News, University News

Jessica Fisher ’16 remembered for positivity, tenacity

Friends, roommates, advisors recall Fisher’s unparalleled warmth, kindness

By
Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Throughout her time at Brown, Jessica Fisher ’16 could always be found dancing, reading, drawing or finishing her thesis in the geology center.

Even after more than a year of chemotherapy and over a month of intensive radiation treatment for brain cancer, Fisher strove to maintain an active and busy lifestyle and always made time for her friends.

Fisher, who passed away Jan. 25 at the age of 22 after a two-year battle with brain cancer, never let anything get in her way, her friends said.

Mariela Mannion ’16, a long-time friend and former roommate, described Fisher as “inspiring” and said that meeting Fisher made her think, “Oh, this is why you go to college at a place like Brown.”

Fisher refused to take any time off from Brown while she was sick, and she graduated in four years with honors as a Sigma Xi scholar and received the Sarah LaMendola Award for Outstanding Research in Geological and Environmental Sciences.

Jan Tullis, adjunct professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences and one of Fisher’s advisers, recalled her bright outlook and creativity.

She “was a very positive, can-do person … and it was so inspiring that someone could remain so positive through such dire circumstances,” Tullis said.

Her creativity, Tullis recalled, often showed itself in her geology work. While on a geology trip in Argentina, Fisher combined her passion for dance with her research and conceived a photography series in which she posed for dance moves atop different rock formations.

For her senior thesis, Fisher examined fragments of 18 million-year-old fossilized leaves from the islands of New Caledonia in the southwest Pacific Ocean to determine weather patterns in the area during the time period. After the project, on which she worked with Assistant Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Andrew Leslie, Fisher decided to use more creative methods to further explore her work. Her senior spring, Fisher completed an independent study in the visual art department and created a series of paintings inspired by the fossilized leaves she had studied.

In her final two years at Brown, while undergoing a grueling treatment of chemotherapy, Fisher’s roommates banded behind her to help her manage her workload.

As part of her treatment, Fisher took chemotherapy pills every day for a week, causing her to feel extremely nauseous. To combat this, she took additional anti-nausea and anti-seizure drugs.

“We called it chemo week,” Mannion said. “Chemo week was bad, but the week after was worse. (Fisher) would plan her school work around those two weeks, because that was when she was the most sick.”

Despite the demanding treatment, Mannion and others recalled Fisher’ unfaltering care for her friends.

In the midst of the difficult treatment, Fisher would “drop everything she was doing to talk to me and help me and give me good advice,” Mannion said.

“(Fisher) inspired us to be more grateful … (a) perspective that you sometimes lose in college when you’re consumed with day-to-day life,” Mannion said. “All the little things are not super consequential … What (Fisher) valued were the people around her and the experiences and adventures that she could have.”

Fisher wanted a “sense of normalcy” and was “very determined to still live her life,” Mannion said. Even during the worst of her treatment, Fisher worked on crossword puzzles every morning over breakfast in the Sharpe Refectory, Mannion recalled, “to make sure her brain was still working.”

Fisher was unfailingly strong throughout her medical treatments, according to friends. When she started to lose her hair from the chemotherapy and radiation treatment, Fisher decided to shave her head completely as a sign of rebellion against her disease.

“She would walk around bald,” Mannion said. “It showed a lot of strength, especially since she had long beautiful hair. (It was) a radical display …  She was being brave and saying, ‘This is what I’m going through.’”

Fisher donated the hair she had shaved to a charity that creates wigs for people who have lost their hair due to medical conditions, recalled Emily Maenner ’16, another former roommates of Fisher and a close friend.

“She had done incredible research about where she wanted to donate her hair,” Maenner said. Fisher wanted to “find an organization that was completely patient-centered.”

As they left the hair salon, Maenner recalled, a woman also receiving a haircut admitted to them that she had struggled with cancer as well, and she said how proud and impressed she was with Fisher’s actions.

Fisher continued to participate in practices and performances with the Fusion Dance Company, where she had danced for three years and served as artistic director in her fourth.

“The first time I saw her dance, I was shocked at how alive she looked on stage and how much every part of her body was electrified,” Mannion said.

Fisher’ liveliness on the stage was reflected in her personality. “When I think of (Fisher), I think of a lot of warmth,” Mannion said. “She was a beautiful light in my life, and it was such a privilege and such a joy to get to be her best friend for the time that I got with her.”

The Fusion Dance Company’s spring show, which premiered this past Friday and Saturday, was dedicated to Fisher.