She moved to Los Angeles and began work—and more chemo. The treatment made her sick; she struggled to finish her first assignment. She drove herself to the emergency room, and a doctor there told her to go back to Sacramento.
About a week after she started at KPCC, she told her new co-workers that she had “health issues” and had to move back home. They wouldn’t find out how serious it was until a few months later, in August, when Jessica started talking about her condition on Facebook again, with a post that shocked classmates and colleagues who weren’t aware of her illness. “Friends, I am not doing well,” she began. Her lungs were filling with fluid. Her heart had stopped; she was in the hospital when it happened, and was resuscitated. But it was time, her doctor said, to go into hospice. Chris Tanouye, Jessica’s first boyfriend whom she met during their freshman year at UCLA, proposed to her at her hospital bedside, according to the Daily Bruin. Anna describes him as “totally devoted” to Jessica, especially at the end. He declined to be interviewed.
Unusually, Jessica’s condition improved for a short time, and she was able to go off of oxygen. She brought a tank with her to the ONA banquet—which she was determined to attend, of course—though she never needed it. Slater saw his former hire in the lobby, “radiant and beaming,” but “I could tell she was not having the easiest time of it,” he says. “Things happened really quickly after that.”
In her final days, Jessica wrote that she was “looking forward to 2013, in spite of the guaranteed unknowns, thankful I can still say that.” She watched series finales of her favorite sci-fi shows and took photos of dessert: “I am going to eat this small stack of Oreos, no regrets.” Her mother read her a passage from Randy Alcorn’s Heaven. Jessica asked her to read it again and again. In one of her final Facebook posts, she told her friends she felt “at peace. This life is not the only one to be lived. All good things . . . ,” and she signed off the same way she did in 2009, on her last post before she began isolation treatment:
“See you on the other side.”
In Giant Robot, Jessica wrote: “it’s one thing to survive, and another to live.” It is another thing again to live on. Anna is thinking of writing a book; she’s always liked writing, and Jessica left behind several empty journals and notebooks she might as well try to fill. Jessica left a copy of a favorite book, Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, on her dresser. Anna says she’d like to read it someday.
Jessica’s sister, Bethany, moved to Africa with her husband and three children about a month after Jessica died. She took Jessica’s Nikon D300s with her. Jessica always wanted to take pictures of African animals; Bethany plans to learn how to use it and take a few for her.
Maya Sugarman, one of Jessica’s UCLA classmates, filled her job at KPCC. “She was always a role model to me,” Sugarman says. “In a lot of ways, I feel this duty—and a lot of pressure, really—to make pictures that Jess never will be able to. They’ll never be the same as the ones she could have made.”
John Osborn, a year behind Jessica at Berkeley, is working on a news-related video game for his Master’s project. There is a journalist character who looks a lot like Jessica.
Jessica’s journalism will live on, too, as a record of a talented young reporter who could bridge old media and new, and in those who are inspired by her—journalists who can visualize and produce projects from beginning to end, from the first question to the last line of code. At the next graduation, UC Berkeley will name an award after her for work that shows excellence in visual journalism in a digital environment. Jessica, her mother says, was a “lifelong learner.” We can learn a lot from her—from the work that she did, and from her drive to do it.