For Aileen.

My boyfriend Miles O'Brien lost his beloved little sister to breast cancer today. She was only 46 years old.

They both lost their mom to it a few weeks after I was diagnosed with the same disease.

There is so much to say about what a beautiful soul Aileen was, what a cruel and ugly and brutal disease breast cancer is, how torturous treatment is, how enraging it is that science and medicine have nothing better to offer us yet, how unjust the financial devastation a diagnosis brings to so many women is—and, most of all, what it means to those of us with cancer to have the kind of support in our lives that men like Miles provide, selflessly and heroically and with unconditional love.

But for now, I just want the world to see, respect, and remember this photograph Miles took of his sister this morning, shortly before her life ended. He brought her dog Jethro from her home to the hospice house so Jethro could also say goodbye.

Gone but still loved by all. RIP Aileen Crimmings O'Brien Graef - 10/30/64-8/21/2012

She is survived by two beautiful daughters, Katie and Aileen, whom she loved very much.

And, their dog Jethro.

Update: Miles and her daughters suggest that donations in honor of Aileen be sent to Visiting Nurses Association of the Treasure Coast (@vnatc), 1110 35th Lane. Vero Beach, FL 32960. This is the hospice center that cared for Aileen in her final days. Services at Strunk Funeral Home, 916 17th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960. If you wish to send cards or flowers, this is the best address.

Image link (photo: Miles O'Brien).


    1.  Lets spare a thought for the money oriented Evangelist Christians actively stone-walling stem cell research . You go to Hell too George Bush Junior for the same reason . How’s that for irony . You’re a brave and rare man Miles . My heart breaks when I think of how you must have suffered too . And dogs ! What wondrous sentient creatures . My mum Irene died of that vile disease . A hateful thing . But there is hope . Genome profiling and stem cell treatments are getting better and better . Less bombs , guns and bullets and more funding for cancer research  ?

  1. What a difficult, beautiful picture.  I lost my mother to lung cancer and share my condolences with his family.

  2. That is a lovely, and very sad, photograph. Sincere condolences, from someone who lost a wonderful brother named Odell to liver cancer 10 years ago.

  3. Man, I have the biggest lump in my throat. Amazing picture and what a heavy story. So sad that so many of us have similar tales to tell these days of losing loved ones in their prime to breast cancer, I know I do.

     My best to you -and to those in the next world, smiles and peace.

  4. the love we share in this life.. lives on in our hearts forever, even when we are separated .. rest in peace Aileen

  5. damn it…   weeping too much to have a positive comment …   what a bitter sweet cosmos… -sigh-/-sniff-

  6. Condolences. Truly. I’ve had the great honor of escorting three people to their end. The privilege of assisting and caring for loved ones as they make peace with their life as it’s cruelly ended by cancer are experiences I would never trade; nor do I wish to ever have to do it again.

    Peace to everyone.

  7. Crying as I write this…

    Want to say something touching, profound…but the words won’t come…


    There I feel better now…

    RIP Aileen…and good boy Jethro

  8. It is the small details in the photo that bring back a flood of memories from last year as we cared for Dad in his last days as he died from cancer at home under hospice care.
    If you have been through that – you know what I am talking about.

    But as harsh as the memories were that it brought back – what it does make me understand is that although each clan goes through this alone in the moment – we do have to remember that we are not alone in it overall.

    So to those of you who have gone through this, are going through this now, and to those who unfortunately will go through this in the future – just remember that in the moment you may feel entirely alone in it all – but that in reality there are many others who are in the same situation – and that there is a hidden strength in that, even if it takes time for you to tap into it.

    In the end it all comes down to who is around and cares for us in those last moments – and that includes dogs.

    I am glad to see that Aileen had just such company.

    1.  Been there, too. And can I say I resent the phrase, “So and so lost their battle with cancer” as if it was a fair fight? We’re still in the dark ages of treating cancer with procedures that will horrify future generations. I also resent the fact that the onus of  cancer is immediately placed on the one suffering from it while industrial toxin producers walk freely while amassing huge profits, their business practices barely regulated.

  9. Heartbreaking and heartwarming tangled deeply together. Thank you for sharing and hope you are doing well Xeni.

  10. Thank you for sharing.  Fight on and fuck you cancer is the mantra I go with to bed  tonight…….

  11. So, so beautiful a picture and tribute. My heart is in my throat.
    All the best to you and your family as you move through the times ahead.

