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Dick Murray: I dream of Jeannie

It was my beloved Jill who decided that, once she passed, it would suit her best to spend eternity inside a bottle like the one from I Dream of Jeannie.

Being 20 years older, I always assumed I’d go first. Once we realized that wasn’t going to be the case, we decided the "Jeannie" bottle would be an ideal keepsake for me. And we actually found a guy online who casts these bottles in ceramic or brass to look just like Barbara Eden’s.

Jill was in her late 40s and was still following her career path. A computer scientist by training, she had spent just over 11 years with American Airlines. We would come from Dallas to Monterey, one of our favorite places to visit. When a headhunter recruited her for a position with a global banking company with an office in Salinas, we didn’t think twice about moving to the Peninsula.

We were here about a year-and-a-half when she noticed a little thing on her shoulder, which quickly got quite large. Our family doctor realized it was a lymph node and said, "Oh, Jill."

Within six months it was traced to ovarian cancer, by then at stage IV.

It can make you ill to research cancer online, but it also gives you an idea of what you’re facing. Depending on your perspective, it can arm you with courage or become a death sentence. One of the very best things we discovered was a support group at Community Hospital. We jumped into it immediately and found cancer survivors of 10, 15, 20 years, which gave Jill courage.

One of the first people I met was oncology educator Joy Smith, who was nice enough to engage me in a very long conversation. She introduced us to Sandy Kahn, who runs the Cancer Wellness© support group, which welcomes cancer survivors, caregivers, and family members.

It was the most wonderful thing when we met those people in Cancer Wellness. We quickly felt, if there’s anything you need in your life, surely there’s a person in this group who can satisfy it. The energy in that group is fantastic; each week, we funnel our energy toward people we know are in immediate need of support, maybe because they are about to have surgery or radiation or a test.

Another thing that happens in the group is humor. You do laugh a lot. A lot of people would think "What do you have to laugh about if you’re a cancer survivor?" But there’s a lot of shared experiences, and if you didn’t laugh you’d cry.

After waging a 41/2-year battle, I lost Jill in July of 2007. I still can’t fully accept that loss, and for that reason I continue to attend the group. I don’t know how people survive such a journey without a group like this. Everybody knows everybody, and you don’t have to start from the beginning. You start where you are, and everybody understands.

After Jill’s cancer diagnosis, we made plans to do certain things. We bought a used motor home, a 40-foot jalopy. Our plan was to make a loop around the country, visiting family and friends. We also loved to cruise, so we booked a trip to Hawaii. Trips we weren’t meant to take together.

Before Jill died, she made me promise I’d make that big old roundtrip. I drove 11,000 miles between September 25 and mid-December. And I did go to Hawaii, and I took "Jeannie" with me.