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The final act to be perfomed by the understudy

December 28, 2010

This post is written by Marc Blumer, aka Mr. Wine Diva, aka Chris’ husband.

On Monday, December 27, 2010, Chris passed away after her two-and-a-half year battle with cancer. In that struggle, Chris followed through on her initial vow to kick cancer’s butt and lived an amazing life that she has documented on this blog.

Because so many of you have found strength, humor and solace in Chris’ words about living with cancer, I wanted to share a bit about how she died.

Last summer, as Chris had blogged, she experienced some knee pain that everyone thought was just from being on the wrong side of 40 and this is where Chris’ posts left off. That pain, sadly, turned out to be metastases to the femur. And that signaled the end of her chemo’s efficacy.

The last four months involved a surgery, a clinical chemo trial, many hospitalizations and finally hospice care and her passing yesterday.

I cannot thank the hospice team at Northwestern Hospital enough for the amazing level of care they provided not only to Chris but to me and to Chris’ mom. Every one of them is just a special, special person.

But since Chris’ blog was about the process of going through cancer, I wanted to share what she couldn’t about the end for her life here from my own perspective.

When we received the diagnosis that Chris’ cancer was no longer responding to chemo and that there were not more treatment options, Chris rolled with that news with the grit, determination and humor you’ve all come to know and love over these many months. She talked about squeezing in another trip, about getting well enough to enjoy food again, about not spending her remaining time in bed.

Within just a few weeks however, it became apparent that Chris was never going to be able to eat the food she loved again, to drink wine again, to hang out with friends in a lucid enough state to enjoy their company.

At that point, Chris and I had the talks you have to have when you near the end of life. And during all of this, as you surely noticed, Chris went radio silent on this blog, Facebook and Twitter. The reason for that silence was this.

As Chris was processing these developments, she came to a conclusion that she’d reached the point where it was obvious that all the things she loved about living her life were gone and that in the balance between activity and comfort one must choose during hospice care, she tearfully told me that “I just want to be made comfortable and I hope this goes quick.”

After uttering those words to me, Chris expressed her deepest fear that in accepting the end was near and in actively asking for a high level of comfort where she’d mostly just sleep, she was somehow letting all of you down.

On behalf of everyone who loves Chris, I told her in no uncertain terms that she’d been nothing short of heroic, served as an inspiration and that while losing her was going to be devastating for all of us, the only thing worse would be to see her suffer one more minute than was necessary.

With that, I witnessed a peace come over Chris that she carried through her remaining days.

While the progression of Chris’ disease led to some horrible hours over the last months, Northwestern’s hospice team worked around the clock to manage symptoms and found ways to get her back each time to a level of comfort where she was able to just sleep. Chris died that way, asleep, holding her mother’s hand.

Since her original diagnoses in 2008, Chris lived an amazing life that you all have followed here.

Chris performed in two major plays as an actor while actively getting treatment. Her run with David Cromer’s Cherrywood production last summer ranks among the happiest periods I witnessed for Chris in the sixteen years we’ve been together.

Chris did continue her wine business to the extent she was able. But she also took a part-time job with UIC helping to train med students in the personal side of treatment as a standardized patient – something that she took tremendous pride in that she was able to use her acting skills to give back for the care she’d received.

Personally, we travelled as much as we could. Chris and I went on a South American cruise, we lived in Austin for three months, we attended the SXSW festival, we spent a week on Virginia’s eastern shore, visited Washington D.C. (Chris had never been), spent a week in Savannah and Hilton Head, spent a long weekend at the Koehler resort in Wisconsin and I’m probably forgetting something.

Does it all make up for the forty more years we’d have wished for Chris? Not by a long shot. Was it a hell of a good time with the time she had? Absolutely.

There is no way to replace Chris in any of our lives. All we can do is carry what she gave us in our heads and in our hearts. She’d be really hacked off if we didn’t.

A memorial service is being planned for January 9th at Drake & Sons funeral home at 5303 N. Western Ave. in Chicago at 1:00 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, Chris has asked you consider a donation to Livestrong at http://www.livestrong.org/Donate/Giving-Options/Gifts-in-Honor-or-Memory

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48 comments

  1. Marc, Thank you for taking the time to update us on Chris’ passing. I did hear about it yesterday on WGN. I, like you have only been a caregiver and support person, so I understand how you feel. We do not suffer the pain, but we do share it. It’s not easy to be that person, because hard as you try you can’t save them the pain. However we have wonderful memories and the knowledge that they had our love and that they knew they were loved, as we know that we were loved. Not everyone has that.


