St. Paul blogger shared cancer story

Posted Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008  comments  Print Reprints
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ST. PAUL, Minn. - When her oncologist told Emilie Lemmons a week and a half ago that she might not have much time left, she went home and finished writing out her Christmas cards.

Ever the writer, after the personal greetings were in the mail and calls had been made, she announced the news to the rest of the world on her blog, Lemmondrops.

She titled the post "The next ... and probably last ... chapter in my life."

It was her last post. She died five days later, just as Christmas Eve approached, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on its Web site Monday.

The 40-year-old St. Paul freelance writer began blogging about her life while pregnant with her older son, now 2, but in the past year and a half, her personal online journal - which she subtitled "sweet and sour stories of life, love and little ones" - focused on the story of living with sarcoma, a rare and aggressive cancer of the connective tissue and bones.

That story began in 2007 when Lemmons, newly pregnant with her second son, felt a hardening in her abdomen that resulted in a cancer diagnosis and surgery to remove the cantaloupe-sized mass that had probably been growing for about five years. Three weeks after her healthy baby's birth in March, Lemmons learned the cancer had spread and was no longer considered curable.

The St. Paul woman kept writing through it all - not only writing about chemotherapy and radiation and hospitalizations, but also posting photos of her two children, writing about the process of remodeling her bathroom, linking to other blogs she was reading and finding joy in ordinary pleasures like drinking a latte, going to a bookstore and taking a family vacation.

Her blog was a graceful meditation on how each moment is a gift to be fully lived, and that message has drawn readers - many of them strangers - from around the world. Her last post on Dec. 19, in which she announced she was setting up home hospice care, had received 250 comments as Monday morning.

"Thank you for showing me that the smallest blessings in life matter the most," wrote one commenter.

"You inspire me to live more fully and in the present moment," another commented.

Through her blog, Lemmons shared details about life after a terminal diagnosis: how she sought out stories of motherless children who still grew up well-adjusted; her refusal to let the cancer consume every thought but to instead appreciate the moment in which she was living, whether it was cooking her favorite potato leek soup or holding her baby; the distracting pleasures of hot baths and good books; her pet peeves, like being called strong just because she has cancer; and, near the end of her life, wondering whether it was OK to give herself permission to die.

"Reading her blog has been a real opportunity for awakening," said fellow local blogger Pam Bosch, who - like many Lemmondrops readers - did not personally know Lemmons. Bosch started reading Lemmons' site after following a link from another blogger.

"Emilie's blog stands out for the beauty of her prose and the obvious gift she has for writing, and reading it gives you perspective on your own life and struggles," Bosch said. "It has also taught me how to be supportive of people who are going through something like being diagnosed with cancer. And then there's always part of you that sees something of yourself here: 'This could be me.'"

In addition to her blog, Lemmons wrote a monthly column for the Catholic Spirit, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, so she was used to writing for an audience. But that doesn't mean it was always comfortable.

"I do sometimes wonder why people who don't know me read the blog, and I sometimes get weirded out about writing such personal things in such a public way," Lemmons said during an interview before her condition deteriorated. "With this last post, part of me is just trying to steel myself for the onslaught of comments like 'We're still holding out for a miracle' or 'Have you tried coffee enemas?'

"Most of the comments on my blog are from people I don't know personally. My friends will e-mail or call me instead. I know they're out there, reading the blog, but they don't leave comments," she said. "There are some exceptions, though, ones that give me comfort, like after I wrote a long post about how I was in kind of a hard place. It was really helpful to read my friend Liz's comment about how prayers of discernment are as valuable as prayers for the strength to fight."

In July, after Lemmons wrote about how she was still experiencing "the easy part" of her cancer journey - "I'm still fully focused on living. I can wash my own face." - but also about how she grew tired of well-meaning people telling cancer patients that it was important to keep a positive attitude - "positive people die of cancer all the time" - a friend sent her this e-mail:

"Your entry on 'The Easy Part' was - I'm having trouble finding the right word here - beautiful? poignant? moving? honest? I still can't find the right word. Melancholy? ... That's the emotion your post stirred in me. There isn't one word to describe it, because I think the real things in our lives are usually more complicated than that."

The role of the blog in her marriage to Stephen Lemmons was complicated, too. When she first started blogging while pregnant with their first child, he told her he'd prefer she left their personal life out of it - so she kept certain topics, like marital squabbles or details about their sex life, offline. She did write about his emotional support, though, and she posted family photos of the two of them with their children, Daniel, 2, and Benjamin, 9 months. Over time, Steve came to see the power of his wife's blog in different ways.

"When I see her at the keyboard, she has a glow in her eyes and a smile on her face," he said before his wife died. "As far as her illness, when people have questions, it's nice to be able to direct them to the blog so I don't have to retell the story over and over again. And one of the great things about the blog, because she's published it into a book format, it will be a real treasure to give to our boys, so they can get a better feel for who their mom was."

This month, even as she struggled to breathe because of the cancer, as well as the numbing effects of heavy pain medication, Lemmons continued to write.

"The physical act of typing has become harder in the last few weeks - I find that I'm constantly misspelling words, that I have my fingers on the wrong set of keys and have to go back and readjust my fingers - but the act of writing itself is still therapeutic," Lemmons said Dec. 19, just before she published her last post. "Writing enables me to process what's been going on as it happens and, in a way, to find a greater understanding of myself."

When Lemmons could no longer write, her husband did so for her Wednesday, just hours after she died:

"Emilie passed away in her sleep last night," he wrote. "I was holding her hand as she faded away."

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Find Emilie Lemmons' blog at lemmondrops.blogspot.com.

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St. Paul Pioneer Press, www.twincities.com

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