  12. Shit! This is quite a dose of reality. Xeni, your cancer has been in my thoughts since you were first diagnosed, but I always figured you would be OK. Hey, you were diagnosed pretty early and you’ve done as much as you can to keep up with your treatmetnt. And treatment’s pretty effective these days, right? Right….? 

    Thanks (half sarcasticaly and half sincerely) for reminding me that people still die horribly from your type of cancer. It makes my wishes for your full recovery more sincere. Hang in there.

  13. BRCA 1 & 2 run through mom’s family.  It messed up mom, took my sister.  It also introduced me Mom’s family. It’s why my life is on hold caregiving for mom for a few years. More stories than a comment can weave, I think of my sister, the last time I  saw her alive.  You can hide in it, run from it, or both at once.

    1.  My wife is half way through her chemo for BC. Then there’s mastectomy and 5 weeks of radiotherapy to come. And while that is scaring us and making us miserable in equal parts I’m also slightly distracted by the fact that my name is also James Myers and you’re only the second one I’ve met in 50 years. So I’d just like to say hello too!

    2. I am BRCA 1 as well and was diagnosed in March and had a bi-lateral mastectomy in April (chose not to do chemo/tamoxifen though).  My heart goes out to you and your family, as well as James and his wife below. It is a terrible disease and it is pure insanity that they haven’t come up with something better after 50 years of research and billions of dollars funneling through the different charities. Again, I am sending warm wishes of healing to you all! 

  14. Absolutely touching, and heartbreaking. Thank you for sharing this.

    I lost my mom to breast cancer three years ago, and the pain is still raw. She was too young, only 62. The pain dulls somewhat, but I don’t think it will ever go away.

  15. Sad and beautiful.

    My Nan passed away from ovarian cancer a few years ago. Toby the dog was by her side for the years she went through the illness, and he was with her when she passed. She used to say “He’s my medicine.”

    Sometimes pets are more than pets; they are family.

  16. It’s a beautiful and tragic picture. My thoughts go out to Miles, Xeni, and everyone who was emotionally connected to Aileen.

    My wish for humanity is that no one need die before their time, no matter the reason. That’s only a dream of course, so in the absence of sleep, please accept my humble condolences.

  17. Well said, and… I dunno. I’m sorry for the loss you’ve gone through.

    It’s hard to know what to say, sometimes.

  18. My deepest sympathy to your family, friends and loved ones. What a beautful and lovely moment and how kind you are to share it. Thinking of Aileen, her daughters, you and yours and this darling pup. Faithful servant to the end. I’m sure having her family and beloved pet helped her make journey gentle and peaceful. I wish you healing hearts and peace.

  19. Deepest condolences to her family and friends.  And thanks for sharing that beautiful, heart-rending moment.  

  20. Thank you for sharing this with us Xeni “FUCK CANCER” Jardin.  We all have reasons this picture and story has touched us, and, since we are all in a sharing mood, here is mine.

    About eight years ago, my well-loved grandfather (who looked like the Quaker Oats guy without the hat and hairdo) was dying of pancreatic cancer.  I had been in touch throughout even though I lived across the country, but I finally got the call to say my goodbyes ASAP.  Not enough time to get a plane ticket or anything.  I called, and he was somewhat delirious, but he kept telling me over and over “You’re a good boy!  You’re a good boy!”

    Somehow, I know that Aileen wanted Jethro to feel the same thing before she passed.  It is a remarkable trait among some people that they want others to feel better when they feel their worst.

  21. I lost my dad to pancreatic and lung cancer on the 22nd July, my heart goes out to you and your family.

  22. My inspiration for this day – your brave Aileen.  My heart aches for you all.  Hug each other tight -especially Jethro.

  23. I am so sorry!!! Cancer sucks so, so much, and it claimed yet another victim.

    That was such a powerful photo, was really hard to watch without crying. Virtual hugs to you, Miles, her dog Jethro, and your families.

    (Stupid me for reading this at work… *sniff*)

  24. What a very difficult photo to take and yet comforting.  EVERYONE should be able to say goodbye.  Everyone.  My mother chose to stop treatment when her breast cancer came back from remission.  Cancer was fast but we were faster, it only took two months from the day she stopped treatment to the end, but we all got our “Jethro” in time with her :)   Condolences to friends and family.  

  25. Thank you for sharing this, Xeni.  I’m very sorry.  Stay strong and give your loved ones an extra snug hug.

  26. It’s a moving picture, but having just lost my mother to cancer, I’m struck by the sheer envy I currently feel.  I wanted to scream from the rooftops that my beautiful mother was gone.  I wanted every one to know how much my heart hurt.  To have a forum to selfishly post such greif, to force “the world to see, respect, and remember…”  Everyone wishes this in their grief.  Few have the audience to coerce sympathy from such a vast number of people.  My mother was just as important as this woman, yet only I saw, respected and remember.  I am jealous, and at the same time, contemptuous of this public manipulation of my emotions.

