a love story…a life story
February 4, 2013
I am so honored to have my friend Nicki share the love story of our dear friend Jen…this is what living a life of deep love and kindness looks like, in the face of incredible mountains…love looks ahead, while we hope and pray.
A Love Story…A Life Story
by Nicki Peasley
Old friends remind us of who we were in our innocence. And give us the space to grow in wisdom, to become who we are meant to be. Old friends don’t see our wrinkles or our extra 5 pounds; we are forever 16 in their eyes. Old friends love our kids unconditionally because they see us in their moodiness and drama. Old friends hold us close and let us go. They are our home.
Jen and Maury Cave are my old friends. And this is their story.
It all began in high school. They knew of each other, but their circles rarely overlapped, for obvious reasons. Jen was the captain of the dance team, strutting her stuff every Friday night on the football field, while Maury was usually found smoking cigarettes under the bleachers with his tie-dyed tribe.
It wasn’t until the end of high school that they really noticed each other. It was on a warm summer night, at a pool after hours. Maury was wearing a pair of girl’s floral shorts singing, “There are Stars in the Southern Sky,” and Jen was so smitten that she saved the wrapper from the gum he gave her that night. She still has it.
Fast forward to the college years. Jen and Maury had lost touch until one fateful evening when Jen set out with her friends to meet a “mountain man. “ And when Maury, with his shaggy hair, blue jeans, and boots, saddled up beside her at the bar, Jen knew he was exactly who she was looking for.
Maury was a gentleman throughout their courtship. When he’d spend the night at Jen’s apartment, he’d sleep on the couch with his boots on. He was a man of few words, but his actions spoke loudly. So it was no surprise to his tribe of friends (that included me) when he asked Jen to be his wife.
It was a perfect Southern spring wedding, a plethora of pink and plum and happily ever after. Jen and Maury danced their first dance to “It Had To Be You,” Maury crediting his moves to all his years in Cotillion, and Jen, a vision in white, flowing across the dance floor like an angel.
Just two weeks after the wedding, Jen and Maury’s happily ever after was abruptly disrupted. Jen was diagnosed with a rare kidney disease called FSGS, a condition which would ultimately destroy her kidneys. For the next 6 years, she and Maury endured all the challenges that came with Jen’s illness. These were very difficult times for both of them, but they navigated the rough waters with patience and compassion and love.
When Jen’s kidneys failed, her family and friends were tested as potential donors. And Maury was the best match. Not only were they a match made in heaven, but so were their kidneys.
The night before the surgery, Maury and Jen shared a hospital room. Maury slept, but Jen lie awake for most of the night, watching her husband and giving thanks to her angels for the love she’d found with him.
The surgery was a success and Jen’s health improved slowly. She and Maury were enjoying their professional lives and they had a great group of friends, but what they want more than anything was a family. The couple knew that Jen’s body wasn’t strong enough to endure a pregnancy so they decided to adopt.
On August 20, 2005, Maria Cristina was born in Mazatenango, Guatemala. She lived with a lovely foster family for the first 7 months of her life. During that time, Jen and Maury received pictures and video clips of their daughter. They couldn’t wait to hold her in their arms.
Finally, the day came for Jen and Maury to travel to Guatemala to meet their little angel. As the foster mother placed Maria Cristina in Jen’s arms, the beautiful little soul became Gabriella Cristina Fontaine Cave.
That first night on Forest Hill Avenue, Maury stayed awake to watch Gabi sleep. Standing in the doorway of the nursery, Jen remembered the night she’d stayed awake watching Maury sleep, the night before he saved her life. Now, it seemed, they were all saving each other.
Over the next 7 years, Gabi and parents grow together in love, but Jen’s health issues continued to be a central theme in this family’s story.
Many people think that kidney transplant is a cure for all kidney disease. Not so. In Jen’s case, she still has FSGS (a condition that continues to weaken her kidneys). The transplant, which on average is viable for 10 years, only prolongs her life.
Learn more about FSGS here.
Another little known fact is that in order to avoid kidney rejection, all kidney transplant patients must take an incredible amount of medications for immuno-suppression, blood pressure, cholesterol, ulcers, anti-anemia. And these medications have harsh side effects like swelling, bone weakness, and exhaustion, interfering with any kind of “normal” living.
Furthermore, any time Jen gets sick with a common cold or virus, she usually ends up in the hospital, as fever and dehydration can cause kidney rejection. Over the past 10 years, Jen has been in the hospital 13 times for observation or surgeries related to post-transplant complications.
While the physical challenges Jen endures are extremely difficult, it is the emotional piece that causes her the most pain. She is a mother. And she wants nothing more than to play hide and seek with her daughter and to teach her how to ride a bike. But more often than not, she doesn’t have the energy. Gabi is deeply connected to her mother, often suffering from separation anxiety. While she doesn’t understand Jen’s condition, there is never a time when she doesn’t feel safe and loved in her mom’s arms. And, from my perspective as Jen’s friend and Gabi’s godmother, that’s more than enough.
Now we turn the page of this love story to present time. While Jen and Maury have known that the transplanted kidney might only last 10 years, they hoped to beat the odds. But last month, Jen learned that she needs a second transplant. Her name will be put on “the list” this month, the anniversary of Maury’s beautiful gift to his wife 10 years ago.
Jen’s outlook is positive and realistic. Her family and friends will be tested and she is encouraged by the recent kidney transplant trend of paired donation (www.paireddonation.org), in which donors and kidney patients are placed on a national registry to be matched. So, while a friend or family member may not be a match for Jen, he may be a match for someone across the country whose friend or family member, another willing donor, is a match for Jen. Henrico Doctors actually performed an 11-way paired donation. Check out this inspiring story out of Iowa here.
This is truly the clearest illustration of our deep and sacred connection to each other. Ubuntu. I am because we are.
Jen never leaves her house without a smile on her face. Because of her heroic effort to maintain normalcy, few know the extent of her physical challenges. And even fewer are aware of the emotional and psychological impact her condition creates in the life of her family. Beyond this day to day stress, Jen is also wise to the difficult road to recovery post transplant.
Behind her beautiful smile is the anxiety of a mother and wife, a daughter and a friend. A dancer at heart, Jen is choreographing the routine of her life, a sacred flow between fear and hope. Jen is fighter and she knows no greater weapon than Love. And as her old friend, I can attest that she’s got plenty of that… within her and all around her.
Note: Jen asked me to share her story for 3 reasons: 1) to help her friends and family understand her condition on multiple levels 2) to educate the public about kidney disease and transplant, and 3) to give voice to her pain, so that the energy of the “kindness community” can help her and her family heal.
Jen was very critical of the words I chose to tell her story, as she did not want this to read as a plea for a donor. More than anyone I know, she recognizes the fragility of life and the commitment we make to our children when we bring them into the world… or, in Jen’s case, into our family. My old friend is a realist with an enormous heart… and she wants nothing from you but your prayers.
To share some love with Jen as she continues on her healing journey, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nicki Peasley is a student of life and a teacher of love. In the past, she developed curricula and worked (played and learned and told stories) with elementary and middle school youth. Now, she is living in the question of what’s next. Perhaps just being human is more than enough.