  2. Thank you Marc for sharing. My family and I are praying for you and yours.


  3. I did not have the honor of knowing Chris but I heard her inspirational story through a colleague. She is a hero. Please accept my family’s condolences.


  4. Marc,
    Thank you for your beautiful words and for being there for our girl til the very end. Clearly, she was loved deeply and that brings me comfort.

    Chris is tied to so many parts of my life and I am truly thankful for all the special times we shared. Of course I regret that there won’t be more but I was inspired by her fight and attitude to the very end.

    My thoughts are with you and I hope you found some comfort as Chris did.

    Love,
    Jennifer Vaughan Partsch


  5. Marc, I am so sorry for your loss. I worked with Chris at Houston’s. I remember her wonderful, larger than life smile and spirit. She was so kind and funny. Thank you for sharing the final moments on this blog. It is an incredibly personal and precious memory and gift to all who will read it.


  6. Marc, I knew Chris in high school (we did speech and theatre together) and re-aquainted myself with her on facebook. Last night, after I heard the news of Chris’s passing, I was telling my husband about Chris. I know I hadn’t seen her in years, but I was sad and I needed to explain myself to my husband. I told him that Chris, who lived her life, before and after her cancer diagnosis, with grace and humor and love, was someone I would have liked our daughter, Iris to meet. I thought Iris could learn something from a role model like Chris. My husband said, “well, then we just have to raise her to live with grace and humor like Chris did.” And I agreed. Iris will have many role models in her life, I hope; many amazing women. One of them will be Chris Ward Blumer. I think that might be as far as you can get from letting people down.


  7. Chris was truly a courageous woman and left her mark on many people. I did not know her personally, but wished that I had. My condolences go out to her family and friends. May her life be an inspiration to us all.


  8. Beautifully said, Marc. What an inspiration Chris is to everyone. She would be proud of your words I am sure. Best to you and your family…
    Dr. Brad


  9. Words can not express the deep sorry we all have for your family’s loss. Chris will be missed but always remembered and loved.
    Robbie Davis


  10. I am moved beyond words, Marc… Much love to you an your family. ~the Sturgeon’s


  11. You don’t know me but I knew Chris. I am her high school friends mom. She and my daughter, jenny jaycox white were very close. Through their friendship and the school plays I came to love her like my own little girl. She has and will always be in my heart and thoughts.
    Sincerely and with my deepest sympathy,

    Mrs.Carol-Jaycox Kochnski


  12. Marc, thank you so much for this. You and Chris lived life the way it should be lived these past few years. Even though she is gone now, Chris continues to be an inspiration. I have a friend who has a family member battling cancer, and she told me that she is now reading Chris’ blog, and finding it very helpful.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, words cannot express.


  13. Thank you for your words, I have followed Chris from afar with your Sister Jill. My prayers are with you and your family.


  14. For helping her share a whole lot of herself with all of us. It is something I believe she was able to do because of your love and support. There are many like me who knew Chris from afar, whom she helped thru some very difficult times.
    We are all blessed to have had her a part of our lives. Thank you Marc for sharing her with all of us.


  15. Thank you so much for this last blog Marc. You have honored Chris in her passing just as you honored and cared for her in her life. Please give my love and regards to Julie. I can not imagine how great her loss is. Chris was not only Becky’s friend but she touched all of our lives. May you find peace in a job well done.

    My love and regards to you and Chris’s family.
    Brenda Turner (Becky Brett’s mom)


  16. Remembering Chris and sending love to her family. Thank you for writing this last chapter. It’s a beautiful tribute.
    Heather Brooks Freer


  17. Thank you for sharing,Marc. She was a delight, and I loved getting to know her through WGN. I am so sad for your loss.


  18. Dear Marc, I only knew Chris through her appearances on WGN with Steve Cochran, and I had been following her blog here for the last year or so. I am so very sorry for your loss. Chris was a delight each time she was on the radio, and was so brave during her battle these last few years. I pray that the wonderful memories you have of her bring you comfort and peace. God bless.