    1. I’m so sorry for your loss. I understand your anger and I’m sorry you are feeling such heartache. What was her name, so we too can remember her?

      1. Yes! Please tell, and please also something that you mother loved or loved to do! Something special about her that we can remember.

    2. Dear Brandy,
      I am so sorry that your mother was stolen by this disease.  Those of us who are trying to change things from “pink ribbon awareness” to “real world breast cancer” display the reality.  It is a personal photograph, yes… but it is the public that needs to see this.  I don’t know if you mom had breast cancer or some other kind of cancer but I invite you to contact me.  I will humbly and gratefully share your story on my blog.  I don’t have the kind of following that Xeni has, but I have an audience.

      We, the community at large, support you in your grief and I will give voice to your mom through you.  The emotions we need to manipulate are the ones that belong to people that think, “This doesn’t happen to breast cancer patients” ……  

      Please contact me. I’m sincere in words.  I believe that any effort I make on behalf of one person is something that I do to benefit all.  As an “early stage” patient, I have come to live by these words, “What happens to one of us, happens to each of us.”  No, I have not died but each time a life is taken, a piece of my heart goes with that person.  A piece of my heart is now with your mom.

      I hope my words don’t sound trite or shallow as I mean them from the bottom of my heart.  And I will hand over my blog for you to share anything and everything you would like us to know about your mom.

      I’m so sorry.


    3. You are such a beautiful daughter. I am a mother of three grown daughters and I am also a breast cancer survivor of 23 years and counting. Your mother may she rest with the angels knew you loved her. I may at times argue and fight with my daughters and its a normal relationship to have ups and downs. But I always know the love they have for me. Just as your mother knows of your love. I sometimes wonder what and who will remember me when I am gone. And to me, I hope I have touched people and made them smile, I hope that they remember something and think “oh ya Terri used to do this or that”, that is me being remembered. Not about buildings with my name on them, or books that I authored. It is the love I showed to a random person a smile to let the person walking by me on the street that I’m here and I acknowledge that they are too. Maybe its this way that your mother will be remembered take solace in knowing she touched many and will be remembered that way. God Bless you.

    4. Brandy,
      This is the rawest, most honest and most poignant post comment I have ever read. You articulated something very profound about the Internet, but exactly what I cannot put into words coherently. I am extremely moved by this photo, and experiencing sadness and anger that a person, a family, and a community of people who love and know this person have gone through something so devastating and agonizing and cruel. But I’m also experiencing other feelings that make me uneasy. Being invited openly to see such a private moment that contained unspeakable grief and sorrow and pain for her family members, while being a stranger to her who would arguably have little right to see this moment–and who also does not have the personal knowledge that this woman condoned my seeing her in the final moments of a ruthless health struggle–invokes feelings of guilt, undeservedness and impotence. And awkwardness in witnessing this moment in the context of a blog where other entries relaying things of trivial consequence, comparatively, surround it.

      I’m very, very sorry to learn of this young person’s illness and death, and saddened to think of her family and friends suffering in grieving. But such drive-by condolences from a stranger, a poster on the Internet, feels pathetically innappropriate given the staggering loss being experienced by the very people to whom I’m extending these sentiments. Perhaps it’s the relative newness of this technology forum, and its limitations and imbalances in access and use among different people, as your comment mentioned. Pairing it with something so indefatibly fixed into the human soul as the fear and pain of losing a loved one may not be a comfortable union at this stage for everyone (or maybe just a relative few people like myself).

      I’m sorry for your loss too, Brandy. But thank you for your comment. It’s powerfully thought-provoking.

      Ron Geraci

  27. Es horrorosa la muerte, pero la idea de la foto en ese último momento os servirá para tenerla presente y más aún con esa carga emocional tan grande que transmite. Ánimo a quienes la queríais.

  28. Xeni, Miles, daughters Katie and Aileen, and even Jethro, and all who knew and loved Aileen: I am so sorry for your loss. Even though I don’t know you personally, know that my thoughts are with you.

    (Those words sound so weak and insipid under such a powerful photograph.)

    Seriously. Fuck cancer.

  29. Thank you for sharing this deeply personal and touching tribute to this beautiful woman, and especially her brother, who is a real man in every sense of the description…bless him, you, and those girls, and of course Jethro….this is the type of story that needs to be out there so that people can see the realities of this disease, and not some pink, fluffy mock-up to sell car magnets…..RIP Aileen….

