Monday, April 07, 2008

A Student Dies

A couple former students let me know that Dee-Jade Chock just died from the cancer she had been fighting for 12 years. She was 29. It would be better to say she lived with cancer. I didn't know her well enough to praise her with the thoroughness I would like, but everything I know about her is good stuff, solid stuff, the stuff of everlasting grief for those who were close to her in her life and will now be close to her in absence. That is the way it works.

I met her when she was a student in my News Media class, which disappeared (I think) because of the ramshackle way in which I taught it. I liked teaching it because then I knew everyone going through the department on the media side.

Dee missed the midterm, and she came to office to explain why. I had cancer surgery, she said. That's why I missed the test.

She said it matter-of-factly. I had surgery would have worked just as well. I had no sense she was angling for sympathy or extra consideration or anything. Cancer was what she had. No stigma in that. Cancer was war, and this was school, and she drew the line.

I thought to myself: This child may be exceptional. If that was me, I'd play my disease one way or the other, probably for a little sympathy or a little drama, making a joke to underline my bravery, asking for praise by not seeming to.

She just said: I had cancer surgery. When can I make up the test?

I watched her out of the corner of my eye from then on. It turned out in the copy editing class that she already knew Quark Xpress -- I didn't but faked it anyway -- and was a good tutor, so I brought her back after graduation occasionally to do weekend workshops when I taught editing because she was so gracious and efficient.

Sometimes she talked about chemo, commentary minus complaint. Sometimes I got one of those "big" emails to her friends and acquaintances explaining how something that had shown some promise hadn't kept working, but now she was trying something else.

I will not give up, she wrote. There's always something new. On one of those tutoring trips to USF her boyfriend drove her up from the Peninsula and then came back to pick her up. He was wearing his pajamas when he dropped her off. That seemed to me just the right note, the substance of the kind of ease and companionship that outlives anything, including ....

Well, it does, doesn't it? After that I referred to him as Pajama Boy, which seemed to make her smile. They got married last year.

That was the only advice I ever gave her, gave it without solicitation after the last terrifying email I got from her: Get married. I mean, marry Pajama Boy. Leave as much as you can behind you. Leave your touch on as many people as possible.

Of course, I didn't need to tell her that. I was telling myself. That's what some people do. They remind you of what you already know. Why do we forget?


roberto bonifacio USF class of 2000 said...

Reading your posting helped me write my own farewell to Dee Jade, like the stone. Thank you for that. She was truly a bright light.

david silver said...

thanks, Michael, for the beautiful post. i never knew Dee-Jade but she sounds, like Roberto notes, like a bright light.

Anonymous said...

The maturity with which she dealt with her illness was impressive, noble, and a lesson in how to live.

Toan said...

God has called Dee-Jade home.
After finding out the news from a former USFer, I called some close friends to pontificate about her untimely passing, and to share stories and memories.

I met DJC at USF my freshman year during orientation, along with her sister, Kelly aka Demi Moore :) We also shared a few classes, including News Media, with MJ Robertson. In the middle of the semester, she told me she needed to take some time off from school because of cancer surgery. NEVER ONCE did she complain, no woe is me, no why me...instead, she would say, "I'm tired," and then smile, as if she were consoling me about the news.

Charles Swindoll once said, "10% of life is about what happens, 90% is how you react to it." This quote embodies DJC's spirit and positive attitude.

My sister told my nephew when he was one year old, "I hope you grow up to be compassionate and kind... that's all I hope for you." With that said, DJC's parents, Hamilton and Doreen should be proud, DJC was not only compassionate and kind, she lived her 29 years of life to the fullest. She's classy to boot and is missed.

TJ Jackson said...

A great post about a sad story. My mother went through breast cancer, and the thing I alwasy remember about the way she handled it was her stoicism in regard to the cancer. It was a bump in the road, nothing more. And she didn't just say it, but truly believed it. I didn't know Dee, but to have such perspective at that age is remarkable and incredibly admirable. Thanks for enlightening us to a wonderful member of the USF family.

BBP said...

I remember Dee-Jade Chock.


the cancer blogs said...

unfortunately I don't remember Dee-Jade. My thoughts and prayers are with her husband and family.
It was a nice post, doc.

....J.Michael Robertson said...

George, I'm glad we didn't lose you. Your wonderful blog -- your matter-of-fact blog -- helps those who need to demystify and accept. That goes for cancer, and for death, too.

tmo said...


Thanks. The next time someone talks to me about having a hard time, I'll think of Dee-Jade.

James said...

I remember Dee-Jade. She was amazing at the Graphics Center, as an artist, and as an especially gracious human being (letting us use her computers when the Foghorn's melted down, which was often). Her illustrations graced the pages of our opinion section, drawing attention away from many of my woeful arguments.

I can't remember anything about her battling cancer at USF. But I do remember Dee-Jade.

skblackburn said...

Wow. Dee-Jade sounds like an astounding woman. Thanks for this perfectly written post about this amazing and courageous woman.

Alex Yra said...

Professor Robertson,

I knew Dee-Jade, and remember her as a bright, thoughtful young woman. I only knew her for a short time, but considered her a friend. Your post is a touching tribute to her strength and courage.

Jessica said...

I am heartbroken about this news because Dee-Jade was a fighter, never letting her cancer get in the way of her life. Yet as much as she was a warrior, her spirit was so peaceful.

I used to work with her brother-in-law at my very first job out of college. When I was being interviewed, he said, "I already know all about you." He has seen that I went to USF and asked Dee-Jade if she knew me. She did and said kind words about me and the work I did. I will always remember that about her--she took time to get to know you. really know you.

Dee-Jade, I will miss you; we all will.

Patrick Lagreid said...

Lots of good memories of Dee Jade helping me out in the Graphics Center when I was at KDNZ. Lord only knows how much stuff she designed for me. Sad to hear the news.

Anonymous said...

My wife and I were long time friends of DJ from early high school. My wife was one of DJ's best friends and it pains her to know that Dee Jade is gone. However, she is at peace now and free of the cancer that brought her pain for so many years. You wrote so fondly of her and I wanted you to know that DJ was everything and then some of what you wrote. We will miss you Jade!