What can a grieving mother do to bring some meaning to the death of her daughter, and to keep alive her memory?
After my daughter, composer and filmmaker Jessica Grace Wing, died in 2003 at age 31, one way was clear: to enable Tucson audiences to see the musical, Lost, that she composed during her two years of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment for colon cancer. This musical, based on Hansel and Gretel, opened in New York City three weeks after Jessica's death. Set in Appalachia and hearkening back to the first settlement in the New World, its unusual story and lyrical music made it a huge hit, garnering rave reviews and winning the award for Best Musical at the New York International Fringe Festival in 2003.
At the time, Jessica was a graduate student in filmmaking at Columbia University, and one of her classmates filmed the New York production. I was very pleased when the Loft Cinema offered to show this film in November 2006. In his Tucson Weekly review, titled "Finding 'Lost'," James Reel wrote of the video, "Arizona Onstage Productions could surely do a brilliant job with the material."
Two years later, after adding additional orchestration, the Tucson production opened. Reel wrote in the Tucson Weekly on Nov. 6, 2008, "Now the work is in shape to travel from one company to another, and it certainly deserves to." Chuck Graham wrote in the Tucson Citizen, "Now Lost has the depth and, most important, the artistic resonance to please audiences around the world."
To my utmost gratification, multiple performances of Lost played to sold-out audiences, fulfilling my mission to bring something positive out of Jessica's death. One of the final Arizona Onstage performances was professionally filmed, and will be shown at the Loft Cinema at 1 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 28, along with several short films that Jessica made. The screening will be a fundraiser for the Loft Cinema and Arizona Onstage Productions. The Tucson Weekly is in large part responsible for this whole happy chain of events.
As a physician, I have found another way to bring meaning to my daughter's death. In the absence of a family history of colon cancer, this disease in a young person is extremely uncommon. Jessica was an egg donor for in vitro fertilization (IVF) for infertile couples several years before becoming ill. Egg donation involves repeated self-injection of female hormones in order to stimulate the production of multiple eggs (instead of the usual one), which are then retrieved and used to produce an embryo. Many young women in the United States earn extra money in this way. (Selling eggs is not permitted in many European countries.)
When I looked for a possible link between egg donation and colon cancer, I learned to my amazement that nothing is known about this. Once a young woman walks out of the IVF clinic, no one keeps track of her health, and therefore, the long-term risks of this procedure are unknown. Before beginning the egg-retrieval process, a young woman signs a consent form which says she understands the risks. Young women don't usually realize the difference between, "There are no known risks," which is what they may have been told, and, "There are no risks," and often assume that the process has been shown to be safe. It has not.
To educate Congress on the absence of information about the risks and the need for follow-up with the donors, I conducted two congressional briefings in the past couple of years in an attempt to promote the creation of egg-donor registries, which will provide the possibility of doing research on risks. Until IVF clinics begin to keep track of egg donors and are able to learn from them about their health over the next dozen years, the long-term risks will remain unknown. Cancer and infertility have been reported, but a cause-and-effect relationship is yet unproven. Young women will continue to sell their eggs and possibly risk their health and their lives.
Until the risks are actually known, I will continue to bring meaning to Jessica's death by continuing to advocate for the safety of other young women who are considering egg donation.