  30. I am so sorry for your loss. Please pass along condolences to Miles and his family. Cancer sucks! I am so glad that she had a chance to see her dog again, and that she had family around her. 

  31. As a cancer survivor this really struck home. You also spurred me to schedule my overdue mammogram. Thank you for posting both about Aileen and your own journey through diagnosis and treatment. My sympathies for your – for all of our – losses.

  32. I bet it wasn’t easy taking a picture like that- so important and special, yet so difficult. It is absolutely beautiful.

    Thank you for sharing. Peace and love to the O’Briens.

  33. My god.  Overwhelmed.  I am so sorry for you and for your boyfriend and for your families.  Thank you for posting, for bringing her to us in this way.

  34. Just over two years ago I was told to come home immediately. I got to Honolulu on a Friday night. Saturday morning I purchased two wedding bands. Sunday morning my mother married her boyfriend of twenty years. Her “wedding cake” (in reality, hospital pudding) was her last meal. Best wedding I’ve ever been to; not a dry eye in the house.

    It hadn’t even been a month since her diagnosis. Fuck cancer.

  35. Xeni,
    I’m so sorry for your family’s loss, so very sorry. Your photo takes me back to the time almost five years ago when my mom’s little cairn terrier visited her while she was dying from breast cancer. It’s such an awful disease. I hate it. Thank you for sharing this poignant photo. My sympathies to you and your boyfriend’s family.

  36. God, what a beautiful photo.  I can’t even look at it for more than a second without tearing up.  So sorry for your loss.  Let’s get this cancer thing over with for good.

  37. Here I sit at work reading this, and tearing up as I remember a year and half ago with my dad at hospice, and my dog Ramsay by his side.  Ramsay’s reaction after dad was gone was so inspiring, it was just like “that’s that, he’s no longer here but in a better place.” 

    Thank you for sharing such an amazing photo, and helping me remember how many people have been affected by this goddamn awful disease.  It gives me strength to remember I’m not alone. 

  38. Xeni, I am so sorry about the death of Aileen. Thank you for sharing such a difficult moment  with us as I know dying from breast cancer is so cruel. My thoughts and prayers go to you, Miles, Aileen, Katie, Jethro and the rest of Aileen’s family and friends. We have got to do something about this horrible disease.-Susan

  39. I’m 42 and have already lost too many friends to cancer.  I fear that it will hit all of us at some point or another in our lives, either sooner or later.  There is so much pollution in our environment and such a lack of oversight of corporations who spew cancer causing chemicals into our water tables and food chain.  We wonder why people are dying of cancer younger and younger, but it doesn’t seem like much of a mystery to me.  But, we don’t want to hurt our economy by making them clean up their acts.  I wonder what the damage to our economy is when more and more people are having to drop out to fight and die from cancer. 
    I’m so very sorry for your loss!  Continue to fight the fight against this horrible disease. 

  40. I am so sorry.

    Tone is hard, and I hope this does not sound in any way glib. This horrible place that you and Miles are in makes me think of the Matrix, and how the bad guy keeps coming at you from every open door, and it’s the same damn bad guy over and over, no matter what you do. Breast cancer, breast cancer, breast cancer.


  41. I’ve lost my mother and some of my very dearest friends and relatives to that disease. I have taken pictures like this one; and yet, I still weep just because it comes crashing back.  I’m sorry for your loss; and sending you, Xeni (and everyone in this fight) as much strength as I can.

  42. What a lovely picture. Let’s all hope that we’re all lucky enough to have someone like Jethro with us when we go out.

  43. I just happened to see this photo posted on Boing Boing today. Beautiful and such a touching tribute to pet ownership. It’s especially moving since I actually knew Aileen in High school in GP.  I’m so sorry that you are battling this disease as well Xeni and I do hope this doesn’t lessen your fight. It may not seem like it right now but it is a curable disease. If you don’t mind I just want to say thanks for the many frosty mugs of cold beer Aileen and for the many late night backgammon games with your mom. My sincerest condolences to her family and doggy Jethro. 

  44. This photo stirs so many emotions. My mother died at age 46 also from ovarian cancer alone in a hospital bed. It will forever haunt me. She was 7 mths. old when her mother died of breast cancer. There is so much cancer in my family that I grew up feeling a monster was always chasing me. It finally tagged me three yrs. ago with leukemia. I just hope we all pass from this world with the same love and comfort shown in your photograph. I have two dogs that never leave my side. What good companions they are and bless your Jethro. What a beautiful photo. I wish you all peace and good memories.

