Jennifer Lynn Chow was a fighter until her last breath.
It’s hard to imagine what she endured during the last three years: Breast cancer. A double mastectomy. Reconstructive surgery. Months of chemotherapy and radiation.
And just when she had beaten that cancer, a new one revealed itself: acute myeloid leukemia. Another fight followed, one marked by blood transfusions and more chemotherapy as the Seal Beach resident prepared for a stem cell transplant that might have saved her life.
But the transplant never came.
Through it all, she always remained optimistic and never gave up hope. But her body could only take so much and, at the far-too-young age of 44, she died earlier this month at the City of Hope Hospital in Duarte.
“She fought so hard to stay alive for her family until her last breath,” her husband, LAPD Deputy Chief Blake Chow, said this week. “She was the bravest person I’ve ever known. She was an inspiration for us all in health and sickness.”
Outpourings of condolences have been sent to him, including ones from Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Los Angeles City Council members.
“Everybody who knew Jen loved her,” her husband said.
A celebration of life in Chow’s honor is scheduled for 10 a.m. Nov. 3 at Eisenhower Park in Seal Beach.
A GoFundMe account has also been set up in her name. Because of her illnesses, Chow was unable to get life insurance, her husband said.
“We are raising funds for her kids’ college funds so they can attend the colleges of their choices,” Chow’s widower said. “Any support for the family would be greatly appreciated.”
In April, Chow’s friend, Long Beach resident Jennifer Davis, partnered with the Be The Match organization to set up a cheek swab drive-thru event to find a stem cell donor for Chow while she was being treated at UCLA Medical Center.
But, in a rare stroke of good fortune, a match was found just before the event. The discovery ended a search that had started earlier among the more than 20 million potential blood stem cell donors listed in the Be The Match’s registry. The cheek swab drive-thru event, in Long Beach, still happened, so Be The Match could continue expanding its registry.
“It’s a miracle,” Chow said at the time, in her typical outgoing manner from her home in Seal Beach.
She transferred to the City of Hope Hospital and had a transplant scheduled for this month.
But an infection delayed that and she died before the transplant could be performed.
Jennifer Chow was born Jennifer Balentine on March 21, 1977, in New Pekin, Indiana, a small town in southeastern Indiana. Her father was a mechanic and her mother owned a restaurant there.
She went to elementary and high school in New Pekin before graduating from Indiana University Southeast in New Albany.
She moved to Southern California in the late 1990s.
Chow was first diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2019 as she was about to celebrate her 42nd birthday.
“I felt something in my breast and decided to see my doctor,” she said in April. “I had a mammogram and it showed I had Stage 3C cancer. It was slow growing. If it had been more aggressive, I wouldn’t be here.”
She had a double mastectomy. Then four months of chemotherapy, 25 radiation treatments and reconstructive surgery. Before the chemotherapy, she shaved her head and wore wigs.
The surgery and treatment, she said, were “brutal but successful.”
That’s when she thought her battle with cancer was over and her life would return to normal.
She married Blake Chow, who has three children from a previous marriage — Andrew, Nick and Thea — on Sept. 27, 2020. She also has three sons from a previous marriage, Reilly, Noah and Isaac Reategui.
Chow let her hair grow back, which can be seen in a happy family photo from last Christmas. But shortly after the new year, on Jan. 8, she got the devastating news: Tests showed she had acute myeloid leukemia and needed more chemotherapy — and a stem cell transplant.
“My head started spinning,” she said in April. “I thought my cancer journey was over. It didn’t seem real.”
That’s when Davis, a friend and business partner in Rhonda and Jennifer Keller Williams Pacific-Estates Realty, organized the swab drive-thru for a transplant donor. Davis and Chow first met in 2013. Davis was also the real estate agent for the Seal Beach house Chow bought in 2017. Davis mentored Chow in real estate and, in July 2020, Chow got her real estate license and did very well, even making a Top 25 sales list in October of that year.
Then came the leukemia diagnosis, which put everything on hold.
In the week before she died — which also marked her and Blake Chow’s first wedding anniversary — Chow talked to Davis and family members in individual meetings at the hospital because of COVID-19 guidelines.
“I saw her last on Sept. 29,” Davis said. “She kept saying, ‘I’m fighting this. I’m not going to give up.’ She was not talking about death. She was optimistic. She talked about hope and the future.”
Blake Chow said his wife, despite remaining positive and optimistic throughout her ordeal, also had times when she was scared of the unknown.
“But she never let that get in the way,” he said, “of what she had to do to survive.”
Besides the chemotherapy, Chow also had to have blood transfusions that took up to six or seven hours.
“She never lost her positive attitude,” Chow’s husband said. “She never said, ‘I’m done.’
“We all were scared,” he added. “I can’t thank enough the City of Hope doctors and staff for their attitude and caring. There’s a reason it’s called the City of Hope. They give patients a reason to hope.”
Shortly before Chow died, on Oct. 4, her husband entered her room for a visit. She was asleep, Blake Chow said, but opened her eyes when he neared.
“I said I loved her,” the widower said. “She asked me about the children and how they were doing. She cared about other people more than she cared about herself. I told her and then she closed her eyes.”
It was the last time the couple were together while Chow was alive.
Besides her husband, Jennifer Lynn Chow is survived by her mother and father, Teena and Randall Balentine; her sister, Stacy Ballentine; and her children and stepchildren, Reilly Reategui, 17; Noah Reategui, 15; Isaac Reategui, 10; Andrew Chow, 28; Nick Chow, 24; and Thea Chow, 17.
Source: Orange County Register