In the days after her second treatment for a Stage 4 brain tumor, Lindsey Kessler confounded her family by repeating two initials, over and over.
"L.G.," Kessler, then 27, kept saying. "L.G., L.G."
"Finally, after two days, she stammered it out," her mother, Debbie Kessler, tearfully recalled last week. "She said, 'Life's good.' "
The motto became the extended Kessler family's rallying cry as they gathered around the Castro Valley native during her treatment for glioblastoma.
Kessler died on June 18, after a three-year battle with the disease.
In September 2009, the Kesslers marked Lindsey's birth month by holding a "Life's Good" fund raiser at Transfiguration Catholic Church, which netted $18,000 toward medical bills not covered by insurance.
They will repeat the fund raiser Oct. 2 and will donate the money to the National Brain Tumor Society and a not-yet-determined brain-cancer patient.
"This year, we decided to pay it forward," Kessler said.
Most likely, the recipient will be one of Kessler's fellow patients at UC San Francisco, where she was treated for three years. That's a comparatively long period, her parents say, for such an advanced and aggressive cancer.It left little time for grief or pain until after their daughter was gone.
"It's kind of a legacy, to keep something going in her name," said Lindsey's father, Jim Kessler. "She was a simple person," he said, choking back tears. "She wanted to live a young girl's life and she couldn't do it."
Kessler graduated from Castro Valley High in 1999 and remained in the San Joaquin Valley after attending the University of the Pacific in Stockton. She liked music, her family says, and going out with friends and relatives.
Two of her three siblings live in the valley — sister Kim and brother Robert, a Stockton firefighter whose captain cooks at the "Life's Good" fund raisers. A second sister, Melissa Greenwood, lives in the East Bay.
Kessler was an administrative assistant at a fertilizer company in Manteca. She often drove 150 miles round trip to spend weekends at the family home off Edwards Lane in Castro Valley.
On one such weekend in May 2007, Jim Kessler said, his daughter was preparing to drive home but appeared ill.
"This was a Sunday," Jim said. "She wanted to go to work Monday. We said she wasn't up to driving herself."
Kessler was so insistent that her dad, a PG&E retiree, drove her home and staying the night. But the next morning, she was even sicker.
"She had called us a while earlier and asked, 'What do migraines feel like?' " Jim recalled. "Neither of us had any idea."
Kessler was rushed to her primary care doctor, who ordered a CT scan. After a malignancy was found, she was rushed to UCSF, where she had brain surgery.
"The initial treatment was very positive," Jim said. "The second bout was another story."
For more than a year, Kessler could speak normally and even drive. Between chemo and radiation treatments, she returned to work. Her ongoing treatment, while supervised by UCSF, was at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek, closer to the San Joaquin Valley, where Kessler alternated living with her siblings. She insisted on keeping to her routine.
"She attended weddings, birthdays. She saw life go on," Jim said. "That was how she waged her battle with it."
Her greatest difficulty, he said, was wearing the Hannibal Lecterlike plastic mask custom-made to pinpoint and immobilize the correct spot for radiation.
"It bolted her head to the table," Jim said. "She was frightened of it."
The Kesslers had been told "upfront," he said, "that the prognosis was not good." But their daughter had done so well that the tumor's recurrence in May 2008 came as a surprise. Its location made it inoperable.
She was determined, though she could not walk or talk, to attend best friend Keri Rorvik's wedding in Kauai. It was "a miracle island for Lindsey," her sister, Melissa Greenwood, said. With some assistance, she was able, as maid of honor, to walk down the aisle.
After Kessler experienced a second recurrence in April 2009, she was enrolled in clinical trials of the drug Avastatin, but after a few months, Greenwood said, the tumors learned to "hide." In a photo of that last Christmas in Lake Tahoe, several family members appear with shaved heads in a show of support. In May 2010, after a long hospitalization, Kessler decided to go home. She spent her last weeks surrounded by friends and family.
The loss is still raw. "She was fully in motion in her life," Jim said. "Bills come in … things that have to be dealt with." He shook his head. "Sometimes, a little separation is what helps."
Debbie Kessler, who runs a day-care center from the family home, derives comfort from the garden created by well-wishers in her back yard.
"When she was really sick and we were all gathered around the bed, we'd go around and say a prayer for her," Debbie recalled. "One time, Lindsey had earphones on. We were getting ready to pray and the earphones popped off. And we heard the Bob Marley song 'Three Little Birds'…
"Then, the day she passed away, I looked out at the bird bath and saw three little birds, finches," Debbie said. "And I felt it was her message to us, telling us that it would be all right."
"Life's Good," The 2nd Annual Benefit in Honor of Lindsey Dian Kessler; Saturday, Oct. 2, Transfiguration Catholic Church, 4000 E. Castro Valley Blvd. Cocktails and silent auction at 4 p.m.; dinner and live auction at 5; entertainment by The Cocktail Monkeys until late. Tickets $30; checks payable to FBO Lindsey Kessler are tax-deductible; for details, call 510-538-7441.