THE I HEART JENNY STORY:
Jenny Rie Vanderlinden
The world lost a very special woman on March 29th, 2014. As her children put it, "our Mom didn't lose her battle to cancer, she won it in the way she lived her life to the fullest with her cancer." Who was Jenny Rie Vanderlinden? Words can not truly encapsulate Jenny's essence, but in a sentence: Jenny was a sister, a daughter, a wife, a friend, a mother of four incredible children (two sets of twins), a laugher, a lover, a woman who loved smiling and sunsets, a breast cancer survivor, a cancer warrior, and a beautiful woman who lost her life to a rare form of Ovarian Cacner on March 29th, 2014. Along the way, she inspired the world.
In a Huffington Post artice, one of Jenny's close friends Robyn Griggs Lawrence wrote, "Jenny doesn't seem terrified of this thing that is so far beyond us, this thing that none of us can now see. This same cancer took her mother, and she knows what lies ahead. We talk about the possibility of alternative treatments, extreme diet changes, energy work. She dismisses none of these, nor the possibility of more chemotherapy, but she refuses to chase down miracle cures with a blind faith that could turn on her. Instead, she's investing her unconquerable energy in living the spectacular life she's always lived -- skiing, canyoneering, rafting, traveling and raising four amazing children -- with a bit more urgency." (click here for the full article).
So, what would you do if you knew you knew only had a very finite amount of time left on this earth? Despite Jenny’s adversity she continued to fill her days with adventure, infectious laughter, excitement, and joy. What was incredible was Jenny's ability to smile in the face of it all! Jenny's story will inspire you to take that leap of faith in your own life, and start living life to its fullest. What happens when you let go and start saying yes? Where will it take you? There is beauty in spontaneity, and in truly living in the here and now.
There are many layers to this rich film. At present, the film is being meticulously pieced together. It was shot over a period of two and a half years. It is now in the post production phase, and is slated to be complete in the spring of 2015. I Heart Jenny started when producer and director Blake Babbitt noticed a simple sticker being spread amongst friends on facebook. The sticker was meant to lift cancer warrior Jenny Vanderlinden's spirits. It has now become the world spread and iconic "I Heart Jenny" sticker. This idea blossomed into a feature lenghth documentary. Although the film crew was not there at the beginning of Jenny's diagnosis, the crew and Blake were there for her last days. Jenny wispered into Blake's ear toward the end, "film until the very last second." Jenny believed in the power of this film and its ability to create a movement. This film is meant to inspire you; to open your eyes to the beatuty of life and all that surrounds us. Beyond the inspiration there is awareness.
THE BRCA MUTATION
Jenny was positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. “Certain variations (or mutations) of the BRCA1 gene lead to an increased risk for Breast Cancer and Ovarian Cancer. Women with an abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene have up to a 80% risk of developing breast cancer by age 90; increased risk of developing ovarian cancer is about 55% for women with BRCA1 mutations and about 25% for women with BRCA2 mutations.” Jenny watched her mother pass away from ovarian cancer. Jenny's children are all susceptible to this genetic mutation as well.
After surviving breast cancer, Jenny tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. She made the difficult decision to have a preventative hysterectomy. Believing that she was in the clear, Jenny moved forward with her life, moved to Colorado and started living her outdoors dream life. However, even after having a preventative hysterectomy, upon feeling ill, a hospital visit confirmed that Jenny had primary peritoneal cancer; a rare form of ovarian cancer. Women who are at risk for ovarian cancer are also at increased risk for peritoneal cancer. This is even more likely if you have the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations.
The hope of this documentary is to increase BRCA genetic mutation awareness, and to help change the landscape women's cancers. This is a battle her children should NOT have to face!
A Note From Director and Producer Blake Babbitt:
8/28/14: “Blake! When will the film be done?!” I hear that quite often, so I’ve decided to post this update on the film’s progress: The Short Version: Our goal is to have a rough cut of the film finished by March 29th, 2015.
The Long Version: Spike Jonze said, “I like the idea of the documentary as a portrait. There’s not a chronological beginning, middle, and end structure. You build something in the editing room that’s shaped by getting to know the person and digging deeper, unpeeling the layers of them as you get to know them.”
