We are here today to celebrate the life of Jen Mangino. She was an amazing woman, a great friend, a caring doctor, a loving mother and the most wonderful wife.
Jen and I first met in Spanish class our freshman year of high school. She was Paquita, I was Antonio. She was a hard working, dedicated student, I was... not.
If this were the kind of romance novel Jen liked to read, it would have been love at first sight. But it's not, and it wasn't. We saw each other in band and at work and shared friends in common until the summer before our senior year when we went on our first date. Our exact first date is still under dispute. Jen said we went to the fourth of July fireworks together, but I didn't know that was a date. I claim our first date was Lollapalooza. either way, our first date was a disappointment for Jen. At the fireworks, I mostly ignored her and didn't kiss her goodnight (I didn't know it was a date!) At Lollapalooza it was more than 100 degrees out. I wanted to see the first band (The Mighty Mighty Bosstones) so we got to the concert early leading to us spending more than twelve hours in the sun. Jen assumed that since I asked her on this date she didn't need to bring money. Me, being a stupid teenage boy, assumed that Jen would buy herself food and drinks. I made frequent trips for food, never offering her as much as one of my chicken nuggets. That's who I was before Jen.
For some reason, she kept going out with me. We dated throughout our senior year, even going to prom together. Towards the end of her senior year, Jen answered some questions with incredible prescience. She predicted that she would be married and a pediatric oncologist.
In response to the prompt "I would describe myself as:" Jen wrote HAPPY with a big smiley face.
The last question was "what is the best quote or piece of advice you have heard?" Jen wrote:
"Interviews with the elderly and terminally ill do not report that people have regret for the things they have done, but rather for the things they have not done."
Underneath, she wrote "Live your life to the fullest and make things happen" She certainly did that.
When it came time to go to college, Jen had decided to go to Ohio State to study biochemistry. Ohio State seemed fine to me, so I followed her there.
In college, I did the thing stupid guys do and broke up with her. After all, I was an idiot college freshman. Only after breaking up with her did I realize how much I truly loved Jen. Less than a month later, I was asking her out again. She agreed and we went to the movies to see "Beavis and Butthead Do America". Clearly this is still not one of her romance novels.
We dated all through college. Jen was certainly the overachiever. She loved school and did well in every class except organic chemistry. She studied hard, but couldn't ever do as well in the class as the other students. Before the final exam, she learned that her professor used the same test every year and most of the other students in the class had gotten copies. Their note cards included all the answers to the test questions. Meanwhile, Jen was doing the work herself. Being Jen, she didn't even consider cheating with a copy of the test. She got the last laugh when the professor figured out what was happening and used a new test for the final. Jen was one of a few people who did well.
Along with the school part of college, Jen was also involved in what seemed like every student organization on campus (including president of Ohio Staters Inc.) I ... played Nintendo and drank beer, sometimes leading to her comforting me while I vomited. (Little did I know how the tables would turn.) In our senior year, I knew that there was nobody I wanted to spend my life with more than Jen. I proposed and for some crazy reason she said yes. We celebrated like typical Columbus residents by going to an Ohio State football game. After we were engaged, I told her I would never forget the date of our engagement. And I still haven't, it was September 11th 1999.
After college, Jen and I got married on June 17th, which just happened to be one week before the deadline to apply for Ohio State season tickets. She went to medical school at Ohio State followed by a pediatric residency in Chicago. Residency was where Jen really blossomed. She worked with an amazing group of people doing work she loved. She was working 80 hours a week, but the smile never left her face. Not even on the night she admitted 26 patients to her service. A record that still stands to this day.
After residency, we moved to Philadelphia for fellowship. While her first year of fellowship was incredibly stressful, with many 100+ hour weeks, we loved Philadelphia. She continued to have amazing co-workers and she was able to do work she loved. Treating kids with cancer was what the job Jen had always dreamed of, and she was amazing at it.
Philadelphia was also the city where our kids were born. As long as I've known Jen, I've felt that she was born to be a mom. We had wanted to have kids for years, but it never quite worked out. In 2010, Jen’s family came to Philly to celebrate her birthday. On a Sunday night, we sang her happy birthday and she made a wish while she blew out the candles on her cake. Later, she would tell us she wished for a baby. The very next day we got the call from our adoption agency about Mikey. She was over the moon. I've never seen her more happy than when she was sitting on the couch with a sleeping Mikey curled up on her.
Two weeks later, while in Columbus for a funeral, we got an even bigger surprise. Jen was pregnant with Tommy! It turns out, when you make a birthday wish, it's important to be specific! Jen was so happy to be pregnant. She did get a few strange looks walking around Philly 6 months pregnant with Mikey in a Baby Bjorn, but she was happy. Her terrible morning sickness didn't even bother her. She would go out to dinner with friends, vomit in a trash can on the walk home, and smile the whole time. (Have you noticed that vomit played a large part in our lives?)
In 2013, we moved to Cincinnati for Jen to take a job at Children's. In this city our kids have grown up, gone to school and made amazing friends. Jen found the most outstanding and understanding co-workers ever. And Jen was diagnosed with cancer.
