Rebecca Smith - Garden design & consultancy

The True Meaning of Friendship

My friend Jennifer Landers died of cancer in the early morning of Tuesday 6 May, less than 24 hours after I landed back at Heathrow after visiting her at her parents house in New Jersey. She was 45. She is survived by her parents, her brother and sister and their families, nieces and nephews upon whom Jennifer doted, an amazing extended family, and many many heart-broken friends and colleagues.

Jennifer outside her office in NYC with Tim

To understand a bit more about Jennifer and her personality, the obituary in Advertising Age written by her boss at Grey in New York says a lot:

As does the video made by her colleagues at Grey when news of her cancer became widely known. 

In Jennifer's own words to us, her friends:

'Moments of cancer kicking greatness come in big and small packages. This is a biggie'.

F*ck Cancer

She wrote to us, her college friends, on the 3rd of February after her diagnosis:

So it's cancer, and it's aggressive, and it may be starting at my bile duct. Seeing a medical oncologist on the 18th and will have to start chemo because surgery can't help. 2 more weeks of waiting, but at least now I know what it is. And it sucks out loud. Going to try to take a nap now. coco.

Bucky sketch by Kristin Rothrock

I cannot begin to explain how to me, her cancer diagnosis was a thing so shocking and ridiculous that I feel it still hasn't properly sunk in. To be told that my friend, who was such a strong life force, had terminal cancer still just seems an impossibility.

Jennifer, Elizabeth Swartz and Emily Wallengren

You see, we have been through cancer already as a group of friends and came out the other end. In 2012 our friend, artist Whitney Heavey, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Jennifer reacted in true media star style by creating a private group on Facebook. On 29th June, 2012, a group was founded: Team Honey Badger. The goal was simple, we were a 'Top Secret, VIP group where we stop being polite and start getting real. To keep our girl Whitney laughing and to FUCK CANCER.'

This page was only visible to a handful of people and membership was vetted by Jennifer; we had all been at Skidmore College together, friends since 1986. Those who were deemed not supportive enough or selfish found themselves no longer able to access this private page. This page became our confessional and our lifeline to each other. We posted photos of our dogs, children, events we attended; we shared our thoughts and dreams; we discussed bodily functions, hair-loss during chemotherapy, and becoming middle-aged. And we all listened. We gave each other the love and time that only true friends are able to give. 

In a world where we are separated by time zones, distance, jobs, relationships and life, we rediscovered each other. Our thoughts were openly shared and discussed. To say that this group is important to me is an enormous understatement. To be in nearly daily contact with people that I have known since the age of 18 is a blessing that I will never take for granted. 

493 Broadway

We cheered, laughed and cried with Whitney during her treatment. Our friend, jewelry maker,  Elizabeth Swartz created the Whitney necklace and donated a percentage of sales to the American Cancer Society. And we went through a year, creating a bucket list of things to do once Whitney had kicked cancers ass. And miraculously, the scan revealed Whitney had indeed kicked cancer.

For Whitney's blog post on this please go to:

And so Jennifer put into action our trip to California to take place in September 2013. She found after some searching a house that would sleep all nine of us and booked four nights in the Russian River. Jennifer, myself, Emily, Elizabeth, Whitney, Dana, Kristin, Randy and Gary all headed towards San Francisco from Boston, Los Angeles, Oakland, England, New Hampshire, and North Carolina. We all arrived on Thursday night and headed out to the Russian River Pub for our first meal. 

The rules of the weekend were simple: Jennifer decreed NO PHONES at the table at night. Be present. No text, facebook, twitter, or instagram to friends at home. Enjoy who you are with when you are with them.  

We shared bedrooms, bathrooms, food and wine. An English friend said to me she would not have gone because she couldn't bear the thought of sharing a bathroom with anyone, a statement I found rather depressing as it seemed she missed the point of the weekend. It was a weekend to celebrate friendship and the ability to clear the diary and spend time together. 

Be present.


We went to the beach. We went to wineries. We talked and talked and talked late into the night with the fire lit and fueled by wine, good food, nostalgia, 80's music and great company. We laughed long and hard at lots of things. We slept and walked. And we strengthened our friendships just that little bit more. 

girls at Coppola

When Jennifer and I were at Skidmore College we shared an apartment our senior year. We filled it with parties and people and occasionally we studied. A lot of the time, we talked while lying on her bed, looking at world map she had pinned on the wall, planning where we would all go when we grew up.  In the end, she stayed in New York and I made it as far as London before marrying.

Me and Jennifer, September 1986


On our last night in California, I took her a cup of peppermint tea and we lay on her bed talking late into the night, much as we did back in 1990. We talked about our weekend, each other, everyone else, and how we were all really the same as we were when we all met in 1986. 

20th reunion 2010

 We all left California excited about future reunions and busily planning an East Coast summer day together. 

heart stone

And then, like a joke, Jennifer told us about her cancer diagnosis. To say we were all dumbfounded would be an understatement. Our voice, our link, our friend. The one who bound us together and reunited us was suddenly and seriously ill. We were silenced. Our page which was Team Honey Badger became Team JOTUS. Messages and texts flew between us as we all tried to come to terms with Jennifer's news.

We knew that she had not been feeling well andwe knew that there were a lot of doctors. A lot of tests, of thyroid, of blood and other fluids; an endless round of tests which seemed to find nothing until one doctor sent her to Memorial Sloan Kettering for a biopsy.

