Jessica Clem knows she is running out of time. Metastatic breast cancer is unfair that way.
So Clem decided to make the most of it with a big party.
I didn't want people to gather to remember my life at a funeral after I'm gone. Clem, 39, said. I wanted them to gather while I was still alive, to celebrate the life I'm still living. Our family called it a fun-eral.
On April 20, more than 500 people turned out for Clem's "Breast Fest," held in Ames as a fundraiser for breast cancer.
I'm still processing it, she said. I'm astonished by the turnout. People came from all stages of my life, from high school and college. People flew in from all over just for me. I'm so touched by that. I have good people in my life.
Clem, an Ames native and Nevada resident, was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 and was treated with chemotherapy and radiation.
They say if you reach the five-year mark, you've survived, and some even say you're cured, Clem said. I'd reached that point, and I thought my cancer was something that was behind me.
She and her husband, Pat, struggled through treatments for the infertility caused by cancer treatment in order to have their son, Carson, now 4 years old.
But when Carson was 9 months old, Clem said she began to feel breathless.
I was doing everything right, she said, keeping a healthy lifestyle, and I just thought I was having some kind of problem with my heart or lungs.
Instead, her doctors found that her cancer had spread to her lungs.
It was the most devastating moment Clem said. We had just had a baby, we were moving on to a better part of our lives, and we were blindsided by the news.
Soon it will be four years since that devastating moment, and Clem's doctors say that she has exhausted her treatment options. She is still pursuing active treatment, she said, but she knows that she is facing the end.
My doctors and I are on the same page, she said, and I know the road is not very long at this point.
Clem is direct about the time she has left.
Of course I feel cheated, she said. I won't get to see Carson grow up. I won't get to grow old with my husband. But when you're forced to face things that are completely beyond your control, you decide how you're going to react to it. I'd rather focus on enjoying the time I have rather than grieving what I will leave behind. I've always been an optimist.
She understands that some people find the idea of throwing parties in this situation difficult to accept.
Some people have found it a very strange concept, Clem said. But I'd rather go out that way than being secluded and depressed. I would recommend this to anybody. It really doesn't have a weird morbid feel to it. A friend of mine said I'd changed the face of death in Ames, Iowa. I'm not sure if that is true, but I've done it in a way that feels right for me and the people I love.
That party, the night that was meant to celebrate her life, also raised $70,000 for the Bliss Cancer Center at Mary Greeley Medical Center. Clem said her family was expecting to raise about $20,000. The response, she said, was overwhelming.
Carson is only 4 years old, Clem said. How much of me will he really remember I have no idea. But I look at it as a legacy that will show him what kind of person his mother was. I hope when he is older he sees it as something to be proud of.
Jessica Colene Miller Clem, 39, joined our Heavenly Father on June 26, 2012 at her home surrounded by family and friends. Her vibrant spirit, enthusiastic love of life, and sparkling smile imprinted the hearts of each life she touched. Jessica (or Jess as she was fondly referred to) embodied the very essence of living life to the fullest each day and was an inspiration and motivator to many.
With her gracious spirit, she was a loving mother, wife, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin and friend. Jessica was also a mentor, a life coach, and an eternal optimist always choosing to appreciate the many blessings that surrounded her.
She was born Jessica Colene Miller on September 14, 1972 in Nevada, IA to Malcolm and Nancy (Hopkins) Miller. From a very early age, it was clear that Jessica would never know a stranger. Her ability to make friends easily came naturally and all who crossed her path adored her. Family meant the most to Jessica, and as a young girl, she made many memories with them which often included a competitive card game of contract rummy to lively games of scrabble and more.
Jessica graduated from Ames High School in 1990, and went on to receive her Bachelor of Science degree in 1994 from Iowa State University where she met her husband Patrick. She cherished her college memories as a Delta Zeta sister, and had continued to maintain life-long friendships with those from both alma maters. With such a loving soul and giving heart, she set out to help others by pursuing a lifelong career in the social services field. She worked for the Institute for Social and Behavioral Research (PROSPER) at Iowa State University. Always a giver, and never a taker, Jessica flourished within this career as she gave of her talents to those who were in need.
In August of 1998, Jessica married Patrick Clem and thereafter, the two enjoyed living in Colorado and traveling the world. Exploring new places led them on many an adventure to the Caribbean, South America, Europe, and most recently Tahiti making lifetime memories. However, they would finally make their forever home (referred to as God's Country), in the picturesque, nature filled countryside east of Nevada, IA.
Jessica's greatest accomplishment was becoming a mother to her only child and son, Carson Patrick. It was a miraculous blessing for her to have a child and her love for him radiated. The two were inseparable all the days of her life.
Jessica found joy in the simple things in life. The sun on her back, the gathering of friends and family, and the reassurance that God had a plan. Her passion was helping others and sharing her gift of humor even during life's challenges. She was a mentor to many who sought her advice, support, and wisdom regarding their own challenges with cancer. With her gracious touch, she was able to put others at ease in her presence and turn any gathering into an impromptu fun-filled event. Recently, Jessica held her own FUNeral where over $75,000 was raised for the Bliss Cancer Center at Mary Greeley Medical Center in Ames, IA. Jessica took pleasure in enjoying the abundant wildlife and nature at their home with her two favorite people and seizing each day with wonder and excitement. She was fond of social gatherings, a lengthy novel, pedicures, the sand under her toes, ocean sunsets, cold MillerLite with friends, her TV "shows", laughing and dancing and bringing joy to all those who surrounded her.
Jessica is survived by her husband, Patrick Clem; their son: Carson, Nevada, IA; parents, Malcolm and Nancy (Hopkins) Miller; brother: Jason Miller, Ames, IA; grandmother Verlee Miller, Wayland, IA; father-in-law Gary (Sue) Clem and mother-in-law Sandra Hostetter, Nevada, IA; sissies, Holly (Dan) Keane, Conifer, CO and Jennifer (Mark) Smith, Nevada, IA; brother-in-law, Christian Clem and fianc? Melanie Johnston, Nevada, IA and many adoring nephews, as well as a close circle of aunts, uncles, and cousins who will greatly miss her presence in their every day. Jessica was admired for her strong will, her rare courage as she faced adversity, and her true faith in Jesus Christ.
Jessica is preceded in death by grandfather Kenneth Miller and grandparents Duane and Jeanne Hopkins.
Visitation will be 2:00-5:00 PM Sunday, July 1st at Saint Thomas Aquinas Ames, IA with a Scripture Service and sharing of memories at 5:00 PM. Funeral services will be 11:00 AM Monday, July 2nd at Saint Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church.
In lieu of flowers, Jessica asked that memorials may be made in her honor to the MGMC Foundation, 1111 Duff Ave. Ames, IA 50010 where her endowment will flourish for years to come in support for others at the Bliss Cancer Center.
The Bacon Funeral Home in Nevada is handling arrangements.