.
Sather is survived, she wrote in her obituary, by her sons, both of Seattle, and by “the tight circle of friends — both online and in the real world — who helped her live well and happily for the past dozen years.”
Her survivors plan a private ceremony.