Lovingly penned by Alex Whitaker (Team Jennifer)
“Life, love and light.” My wife, Jennifer Whitaker, started signing correspondences with this phrase sometime in early 2015. It seemed so simple at the time, a nice way to end a note. I don’t think I completely understood what she meant though, until after she passed away a few months later…
Jennifer had fought sarcoma for nearly four years (and she had already beaten it once before). When she died I asked that instead of flowers, donations be given to the sarcoma centers that treated her, including Levine Cancer Institute. That’s how I came to meet Sue Udelson and to learn more about The Paula Takacs Foundation for Sarcoma Research. Sue wrote the nicest notes offering condolences and thanking our family for supporting the Foundation. I immediately felt a connection to Sue and the Paula Takacs Foundation. I found out that she had lost her brother to sarcoma, and then her friend Paula as well. I was touched by their stories and amazed at what they created.
From what I have heard about Paula, I believe that she and Jennifer would probably have been friends. They seem to have had a lot in common. Both had beautiful smiles and warm spirits that seemed to radiate genuine kindness. I’ve heard Paula had a great sense of humor, and so did Jennifer. They both seemed to be determined to have fun and laugh despite what they were going through. I understand they both reached out to people, to spread joy and love. They both wanted to help others and they fought for this despite all they were going through, Jennifer through her work as a clinical social worker and Paula through the establishment of her namesake foundation. There was joy and gratitude for each day, for life and for love.
I signed up for the 2016 Sarcoma Stomp and formed Team Jennifer. I was searching for anything to honor my wife and her fight, to somehow make a difference.
From my experience participating in the Sarcoma Stomp, I came to understand that “life, love and light” was everything Jennifer stood for. To live fully, to love sincerely and deeply, and to find and spread light, especially in darkness. It was everything she was fighting for. And now I think it’s also what she wanted for us in her absence. I also saw “life, love and light” in the Paula Takacs Foundation. I continue to see it in the patients, families and medical teams fighting sarcoma. It fills the air and our hearts at the Sarcoma Stomp and I see it in their photos of the other events. I can feel it in the PTF correspondence.
Several months after my first Stomp in 2016, I attended the annual gift presentation by PTF to Levine Cancer Institute. Dr. Edward Kim, Chair of Investigative Therapeutics, spoke about the amazing work being done as a direct result of the PTF’s efforts. We all know there are few treatment options for sarcoma, but here was research leading to new and promising advances in treatment. It also hit me at that presentation that the researchers are using tissue samples of patients from Levine, and that one of these samples had to be Jennifer’s. I left through the same halls Jennifer and I had walked a year before to get her last treatments, now knowing that Jennifer was still making a difference by expanding hope for her fellow sufferers.
And so through the work of the Paula Takacs Foundation, my family continues the fight against sarcoma. I am so grateful to Paula for creating this foundation, to Sue for her tireless work to continue Paula’s legacy, and to all of our supporters. Together, I know that through the funding of more sarcoma research we are finding “life, love and light.” Together, I know that we are making a difference.