  45. Teared up at work and again at home after seeing such a powerful image.  Every detail brought back my sweet mother in law’s last moments we witnessed a couple of years ago.  I remember her struggle but the peace at the end.  Thank you for sharing.

  46. Xeni, my condolences to you, Miles, and his family. Thank you so much for posting this story and moving picture. Wish I had a chance to know Aileen, but it sounds like she was surrounded by love and this photo of her and Jethro will be around forever.

  47. Condolences to you. I lost my mother to lung cancer almost 3 years ago.I pray that other patients are able to defeat the disease.

    Strength to all patients and those who love them.

  48. My sister died of breast cancer. Her journal said,  “I don’t want to leave my beautiful life.” 

    Thank you for sharing this photo, as unbearably painful as it is to see. 

  49. My father died of cancer, and I agree…no one should die that way.  They suffer.  Thank you for sharing this photo, which is so very precious.  Thank you for allowing Jethro to say goodbye.  My best wishes to your family.

  50. weeping for you Miles and your beautiful nieces.  May god rest your sister’s soul.  Thank you for sharing this heartfelt moment with the world.

  51. What a beautiful picture the last kiss from a well loved family menber ,They know when we are sick and hurting and should be allowed to say their goodbys ! What a wonderful family she had to love her so much  to be by her side God bless you all !

  52. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with your family.  I lost a friend to breast cancer this week, and have battled the disease twice myself.  Too many friends have battled it, too many friends have died, that has to end.  This photo is a beautiful homage to Aileen.

  53. No words can take away the pain of losing a loved one, so I am sending healing thoughts to you, your boyfriend, and his family. It’s one thing to be diagnosed with the disease, which I was as well in March of this year, however, it is another to have lost a loved one to it within the same few weeks/months/or even year.  Be strong, you can beat this!  Thank you for posting this beautiful picture, my dogs and kitty have been my angels throughout my recovery! I am wishing you well my friend…..

  54. I am so very sorry for you loss.  Lost my mom to breast cancer in 1988; can it possibly be that long ago?  May God wrap his loving arms around you all.  And, yes, FUCK CANCER.     

  55. This picture is both beautiful & heartbreaking…..the story equally so. Thank you Miles for giving your sister & her beloved dog, Jethro, the chance to say farewell. I am so sorry for your loss. Xeni, I am praying that you beat this demon we know as cancer.

    I too have had this awful demon of a disease steal loved ones….my beloved Nana in 2010 to ovarian cancer, her brother my funny & always laughing Uncle George in 1995 to metastatic bone cancer, My young vibrant & beautiful cousin LaWanda in 2011 to stomach cancer & several others as well. I so HATE cancer! We need a cure now!!! FUCK CANCER!!!

  56. So very sorry for the loss of your sister, Miles. I am glad that Jethro got to say goodbye. Some people think “he’s just a dog,” but we know they attach themselves to our hearts forever. I will make a donation to the hospice that cared for your sister. I hope you have happy memories to sustain you. Rest in peace, Aileen.

  57. Xeni, Miles, Aileen, Katie (and Jethro): 

    My heart goes out to all of you. Thank you all for being so forthright and brave; for launching the ensuing conversations (and hopefully action) by igniting the fuel to share not only both of these poignant photographs but for opening your lives to the global community by sharing your story. These images, blog posts and tweets have stayed with me for days, touching me on a great many levels for a great many reasons.

    The power of reciprocal, unconditional love and trust is profound and immeasurable–whether between mother and children, brother and sister, closest of friends/family member, or animal companion and his beloved person. I have no doubt that animals grieve–I’ve seen it happen more than once.

    I’m touched (but not surprised) by Orvis so kindly and generously sending a new dog bed and care package of gifts for Jethro. They are a great “Vermont Strong” company. [For many years, they’ve had and supported fly casting as healing therapy for women (and men) at their pond.]

    Love each other well and continue to make the most of every single day. Time for me to go play with my dogs–I’m in tears again.

  58. Bringing the dog to say goodbye, was no doubt the very best thing you could have done. I feel very strongly that animals are able to give comfort in those last moments of life that no human is able to give. 

  59. Bringing her beloved Jethro in was such a beautiful act of love on your part. I thank God for Hospice everyday, we lost my father 2 years ago, and was so grateful that Hospice was there for us. That photo will remain in my mind for along time, I will hug my schnauzer extra tight tonight. Praying that you find some peace in these most difficult days that lay ahead of you. Love and Light…

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