“All our thoughts,” Patti wrote last February in her blog, were about “cancer, life, death, and weddings.”
Linda died Sept. 24 at Inova Fairfax Hospital. Patti died seven weeks later, on Nov. 11, at her home in San Francisco. Their deaths were confirmed by their family.
By all accounts, the mother and daughter were exceptionally close, even before cancer brought them closer. A Navy wife and former Navy nurse, Linda looked after Patti; her sister, Lisa; her brother, Jacob; and her half-brother, Jaime, during their father’s long deployments at sea.
Linda had been a college cheerleader and helped Patti practice when she joined the cheerleading squad at West Springfield High School. While raising her children, Linda built a small business that offered training programs for medical practitioners. During summer vacations, she sometimes loaded the kids into a conversion van and took them around the country for her seminars.
Patti, too, developed an interest in business and went to the University of Virginia to study commerce. She was partway through a graduate program when her disease was diagnosed in the fall of 2008. For some time, her family said, her colon cancer symptoms were mistaken for an eating disorder.
With major surgery and chemotherapy, Patti beat the disease into remission and returned to graduate school the next year. She met her future husband, Eric Varney, received her master’s degree from U-Va. and returned to Northern Virginia to work as a business analyst for the defense contractor Northrop Grumman.
In the winter of 2011, Linda began to feel short of breath and went to the doctor, never anticipating how sick she was. She learned on her 59th birthday that she had ovarian cancer. “We surely are on a physical, emotional, and spiritual roller coaster,” she wrote in her journal that day.
Linda began a chemo regimen, but she and Patti did not let cancer dominate their lives. Weeks after Linda’s diagnosis, Patti’s boyfriend whisked her off on a surprise trip to Paris and proposed to her. Mother and daughter began planning Patti’s dream wedding.
Midway through the planning, and with Linda still in the throes of chemo, Patti began to develop pain in her elbow. Linda took her to the doctor. When she heard the results of her daughter’s scans, she fainted, Jacob recalled. Patti’s colon cancer had returned and metastasized to her bones and lungs.
Jacob became a primary caregiver to his mother and sister. He calls them “my girls.”
“My mom and I still felt awful,” Patti wrote on Sept. 5, 2011, after difficult chemo treatments for both of them. “I think the most productive thing I did was pick out bridesmaid dresses and turn oxygen into carbon dioxide.”