  19. We are truly saddened by your loss. May you be comforted by many great memories and the love of people who adore both you and Chris.


  20. Marc – we’ve never met nor did i know chris; a friend of mine from chicago shared this. thank you for taking the time to post this; i know it must have been incredibly difficult for you to do. i live in austin and so wish i’d had the pleasure of knowing you both – you are an inspiration to us now as you say chris was these past two years. take good care of yourself and i hope you are surrounded by love and loved ones. chris will always be with you – sharron


  21. Dear Marc,
    Thank you for your beautiful, graceful and heartfelt post. I, like so many, knew Chris in high school and reconnected through facebook. I moved to STL two days before my freshman year started and she helped make an unknown and seemingly unfriendly school much more bearable. We tried to catch up this past Memorial Day weekend for a Cubs game but circumstances did not allow and for this am even more sad as I should have told the selfish snotty one in the group to jump off Navy Pier. I am not usually the one known for holding my tongue. I hope you will be able to read all our our stories and know how much Chris brought to our lives as well as yours. Please take care of yourself. My deepest sympathies. aly


  22. Marc-What a beautiful article you wrote to end our Crissy’s blog. I know she is proud of you and so are we. We have toasted both you and Chris and are keeping you close in thought and prayers. Weren’t you the luckiest guy in the world to spend everyday for the last sixteen years with our Wine Diva!

    We love you, too, Marc and will call soon.

    Love, Aunt Sheila & Uncle Randy


  23. Thank you so much for sharing Chris’s final months with us, Marc. Like so many others, I was inspired by Chris–ever since I worked with her on stage in INPSECTING CAROL, back in 2004! But her sharing her hard-fought battle with cancer with all of us was such a courageous act; so indicative of her inner strength, her grounded sense of self, and her wonderful sense of humor. We all will miss Chris, but you most of all. I am so sorry for your loss.


  24. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Thank you for taking the time to update all of us. May God bless you and your families at this sorrowful time, and may your memories give you strength to carry on as Chris would want.


  25. Marc,

    Chris did so much for the world of wine with her refreshing, non-plussed sassy approach, which although we had never met, made me a fan from the beginning.
    My prayers are with you.

    Kimberly


  26. Marc, Thanks for this final post. I had met Chris throught WGN radio, and had been following her blog, and wondered why there hadn’t been a new post in a while. I was very worried about her, and unfortunately my fears were realized. Your post would have made Chris proud!! Thank you for honestly letting us know what has been going on.
    I hope you will find comfort in your wonderful memories of Chris. She was an inspiration to all.


  27. Marc, I am so sorry. I can’t imagine the pain. Her reach was more vast and deep than you know and will be missed so much. I remember the day I met her at Sam’s. Such an easy and warm smile and so funny. Thank you for what I’m sure was a difficult post to write. Bless you and Chris.


  28. Marc, thank you so much for these words. You don’t know me, but your Chris touched me in such a profound way during my own treatment and recovery. We met on Planet Cancer in early 2008, and in August of that year I had the chance to meet her in person over beers and burgers before a Cubs game. Her humor, intelligence and grace were like nothing I had ever encountered before. In my darkest moments, she would always manage to balance the emotional scales with a witty comment that would leave me holding my sides with laughter. She was a treasure.

    I have been thinking about her constantly over the past weeks and months, and after learning of her death, I hated thinking about her suffering at the end. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing with us the final hours of her magical life.

    My husband and I are sending strength your way.

    Emily Beck


  29. Marc – how eloquent and fitting your words are – how worthy of Chris as she lived and inspired us all. We are so grateful to you for your amazing support and love throughout the battle – I feel sure we had her much longer because she had you. xoxoxoxoxo – Janis & Orestes


  30. Marc,
    I was so sad to learn of Chris’s passing. I lost my own wife just over four years ago to cancer, so I understand the journey you are beginning, the hospice people from the hospice my wife had told me it is the hardest job you will ever have to do, IT IS! The hurt will never leave, the hole in your heart will never disappear, nor should it.
    Reading about the travels you enjoyed with your wife sounds like you did the right thing, you and Chris lived and cherished the time you had, that is where you should foucus your memories.
    I think an adaptation of a quote from the original “Brian’s Song” is very appropiate here, “This is not the story of how she died, but how she lived, Oh how she lived.”
    My heartfelt sympathy to you and your family Marc.


