Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, developed the podcast series Your Stories: Conquering Cancer to showcase unscripted conversations between patients, doctors, and the family and friends who conquer cancer with them.
In the latest Your Stories episode, “Clinical Trials and Tribulations,” Susan Braun, MA, FASCO, talks with Bill Coulbourne about his late wife, Jane Reese-Coulbourne. Recalling the experiences supporting a wife and friend during and after cancer, they reflect on Jane’s journey from patient to patient advocate, a recurring dream that inspired her, and how they fought to honor Jane’s last wish. It’s a story of how love lives on, even after death.
From clinic to community
Jane was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. She joined a clinical trial and was treated with numerous rounds of intense chemotherapy.
Jane lived nearly 20 years after her breast cancer treatment, and she spent her time working for other people with cancer as a fierce advocate dedicated to supporting patient care. She co-created Project LEAD, an advocacy training program. “Jane wanted people to be knowledgeable, so they could become strong, credible advocates,” says Susan.
A devoted dreamer
Jane’s selfless devotion to cancer research and patient advocacy was evident even in her dreams. Susan shares that Jane experienced a recurring dream about hiking, each time with a different loved one who was living with cancer.
In each dream, Jane noticed that her companion would collapse, and she would frantically search their backpack. According to Susan, Jane knew she needed to find something special about them.
“She carried that with her,” explains Susan. “Jane carried the memories, the essences, of so many people whom cancer had taken. By the time she passed, she probably had the heaviest backpack in the world.”
Advocating for the advocate
Jane’s passionate support for patient care went beyond advocacy. Her final wish was for her body to be given to cancer research for use in rapid autopsy, which happens in the hours immediately following a death. But Bill and Susan were met with pushback from hospital staff who insisted Jane hadn’t signed the right forms.
Susan and Bill fought to ensure Jane’s request was honored, remaining in Jane’s hospital room even after staff agreed to honor her wish. “We laughed at ourselves… We were guarding her until we were sure she was going to get that autopsy,” recalls Susan. “Jane wanted this, and we were fiercely defending her right to have it.”
Hear more about Jane’s story, including Bill’s experiences as a caregiver. The Your Stories podcast, from Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation, features candid conversations between family and friends who conquer cancer alongside their loved ones. Subscribe to Your Stories today.