Jennifer Dieges, an occasional Slingshot writer and Organizer artist who lived with a number of Slingshot collective members, died March 19 of breast cancer. She was 35.
Jenn and I were a couple for a little over a year and after we broke up, we were best friends. She moved into my house two years ago and died there — in her own bed with her dignity intact. I was with her when she died, along with her mother and her sister. All our housemates were outside her room as she breathed her last breath.
Jenn was raised in a conservative Republican family in Southern California and her life represented an impressive journey to new ideas. She considered herself an eco-feminist and lived her ideals in many big and small ways. She loved communal living, sharing and living lightly on the earth. She was an avid bicyclist who biked to almost all her chemotherapy treatments. As she got too sick to ride by herself, she would ride on the back of my tandem bike. She protested the WTO in Seattle even though her doctor told her to avoid tear gas because of her treatments.
Jenn was a citizen of the world serving in the Peace Corps in Togo in West Africa after college and also living in England and Australia. She was terribly disappointed that her cancer prevented her from living on all 6 continents.
Jenn was a poet who wrote and read constantly. Her last Slingshot article entitled “Getting Around is Not AUTOmatic” appeared in issue #84. She was a loud person — argumentative and opinionated — with a great heart. She cared about everyone around her equally, without ranking people. At the very end of her life when we were scheduling people to sit with her, I handed her a list of the huge number of people who wanted to visit and asked her to tell me who should get to come first — she wrote “1” next to all the names.
She was an outdoors person who loved river rafting, backpacking, skiing and rock climbing. Even as the cancer weakened her body, she refused to let it limit her adventures. She went snow camping — cross-country skiing with a frame backpack to hot springs in the Sierras — about two months before she died.
After the cancer had metastasized to her bones, Jenn completed her teaching credential and became an English teacher at Berkeley High School where she helped found the School of Social Justice and Ecology — a small school within a school. She beat the cancer when it spread to her brain with a single radiation treatment. When the cancer spread to her liver, she kept teaching while doing increasingly harsh chemotherapy.
Jenn fought cancer for 7 years and the cancer hung over her the whole time I knew her. But Jenn never let the cancer define her life — she lived life like she didn’t have cancer. Mostly, unless she told you she had cancer, you wouldn’t know. Jenn didn’t lose her fight with cancer — in a profound way, she won.