  31. Marc and all of Chris’ family – I offer my condolences. I did not know Chris personally, only over the radio. I do not pursue wine with a passion, but she certainly did. I always enjoyed her enthusiasm and zest for life. She will be missed by many, but she will be remembered by those she touched in so many ways.


  32. Marc: I am so sorry to hear this news. Chris was a dear friend from high school, and an incredible person. She was always true to herself, and inspiringly good to those around her. I wish you strength and peace during what is, I’m sure, a very difficult time. — Mark Ribbing


  33. Marc,

    Thank you for sharing and bravo for your strength. I knew Chris through Sunday Dinner and what impressed me was she stamped the word ‘suffer’ right out of ‘cancer sufferer’. She was in charge and made sure that she put more quality and spirit in her life than many who don’t face such obstacles. In you she has a worthy partner to keep her spirit and memory alive.


  34. I met Chris via Planet Cancer. The first time we connected face to face was while she was in the hospital – how long ago was that – a year and a half ago? (Maybe you remember me? We met too – I’m the author who wrote the young adult cancer book… She gave a kick ass talk at my reading in Andersonville.)

    What a woman Chris is. I guess I say is because even though she is gone, her presence is very large and alive in my mind. Chris is such a smart cookie. She lived her life and navigated her cancer like few others I have ever met. I ache for your loss Marc and will be thinking about you big time.

    Kairol Rosenthal


  35. Marc,
    Thank you for sharing. Your words, much like the life of your beloved wife, are inspiring. I always enjoyed her insight when she was on the Steve Cochran show…not only about wine, but about life. I know it is cliche, but some of the brightest candles do burn out the fastest. Chris was definitely a bright candle in many peoples’ lives.
    God bless you in your time of sorrow.


  36. Although I live 100 miles SW of Chicago, I would sometimes hear the wine diva on WGN. Of particular interest to me was her battle with cancer, as our daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 25. Josie died August 2009 at age 30, after a 5 year battle. I don’t think I have heard the Wine Diva since then. But our girls had much the same approach to life, and love of fine wines. I hope they are raising their glasses in a toast to each other as I write.


  37. Although I live 100 miles SW of Chicago, I would sometimes hear the wine diva on WGN. I was particularly interested in her updates on her cancer, as our daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 25. They shared much the same approach to life. Josie died August 2009 at age 30 after a 5 year battle. I’ve not heard the Wine Diva since then, and a WGN friend just forwarded this blog to me. So sorry for your loss, and am sure our girls are toasting us with a glass of fine wine as I write this.


  38. I did not know Chris, but heard her story through the Living Philanthropic Facebook page and her/your blog posts.

    I want to extend my deepest condolences to you and to her family. My heart goes out to you all.

    Kathy Grube


  39. Marc,

    I found out this morning about Chris. I got to know her approximately 15 years ago when she was with Sam’s. I unsuccessfully tried to recruit her to come work at Binny’s (I was the Director of Recruiting,) but in the process, got to know her. She was a funny, smart and humble person. I admire her for her fight against cancer, and for her efforts in working with doctors to better the way that they communicate with patients.

    My wife and I are very sorry for your loss.

    Howard and Tracey Freedland


  40. A lovely finale to what was most certainly too short a play. I knew Chris in high school and what I remember most about her was her smile. Thank you for sharing this tribute, and I’m glad hospice was there for you.


  41. Dear Marc, I never had a chance to meet you, but only knew of you and Chris. You were seeking help from our Agency, in the form of Chris, spending her last days at home. I come across many families in similar situations, but this one (you and Chris), touched my heart. You didn’t pursue us, because Chris had taken a turn for the worse. I couldn’t get her out of my head, because I was intrigued by her and her blog and her battle with this “bad disease”. Ironically enough, I was sitting at work today, thinking about Chris and decided to look her blog up…. the rest speaks for itself. Marc, you have my sympathy and I wish you strength….