 The bench at Coppola Winery

She was put on a course of chempotherapy; one day at Sloan Kettering, followed by two days at home attached to what she called 'the silver bullet'. It was a dosi-fuser and contained 48 hours of chemotherapy. Like a take-away from the hospital. Repeat after 11 days. 

Jennifer kept us updated on her treatment and how she felt:

I am home and alive and so fucking exhausted and eating watermelon in bed. Thanks for all your cute texts today. They really cheered me on thru the day. Like little bursts of THB love. I appreciate you people.

And then suddenly after just six weeks of chemotherapy, came the news that the treatment hadn't worked. She was at her parents, her childhood home, and now receiving hospice care. I had a tearful call late one night from Anne, another mutual Skidmore friend, to say come, come soon or you will miss her. I booked my flights to Newark arriving late Friday and went straight to Anne's house.

Emily, Elizabeth and I were able to see Jennifer on Sunday 4 May. We spent the day with Jennifer and her family, laughing, talking, crying and just being. Just being there and being able to see each other was tremendously reassuring. To hold her hand. To stroke her hair. To tell her we loved her over and over. To know that Jennifer was so loved by so many people is a gift I will cherish forever.


“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you… By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone's life can stand a little of that.” 
― Charlotte, E.B. White, Charlotte's Web

(Thank you to Kristin Rothrock for this quote posted on our Team JOTUS Facebook page)

Car parked at Villa Habana

After our weekend in California Jennifer sent us this message: 

One of my favorite quotes is a Maya Angelou one that says "when someone shows you who they are, believe them." This weekend I saw what I already believed: that you are each smart, brave, powerful, unique, funny, supportive and real people that I am blessed to call my friends. And that I reckon I like a spot of peppermint tea before bed. And that sleeping cottages are sometimes spooky and its more fun to wake up with your friends. VillaHabana4ever. xoxo

the car

 We are all trying to come to terms with the loss of our friend Jennifer. I threw myself back into work but realised I had to address my sorrow when I stood in the marquee at Chelsea Flower Show on Tuesday and saw a display of the most beautiful sweet peas called 'Just Jenny' and started sobbing. 

I was touched hugely by two articles written by cancer sufferers recently. Vassi Chamberlain's piece in Porter magazine about her battle with cancer and how her friends have helped her understand the true meaning of friendship made me cry the whole way home on a flight from Portugal where I had gone to hide instead of going to Jennifer's funeral. And in the Saturday Telegraph on 17 Maythere was an honest and heartfelt article by Kate Gross about her battle with colon cancer. In the article there was a drawing of a snail-spiral, which described her world:

'In the centre of the spiral is me... Outside that, a handful of our dearest friends, godparents to our children, best men and women... Outside that... are others whom I love, but are one degree removed...' Her logic is that where a person sits within this spiral defines how that person should behave and that those further out should help and comfort those nearer in.  

I would like to think that we were Jennifer's 'Best Men and Women.'

I know that we, Team JOTUS, will all continue to honour her memory by being true, loyal, honest and kind to each other. She brought us back together and we are better people for it. 

'Be Present' 

reunion 2010

Jennifer was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, what is commonly known as bile-duct cancer.

For more information on this rare cancer or to support research into it, please contact the following website:




Comments (7)

  1. Will Pollock:
    May 27, 2014 at 11:06 PM

    just blown away by this. thank you for taking such care in raising/holding Jen's spirit.

  2. Thomas A. Landers:
    May 28, 2014 at 01:37 PM

    Thank you, Rebecca, for this outpouring of love for my niece, Jennifer. It is such a joy to learn more about this woman who I love and admire. Thank you for affirming my image of her as a powerful, loving, life force. The richness of her gift to you and your friends is evident and I am in full empathy with your loss. One of the many delights that Jennifer shared with me is her love of reading. She is batting 1.000 on the recommendations that I enjoyed. Thank you, again, for being so vulnerable and sharing your gift with us.

  3. Chris Landers:
    May 28, 2014 at 03:42 PM

    Rebecca, Jennifer was very lucky to have such a wonderful group of friends. Thank you for sharing this.

  4. Rebecca Smith:
    May 29, 2014 at 08:33 AM

    Jennifer was such a big part of my life and there are so many memories of her which make me laugh out loud. Her firm belief in standing up for what she believed and her staunch support of her friends are just two of the characteristics which made her unique. To know that these and other traits were recognised and celebrated makes me happy.

  5. Brooke Molinaroli:
    May 30, 2014 at 04:01 AM

    I was a friend for Jennifer's from high school. I keep reading this and am just so impressed with your eloquent words about her. Even in high school, you knew she was a special person who would go on to do great things.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Nik Pristouris:
    Sep 04, 2015 at 12:45 AM

    Jennifer sat near me at KB and would say 'Hello' when she walked past me. I will always remember her warm smile and positive energy; even when times were difficult. Reading how the same positive energy was there with her friends and family during her most difficult time on a May 4th day, brings back her engaging smile when she walked past my desk. Jennifer's warm smile and positive energy are now throughout the universe! My father just passed away from a 5 year battle with Bile-Duct cancer and I was there with him to the end. God bless the entire Landers family.

  7. Anne Landers Boehl:
    May 28, 2016 at 01:03 AM

    Thank you for spreading some more of Jens love around. It made me feel wonder & sad all at the same time. 💕

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