Jon Fehrenbach

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Jon Fehrenbach

Riding in honor of two beloved siblings

Jon Fehrenbach writes his siblings' names on a remembrance wall at Obliteride

Since the fundraising bike ride's inception, Jon Fehrenbach has ridden every year in Obliteride in honor of his brother and sister, who both died of lung cancer

Photo courtesy of Jon Fehrenbach

August 8, 2017 | By Jon Fehrenbach

On April 26, 2011, my second-oldest sibling and only sister, my dear Jeanne, celebrated her 60th birthday — hard to believe for her three little brothers. Her husband Greg's birthday present was an amazing vacation charter trip. Their trip took them from Sydney to Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, Manaus (on the Amazon River), Havana, the Panama Canal, Machu Picchu in Peru and Easter Island before returning to Sydney. It was an amazing trip, the trip of a lifetime, as Greg put it.

When they returned to Sydney in late May, Jeanne was having some difficulty with taking a deep breath so she went to see her doctor — and a rare form of lung cancer was discovered.

Jeanne went through chemo all summer and into the early fall, always keeping an eye on the calendar. She was determined to be fit to travel for her annual Christmas trip back to Milwaukee.

She and Greg indeed made it back to Milwaukee in early December, with Jeanne having planned an over-zealous week or so of holiday activities with her family.

But during the flight, something — something unknown, really — happened physiologically. Painful complications began to manifest themselves within hours after arriving in Milwaukee on Thursday.

‘Still reeling’ from an unexpected loss

Greg took Jeanne into the ER Friday night. She was discharged after a few hours, and on Saturday night her pain was so significant that she was checked back into the hospital. Over the next several days, every attempt to control her pain failed, and her condition deteriorated rapidly.

I arrived from Seattle on Thursday morning. From her bed, she said that she was waiting for me. Her whole family, numerous cousins, nieces and nephews and friends were at her bedside throughout that day. At about 6:00 PM on December 8, 2011, Jeanne died with Greg and one of her brothers at her side.

In many ways we are still reeling from her loss, which manifested itself only weeks after her sixtieth birthday and swept her away in less than seven months. Jeanne was our beautiful, stalwart leader, the calm steering hand, the female influence that meant a lot to us boys. We do miss her terribly.

Jeanne and Donald

Two of the most important and dear people in my life have been taken in a similarly untimely and tragic way: On April 10, 1998, my oldest brother Donald, and Jeanne's closest sibling and friend, succumbed to a rare lung cancer that ravaged his HIV/AIDS-weakened body.

Donald and Jeanne Fehrenback as young children

Fehrenbach's older siblings, Donald and Jeanne Fehrenbach. In 1998, Donald died of an AIDS-associated lung cancer, and in 2011, Jeanne died of lung cancer as well.

Photo courtesy of Jon Fehrenbach

There was a special bond between Jeanne and Donald that grew strong in their high school years. Firstborn son and firstborn daughter, they were close enough to share friends and social circles and school activities in a way that, say, two brothers an equal number of years apart would not.

Donald was diagnosed with his rare lung cancer in January of 1998, and by early April he was gone — despite his optimism over those few short months that he would beat the cancer and live to spend time with family and friends, to travel to places he had not yet been, to get back on the bicycle he loved. But none of that would happen.

Not alone — and fighting back

But I know I am not alone in dealing with this loss. I work with or meet people every day who have dealt with or are dealing with similar loss in their lives, whether it is a parent, sibling, child, relative or friend. We all have experienced the helplessness, and the hopelessness, of taking what HIV/AIDS and numerous ubiquitous cancers deal out in our lives without the ability to fight back.

But we can fight back.

In the several years prior to his death, Donald rode thousands of miles on his bicycle, raising funds and awareness for the battle against HIV and AIDS.

Inspired by the courage, grit and love that my brother modeled years ago, I have taken to the bicycle as he did. To his inspiration, I have added the memory of my beautiful sister's grace and strength in dealing with her own cancer.

This year, again I ride in Obliteride in their memory, as I have for the last five years.

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