  42. Dear Marc,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to beautifully share with us the “final curtain” in Chris’ story. Your strength and love are as impressive as your eloquence, and help us all to deal a bit better with losing a wonderful spirit. We were lucky to get to know some of Chris’ creative side, and right from the beginning is was apparent that she made any classroom, any cast, any room she was in a brighter, better place! The memories of her smile will continue to do the same whenever we tell anyone about her! May all of your beautiful memories be a strong comfort to you and her mom.
    Sincerely,
    Steve Merle & Anne Jacques


  43. Marc, Chris was delightful and brilliant and extraordinarily special. There are not enough words to describe how much I admired your wife. It was a treat to meet her one day many years ago at Sam’s, comparing notes on our two different tenures at NU. She taught me so much about wine and I was privileged to work with her on the American Cancer Society wine auction in the 90s. I was asking about you and Chris before Christmas; I’m sorry I didn’t hear the news until today because I would have been present to honor you both at the service. Peace to you, and treasure the trove of memories. Christa Velbel


  44. Dear Marc,

    I just found out this past Monday of Chris’ passing: I was obviously shocked. I last heard her on the radio where her comments were always aimed at the best common denominator of winelovers. Her enthusiasm was ever apparent and I know it infected a lot of her listeners for the better.

    She was a sweet, sweet soul and she didn’t let her well-deserved fame go to her head. That can be rare in this business and it reflects her level-headed, classy demeanor. I will miss her.

    Patrick W Fegan


  45. I am so sorry to read that Chris has passed. My husband and I always looked forward to her segments on WGN…I wish I could have known her personally.

    Chris was diagnosed with colon cancer about the same time that my sister Nancy was diagnosed with colon cancer. Chris actually took the time to phone Nancy in St. Louis after she left a message on her blog and they became “cancer sistas” – comparing notes and treatments. Sadly, our Nancy lost her battle as well on Jan. 15, 2011. Our world will never be the same without these beautiful women, but just think how Blessed we were to have them in our lives. My deepest sympathy to your family.


  46. Dear Mark,

    Like so many others, I first came to know Chris through her “winediva” spots on WGN. Not even a wine drinker (yet!) at the time, I loved hearing her recommendations and chats with. I’d find myself scrambling for pen and scratch paper to write down a type or brand of wine.

    Her “Chemo and Vino” blog was amazing, and you did true justice to it with your conclusion. Thank you so much for informing us all.

    I’m very sad she is gone.


  47. I just want to let you know that I’ve been a subcriber to your wife’s blog for over a year now and would get her posts sent to me. Talk about one witty and hilarious woman. I literally laughed out loud at every blog post. I know I’ve never met her…I actually just found this blog while googling cancer costs and chemo reactions for my mom who was diagnosed last January. I have sent the link to her blog to so many of my friends, family and other people that are as well fighting cancer and know many others have followed her just as avidly as I have.

    I live here in Chicago and actually received your final blog while riding on the blue line and I had tears just streaming down my face. I’m so sad that she had to go through all she did at such a young age. She was definitely a fighter and this blog will give others hope and inspiration as long as it is up there. From what I’ve gathered about her personality, you are a lucky man to have had her in your life as long as you did and she is just as lucky to have had you at her side throughout everything.

    I moved home for ten months while my mom went through chemo and radiation, so I know how difficult it must have been for you through everything.

    Your wife actually wrote my mom though, giving her words of encouragement and hope.

    My family was so saddened by her passing and I just thought I’d write you to extend my condolences and let you know that she has unknowingly made an impact on so many different people’s lives.

    You did a wonderful job writing that final blog and I hope you update it every once in awhile. I really wish I could have met Chris, but through her blog, we really got a taste of what she is like.

    It’s so sad and heartbreaking, losing people so close to us at such a young age to cancer. I pray they find a cure for it in our lifetime.

    I’m so, so sorry for your loss…what a wonderful, beautiful woman to have had in your life.


  48. Dear Marc,

    I received an email with the link to your post only yesterday, one year later.
    I didn’t know anything about Chris’ health problem, and I’m so sorry about what happened.
    But I’m happy to have had the possibility to read your letter, full of love, about Chris, and now that I know more about her, I understand which lack was for me not to know her personally.

    Hug from me.

    Enrico Blumer
    Bergamo – Italy

    PS: if you plan to visit Italy, please don’t hesitate to contact me, my home is your home.



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