It was February 4th, 2014, the day before we were scheduled to head to Puerto Rico for spring break. Jen's doctor had scheduled a colonoscopy because he thought she might have IBD. "IBD stinks, but hey, at least it's not cancer!" she told me the morning of the colonoscopy. After the procedure, I sat with a drunk and funny Jen waiting for the doctor to come out. I'll never forget when he said "During the exam, I found a mass that is likely cancer. Your wife won't remember this conversation, so you'll have to tell her again when her head is clear." A few minutes later, Jen asked "Did the doctor come out? How was it?" I steeled myself and told her the news. She immediately nodded off again. A few minutes later, her head raises and she asks "Did the doctor come out? How was it?" Again and again I delivered this news. At one point, I did it as a song knowing that Jen would promptly forget what I said (You should have seen the nurses face when I did that!) But eventually she remembered and we had to face a new reality.
From there, most of you know the story. Jen had 3 rounds of radiation, 6 major abdominal surgeries, more than 30 months of chemo (which was my turn to comfort her while she vomited). Clearly, Jen was incredibly tough.
One example was the year she did Pelotonia. Pelotonia is a bike ride that raises funds for cancer research (I'll be asking for donations shortly). It takes place in Columbus in August and there are distances between 25 and 100 miles. Several years ago, Jen decided that she was going to ride the 25 mile distance. She was a little nervous about the distance, particularly because she was scheduled to receive chemotherapy two days before the ride, but she knew she could do it. Her friend Christine, also a physician, decided to ride with Jen to make sure she would be okay.
The morning of the ride comes and in typical Jen fashion, she vomits a few times before the start. The day of the race was hot and sunny, but Jen was determined. To make sure she was well hydrated, Christine had Jen drink gatorade at every possible opportunity. As the ride went on, Jen felt sicker and sicker. She was the absolute last finisher, but she did it. When she crossed the line she said she could barely walk. After a bit of recovery time, Jen drove an hour to meet me so that she could be there when I finished my ride. There was never a chance that Jen wouldn't make it.
As a funny ending to this story, it turns out part of the reason Jen felt so bad was that she was an undiagnosed diabetic. Thanks for almost killing her Christine!
More than just being tough, Jen also cared about her patients. She didn't let a little thing like being connected to a chemo pump stop her from seeing patients. She just put the pump in a bag, covered her port with a scarf and went to work. She might have needed to step out of a room to vomit occasionally, but Jen never wanted her patients to know that she was sick. I asked her why, and she said that her patients were going through enough. They didn't need to worry about her on top of everything else.
Being tough was important to Jen, but equally important was being caring. There was nothing she wouldn't do for her friends, as Judy found out during residency.
"It was my birthday and I was on gen med call and less than excited to do it. She, without me knowing, arranged to take my call. She just told me to go and enjoy my birthday with Brandon. And it ended up being a crazy call and she didn't get any sleep, and yet the next morning she was still all smiles. And of course this goes without saying, she wanted nothing in return."
I think everyone who knew Jen has a story like this. That was the epitome of Jen. She was hard working, thoughtful, kind and always smiling.
Jen also had an amazing relationship with her family. She was close to her parents in a way I have tried to emulate. She and her sister were more than just siblings, they were best friends as well. They talked almost every day. When Emily moved to Chicago, she was at our house so much it seemed like she lived with us. (Which she did for a bit) Seeing the two of them together was an amazing thing. Em, I know I can't take the place of your sister, but I'll do my best to be there for you. I'll even watch Miss America and text you what I think of each contestant. I draw the line at The Bachelor though.
This week, people keep asking me how I feel. They seem surprised when I answer is that I feel lucky. I feel lucky to have met and married one of the most kind, beautiful, intelligent and amazing women in the world. I feel lucky to have spent almost 25 years with her. I feel lucky to have had the kind of marriage we had, based on respect, love, and mutual understanding. I feel lucky to have married my best friend. We used to call our every other week trips to Columbus dates, and they were. We had hours of time together to just hang out. Even at the very end we loved being together. During one of Jen's last lucid moments, our nurse walked in and asked how she was doing. I said, "She's doing much better now that she gets to see my beautiful face." Jen grunted out a "nah". The nurse laughed and asked what the secret of our marriage was. Jen replied with: (Holding up scissors from Rock paper scissors). I explained that we've always said the secret to our marriage was rock paper scissors. If we couldn't decide who would take the dog out to the bathroom, we played rock paper scissors. Nobody wants to make dinner? Rock Paper Scissors. It was a way to not sweat the small stuff. I'm lucky that Jen showed me how to be an amazing partner with her kindness and patience.
While we may not be able to see Jen, we know she is still with us. I heard that message at her service held at Cincinnati Children’s. I felt the impact she had as we shared stories last night. I’m reminded of her every time I see Mikey and Tommy. Jen taught them so much. From keeping your shoulders square and your bat up in baseball, to the importance of penmanship, she has shaped them in many ways. Recently, Mikey made the comment that "Life is 5% what happens to you and 95% how you react to it." I'm positive that came from Jen. Since her death, I have missed Jen terribly. Seeing her kindness, her compassion, her intelligence and her love in Mikey and Tommy has helped me more than she will ever know. We remember her when we perform selfless acts. For her birthday, Jen never wanted gifts. She wanted to spend time with her family helping others. For the past five years, we’ve celebrated Jen’s birthday by making a meal at the Ronald McDonald house in Columbus. Earlier this year, we scheduled that meal for April 13th. Today. I can’t think of a more wonderful tribute to Jen.
On Monday, Tommy was doing work at school and drawing a picture for the word "dusk". In his picture, he draw a darkening sky with stars in it. One of the stars was labeled "Mama." Jen was our star. She was the bright point in the sky that told us where we should be heading. She is a shining light and example of how we should live. With that, I want to ask you to honor Jen. Be Kind. Be loving. Jen, you will forever be our guiding star.
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