Right now, my editing team and I are carefully 'unpeeling' the layers of Jenny, her life, and her contribution to this world. When Jenny died my crew and I had been following and filming her for about a year and a half. Over that period of time we accumulated over 4 Terabytes or 4,000 gigabytes of extraordinary footage. In comparison, your phone probably has 16, 32, or 64 gigabytes of storage.
Basically, we have a colossal amount of footage to sift through, organize, and carve a story from. We don’t have a script to guide us… this isn’t a narrative film, so we watch, and re-watch, and carve, and watch some more, and carve some more, and then watch again. Can it be painful, difficult, and exhausting at times to continuously watch and whittle this footage? Absolutely. Do we have to take time away from the project to decompress? Absolutely. Are there days I wish I could call Jenny up and ask her questions, opinions on the direction we’re taking, or just to say hi? Absolutely!! The bottom line is that it simply takes time to sculpt this story-it’s a journey. This is a marathon not a sprint.
In this instant gratification, 24-hour news cycle, reality TV world we live in I constantly feel the pressure to rush this process. It weighs me down at times. However, my team and I must be meticulous and precise in our “unpeeling” of the layers. We cannot rush this. Are there days I wish I had a magic button I could press that would get us to the finish line? Absolutely!
I started this film when I was 27 years old- it was a simple idea to me at the time. When all is said and done, my hairs will have substantially greyed and I will be heading towards 31, but I owe getting this thing right to Jenny, her family, myself, and to all of you. Thank you for your patience and support. One day, in the not-to-far away future, there will be an incredible and life changing film for all of you to watch. It will celebrate the life of an incredible woman, our Jenny.
Andy Dunn, the founder and CEO of Bonobos said, “If you can’t decide what to do, get on the road. You won’t find the answer. It will find you.” This philosophy seems to have worked well for him, and it perfectly encapsulates the I Heart Jenny journey. While shooting this film, time was simply not on our side, so the decision to get on the road was made often and easily. “Book the plane tickets, I’ll meet you there!” As a crew of three, we were light on our feet and happy to live off of ramen just to be able to follow Jenny! What many don't know is that the crew and I are based out of New York City, whereas Jenny lived in Colorado. We all have full time jobs in addition to this film, so we jumped on a plane and abandoned our 'day jobs' as frequently as possible to film Jenny's journey. Plans for each trip were loosely discussed beforehand, bags were packed, equipment was stowed, and wheels were up. What awaited for us upon landing was not always foreseen. Yet, somehow the answers always seemed to find us on the road, in the journey, and during those unexpected and magical moments that every documentary filmmaker lives for.
For as much preparation and organization one can do when producing a documentary of this nature, it’s the unpredicted that ultimately gives the film its magic. My crew and I liked to call it "Jenny Magic"; those unexpected moments that left those of us behind the cameras reeling, crying, laughing, wincing, and learning. Ultimately, this documentary is a life lesson: a lesson on how to live life with open eyes, open hearts, to live fully in the moment, and to be acquiescent when facing the unknown.
I learned to expect the unexpected while on Jenny’s footpath. Physically following a woman who’s dying of cancer would be seemingly easy- you would suspect her to be in bed most days right? That couldn't be farther from the case when it came to Jenny. My crew and I struggled at times to simply keep up with an infectious and invigorating energy that jumped out at you from within Jenny’s depth. "Hurry, grab the gear, we're going snorkeling today!" said a woman that was just told she had weeks left to live.
This is story that must be told. Not only is it inspirational, but it has potential to be life saving- in multiple forms. The I Heart Jenny logo has become a symbol for many. Beyond promoting BRCA, Breast and Ovarian Cancer awareness, it is also a symbol to take a risk, to say yes, to live your life to the fullest, to smile, to laugh, to dance, to hug your loved ones, and to embrace every moment you have on this earth as if it's your last. This is more than just a film… It is a Movement!
1.“Genetics” Breastcancer.org. 2012-09-17.
JOIN THE MOVEMENT
RUNNING FOR JENNY AND A CURE! CLICK HERE
TO LEARN EVEN MORE ABOUT JENNY'S STORY:
AYG List's April Yvonne Garrett's interviews with Jenny:
3 PART INTERVIEW:
HOW IT ALL STARTED- THE INITIAL PROMO: