Photo courtesy of Rusty Sammon

“We Are All Janet”

And with those closing words, our tears gradually dried, and the rabbi led the pallbearers and Janet Sollod’s casket out of the synagogue, accompanied by the appropriately mournful notes of the 23rd Psalm.

Janet was a miracle. Still alive nine years after her breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 32, and seven years after discovering that it had metastasized to her liver, she was going to keep on living, and learn to die, on her own terms.

So she kept seeing her pediatric patients, volunteering her time to sick children in her off hours, dancing, planning trips with friends to wherever the snow was deep and good for boarding, and to Burning Man, sometimes in a rainbow suit, sometimes wearing unicorn pajamas. Usually with purple hair.

Janet was a leader, an instigator, someone others turned to instinctively. She had enormous empathy and a great faith in the universe, despite knowing she would die young. She was always exploring, always learning, always participating in and shaping her various communities. She isn’t gone, because her spirit and her example remain inside everyone who knew her. And now we are all Janet.

She looked death straight in the face, and asked us to do the same. Her courage and wisdom were formidable.

I first met and most often saw Janet at the (highly recommended) Exponential Medicine conference, where the future of health and medicine is presented by scientific, medical, and entrepreneurial leaders. The sheer abundance of promising research and entrepreneurial effort leads us to believe that solutions are at hand, and in fact, science and great doctors allowed Janet to survive years longer than expected, so she could climb more mountains and slide down the other side. We can prevent genetic disease, end age-related diseases, and extend life well beyond our 80s. Some imagine senescence as a cellular “malfunction” we can avoid, thereby leading us to immortality, or at least very, very long lives. We have theoretical solutions and some pretty God-like technologies, like CRISPR, to explore and develop.

But in the meantime, people like Janet teach us first and foremost to live a good life, and secondly, to plan a good death. See her inspiring talk at last year’s Exponential Medicine here:

If you would like to honor Janet Sollod with a donation, you can make one in her name to either Commonweal or Bay Area Young Survivors (BAYS).

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