The Island rallies for Heather Jardin
Last year at this time Heather Jardin was hanging out with friends, walking her dog through the woods, and looking forward to working at the herb garden she manages at Morning Glory Farm. But after she was diagnosed with leukemia in January, her life became very different.
This Saturday night, friends and neighbors will join together at the PA Club in Oak Bluffs to raise funds to assist the 27-year-old Islander while she continues to battle the disease.
While her prognosis is good - "knock on wood," says Ms. Jardin - she faces three more chemotherapy treatments. Although she does not always feel sick, she must remain secluded at home most of the time rather than risking contagion because of her chemotherapy-depleted immune system.
A reserved and quiet woman who loves farming and nature, art and photography, Ms. Jardin is no stranger to hard times. Her mother, Lynn Jardin, died three years ago. But with a strong and industrious spirit and a network of relatives and friends, she fashioned a full and rewarding life with a meaningful job, a caring boyfriend, and the company of her faithful dog, Wylee.
Ms. Jardin grew up in Edgartown, with her grandparents Phyllis and Frank Jardin and a large extended family nearby. She would bike to town and visit her mother at the Dukes County Savings Bank where she worked. She skateboarded, drew, and painted.
"I spent a lot of time in Cannonball Park and just rode my bike all over the place," she recalled. "I was pretty independent."
Ms. Jardin planted a vegetable garden with her mother, and when she was a student at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, applied for a job at Morning Glory Farm. It changed her life.
"I ended up finding my calling there," said Ms. Jardin. After several years she headed to the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Back at Morning Glory she took over the herb garden, which she manages with pleasure and pride.
"You make so many good lifelong friendships there, meet so many people, it's like a big family," she said, calling farm owners Jim and Debby Athearn "great people."
Ms. Jardin's active, happy life came to a standstill beginning in late December. After feeling tired and "not right" for a few weeks, and hearing people comment how pale she appeared, she visited the doctor expecting to hear it was something only minor and readily treatable.
When blood tests revealed severe anemia, she was referred to a hematologist on the Cape, and from there to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. A painful blood marrow biopsy confirmed that she had leukemia.
"How could I have leukemia, I never get sick!" she thought. "I have a good immune system, I eat very well, I'm active, I exercise."
With no time to waste, Ms. Jardin was admitted to Dana Farber for an aggressive month-long treatment regimen. It began with seven days of around-the-clock intravenous chemotherapy, an emotional time. Over the next three weeks she had fevers, contracted pneumonia, began to lose her hair - predictable but frightening and unpleasant side effects.
Although Ms. Jardin realized she was very sick, she cannot remember everything that happened. But there is one thing she knows for certain. "I was never alone," she said. "There was not a single night that entire month that I was alone."
Her dad, Peter Fortin, aunt Karen Bergeron, and boyfriend Jesse Ward, and a cadre of close Island friends rallied around to comfort her and keep watch.
"I don't think if I lived anywhere else but Martha's Vineyard that it would have happened," she added, "but every morning when I'd wake up there were more cards or presents from people on the Island, even people I don't know."
Family friend Chris White of Edgartown, knowing Ms. Jardin was facing a mountain of bills and months of being unable to work, joined others to plan a fundraiser. Rick Padilla, guitarist and singer for The Mercy Beat, and Sugar Bowl will provide music. Many Island businesses have contributed gift certificates for a raffle.
Ms. Jardin looks forward to attending. Like any 27-year-old, she is excited to see her friends and socialize. The reprieve will be short-lived, since she returns to Dana Farber on March 26 for another five-day treatment.
The cycle of treatment and recovery continues until early summer when Ms. Jardin must get frequent check-ups. Statistics show there is a good chance she will remain in remission, but only after being leukemia- free for five years will she be declared cured.
"I took a long time to accept it, but I'm pretty positive about my outcome," said Ms. Jardin. "It's very treatable and one of the most curable types of cancer.
"It's definitely a learning experience. I've learned to appreciate my life so much more."
Ms. Jardin credits her strong support system for helping her get through the ordeal. "I'm really glad I live on Martha's Vineyard and we have the community we have here," she said. "I'd thank everybody but there's too many people to name."
Benefit Event, Sat. March 22,8 pm-12 midnight, Portuguese-American Club, Oak Bluffs. Entertainment by The Mercy Beat and Sugarbowl. $20.