Dream New Dreams: Reimagining My Life After Loss by Jai Pausch-Memoir Book Review

On September 18, 2007 Randy Pausch delivered his world-renowned speech entitled The Last Lecture. Pausch was a professor of computer science at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University; and had been diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, a terminal form of pancreatic cancer. The Last Lecture urged people to live life to the fullest.

Pausch is survived by his wife Jai, and three children, Dylan, Logan, and Chloe. Through Randy’s cancer journey, Jai discovered that most cancer support and resources focus mainly on the patient; and few acknowledge the caregiver.

Dream New Dreams is Jai Pausch’s debut book, validating the challenges of cancer patient caregivers. She captures a poignant, behind-the-scenes look at the pain Randy endured, and its toll on the Pausch family. Ultimately, she describes both her personal and familial rebirth while honoring the legacy of Randy Pausch.

Jai met Randy when she was a graduate student at the University of North Carolina in 1998; and he was a visiting professor from Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Mellon University. Their long distance love affair resulted in marriage on May 20, 2000, and a Pittsburgh homestead. The couple bore three children within five years. The family was living in bliss until that fateful call from Randy’s doctor, Labor Day weekend, 2006.

Once diagnosed, Randy chose to participate in two months of cancer clinical trials in Houston; and wanted Jai to be his primary caregiver. Logistically, it was unwise to uproot the children for that timeline, so Jai compromised. Monday through Friday she cared for Randy in Houston; and flew home weekends to be with her children.

Randy’s care presented other challenges too. During most of his illness, he refused to use a wheelchair, making the simplest travel arduous; and he insisted that Jai learn his complex Excel spreadsheet techniques to monitor the family finances. When he suggested adoption for their four-month-old daughter, Chloe, to ease Jai’s burdens, Jai acknowledged the extreme stress of cancer causing Randy to make such ill-conceived statements.

Despite Randy’s intricate needs, Jai continued to go solo, including cooking meals from scratch. She eventually realized she needed help. “I came to understand that being strong doesn’t mean not asking for help, nor does it mean not being scared.”

Clinical trials completed, it appeared Randy had a fighting chance at survival. However, a follow-up appointment in August 2007 confirmed his tumor recurrence and growth to other organs. Surgery wasn’t an option; and the couple faced the grim reality that Randy would soon die.

Understandably, Randy became consumed with his disease, wanting to educate the public about pancreatic cancer. In March 2008, he petitioned Congress for greater funding for the National Cancer Institute and pancreatic cancer research. Jai vacillated between supporting Randy’s efforts, as more media pursued his message; and wanting him to spend precious time with his children. As Randy relished the attention, his health continued to decline.

On July 25 2008, Randy died. Jai’s natural grieving process spawned, what she calls, a Year of Firsts. They included solely planned trips with the children, Christmas traditions without Randy; and tennis lessons, which she found to be energizing and therapeutic. During her court time, she wasn’t Randy’s widow or the Pausch children’s mother, but Jai Pausch. “This is something we all need: a life outside and beyond one role, whether that role is a webmaster or stay-at-home mom,” she says.

A new mantra guides Jai’s life: Dream new dreams. “When a dream shatters, you should pick up the pieces and create a new one. It won’t be the same as the broken one, but you can hope it will be as vibrant and exciting.”

Although Randy is deceased, spiritually he thrives among the Pausch family and universe. Jai has learned to reinvent herself while still caring for her children. She’s now a member of the national board of directors of the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and recently remarried.

Dream New Dreams, while humanizing the devastating toll of cancer, is a story of hope well worth the read.

Jai Pausch advocates the Johns Hopkins caregiver video series called Walking On Eggshells. You can view it at: http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/kimmel_cancer_center/patient_information/videos/caregivers.html

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