Honoring My Partner’s Legacy

My partner, Jan, was a CF fighter for 50 years. She lived an amazing life and celebrated her lung transplant to the fullest. She passed away a few months ago and I'm honored to keep her fight against CF going strong.

| 6 min read
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Danielle Doerfler
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Jan was a CFer.

Jan was a double-lung transplant recipient.

Jan lived 50 full years of life.

Jan was my partner and my best friend.

It is hard to articulate the impact someone has had on your life and the life of others, especially if that person was Jan. Jan Thompson's life -- and how she lived it -- is a true testimony to the fight against CF, the success and amazing opportunities the gift of organ donation provided, and the spirit of someone who will never quit.

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Danielle (left) and Jan hiking the Grand Canyon.

Danielle (left) and Jan hiking the Grand Canyon.

Jan passed in April of this year from complications of cystic fibrosis and lung rejection. There are no words to articulate grief, what it feels like, looks like on you, how it impacts you and ultimately how you see through it every day. There is nothing easy about it and your life is never the same.

But through grief comes promises, conversations, and the long-standing impact and legacy of an amazing individual. It is through those promises I have found hope.

I got to love Jan after transplant and see all the amazing ways that she celebrated her lungs. She jumped out of planes (twice) and off the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, zip lined, parasailed, went paragliding, navigated a hot air balloon, and kayaked the ocean. She loved the freedom of the air and the solace of the water. Through all these amazing adventures we made wonderful memories.

With all that Jan accomplished, her most inspiring endeavors involved her participation in Cystic Fibrosis Foundation events. Fundraising for Team Got O2?! (Jan's name for her team) for such events as Cycle for Life, Great Strides, and Xtreme Hike became a part of our lives. Training hikes, creating T-shirts, selling candy bars (yes, Jan loved Fannie May), and fundraiser events became our passion. Nothing compared to watching Jan train for those events and her commitment and dedication to do so.

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In 2018 she signed up to do what she labeled the “trifecta.” She would hike the spring Xtreme Hike with the Gateway Chapter in Missouri, then hike the Grand Canyon Xtreme Hike with the Arizona Chapter, and conclude with the fall Xtreme Hike back in Missouri. Jan was a 48-year-old CFer doing it all and determined to finish. She did finish, although the battle of getting enough electrolytes won in the Grand Canyon and Jan had to turn around just before reaching Phantom Ranch. She hated that, but she loved that she attempted one of the most challenging Xtreme Hikes. What Jan didn't realize was that her commitment to hiking, her speech at the dinner the night before, and her passion would inspire the hearts of every hiker, hike guide, and the entire Arizona Chapter.

We had the privilege of returning in 2019 to the Grand Canyon where I did the Xtreme Hike. But life looked a lot different. Not only did we switch roles, with me hiking and Jan volunteering, but Jan was six months into lung rejection -- one year, one change, and one big difference. I still don't know how she did it: the plane ride, the altitude changes, and the inability to breathe. However, she did it because that's what Jan did. She sat at the finish line and greeted every single hiker with a hug, watching the first hiker come in and waiting until sunset to greet the very last. She wanted those people to see CF, to see her fight, and to see her give the ultimate thanks to anyone who helped us get closer to a cure.

Life continued to change and -- ultimately -- we received a terminal diagnosis in January 2020. There would be no second lung transplant for Jan. As we navigated what that kind of news brings to a relationship, a future and our current life together, we leaned on promises. I was never a great hiker or cyclist, but running was my passion. I promised to continue to run after she passed and to find solace in those runs, much like Jan found it in the air and the water. She promised to be with me on those runs. I promised to continue the fight to find a cure for CF and to honor her legacy with Team Got O2?! I fulfilled that promise shortly after her passing by signing up for the Gateway Chapter's fall Xtreme Hike. I promised to take trips, live to the fullest and do all the things we didn't get a chance to do.

She promised to be there on every one of those journeys, life decisions, and future challenges I would face. I believe she already has done so.

What Jan may or may not have realized is that with every hike, walk, and cycle event, she gave us all the ability to fight -- fight CF, fight loss, and fight grief. If you knew her, your life will never be the same and there will never be another Jan. But, in a world of challenges, we can all “Be the Jan.” It's a simple formula really, Laugh Often + Love Deeply + Never Quit.

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Danielle has embodied the roles of partner, caregiver, and advocate for cystic fibrosis over the course of the last six years. Through her late partner Jan and their Team Got O2?!  Danielle has participated and fundraised for Great Strides, Xtreme Hike, Cycle for Life, and been on the planning committee for the Foundation's Gateway Chapter's FestivAle. Outside of her passion for CF awareness, Danielle is currently the Associate Director of Athletics and Deputy Title IX Coordinator at Fontbonne University in St. Louis. She currently resides in St. Louis with Jan's beloved dogs, Izzie and Eeyore. Danielle's favorite pastimes are running half marathons and various 10K/5K road races and spending time with her nephew Ryker. Follow Danielle and her Team Got O2?! adventures on Facebook or Twitter.

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