“I have breast cancer and I'm in good hands.”
Those are the words Xeni Jardin, tech journalist, blogger and Boing Boing editor, tweeted to more than 50,000 followers after being diagnosed with cancer in December 2011.
It was on a hunch that Jardin had decided to get a mammogram — her first — after a close friend called with a devastating diagnosis of her own. Wanting to diffuse her anxiety about the procedure, Jardin had been live-tweeting when she got the bad news. “I'm really hoping this involves lasers and cats,” she wrote in between tweets praising the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills. She'd found the clinic the same way she finds places to eat brunch: Yelp.
The month that followed was the hardest of her life.
She cried. She sat in her car in parking lots, screaming. She called close friends and family to let them know, but her sharp reporting instincts also kicked in as her subject became herself and her disease.
Online, she talked about her chemotherapy infusions, shared snapshots of her medicine cabinet overflowing with prescription drugs and posted stunning portraits of herself descending into machines for one scan or another.
“It's like being assigned a beat that you don't want by an editor you can't argue with,” she says.
A year and a half after her diagnosis, Jardin is taking it one day at a time, knowing that she's still in treatment, with more surgery ahead and no guarantees.
“The only closure you get as a cancer patient is the kind that you don't want,” she says. “I'm here today, I'm having a good day and doing the work that I love.”
Cropped, beautifully shaded gray-and-white hair has replaced the signature Marilyn Monroe–esque blond curls Jardin sported before her diagnosis. But the vivacious spirit of a self-described intergalactic space princess seems stronger than ever.
In fact, Jardin recently returned to her home in Santa Monica after spending six weeks in Guatemala covering the trial of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt. Montt was accused of genocide and crimes against humanity during the Central American country's 36-year bloody civil war, in which 200,000 Guatemalans, including large indigenous populations, were killed.
Even in California, Jardin had been unable to peel herself away from the coverage, spending every waking hour watching the story unfold in the courtroom through a live feed. Soon she and her boyfriend, Miles O'Brien, a noted science journalist and former CNN reporter and anchor, were headed to Guatemala on assignment for PBS Newshour, where O'Brien is a science correspondent. They reported on how forensics were used to document charges of genocide.
It's the first time a former head of state has been put on trial for genocide in his home country — and the first time since Jardin's diagnosis that she was able to do the kind of reporting she is most passionate about, drawing attention to an area of the world and a story about which most Americans remain in the dark.
But the stakes of being in Guatemala as a foreign reporter were raised when her social media activity was broadcast on a channel catering to a right-wing audience harboring contempt for the genocide trial, she says. After experiencing a new kind of hostility after that airing, and needing to return to the United States for more medical tests, she knew it was time to go home. Jardin and O'Brien's report on the science behind the historic trial aired in May.
Originally from Richmond, Va., Jardin spent time as a web developer before reporting for publications from coast to coast. It was a little more than a decade ago that she came to BoingBoing.net, the group blog at the forefront of tech culture, for which she is best known. (She's now a co-editor.) She also contributes to NPR and Wired magazine and appears on broadcast news channels as a tech expert, effortlessly switching between roles.
Jardin quickly developed a following as something of a virtual Wonder Woman. She's been listed in Fortune magazine as a blogger businesspeople could not ignore and hosts the Webby-honored “Boing Boing Video,” which appears in-flight on Virgin America. Last year, she became a founding board member of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, a nonprofit committed to funding and promoting public-interest journalism that exposes corruption.
But her cancer coverage was something altogether new. Jardin's brutally honest, humorous and often heart-wrenching micro-storytelling redefined the concept of community, becoming a nexus for discussion while providing real-time glimpses into the life of a cancer patient — and experiences that usually remain behind closed doors.
Her Twitter feed proved to be an amazing source of comfort to her.
“I wish that I could have somehow captured the replies as a stream, because there was just an overwhelming flood of love and support from every single person I knew who was connected to the Internet,” Jardin says.
By chronicling her use of medical marijuana to reduce chemo's gruesome effects, Jardin also highlighted an oft-forgotten aspect of L.A.'s controversial relationship with cannabis: the way it bypasses those who need it most.
“The medical marijuana system in Los Angeles is utterly broken for people with cancer,” she says. “It is way easier for a well-off stoner to access some bud to enjoy on the weekend than it is for a seriously ill person.”
After finishing treatment, Jardin, now 43, recuperated in Hawaii. There, the deep-ocean swims that once gave her panic attacks became a symbolic way to deal with her heightened awareness of her own mortality.
“I could grudgingly say that my inspiration nugget from this whole fucking marathon of shit the last year and a half is that human beings are healing machines,” she says. “Every single day I am stunned and amazed at my own body's capacity to cope with a brutal treatment I had to go through, to cope and adapt, to make normal something that is not normal.”
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