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Steve & Felicia: Reaching out for solace online when facing death

When Steve Julian of KPCC in Los Angeles was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer, his wife Felicia Friesema turned to social media for solace, support, and the space to process this heart-breaking journey.
When Steve Julian of KPCC in Los Angeles was diagnosed with a terminal brain cancer, his wife Felicia Friesema turned to social media for solace, support, and the space to process this heart-breaking journey.
Rachael Myrow/KQED

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“My experience on social media is that it has always been a connecting fiber. I think that, like anything, you get out of it what you put into it.” — Felicia Friesema

(Note: The audio for this story contains some graphic, but heartfelt, language.) 

Felicia had seen the signs of brain cancer before. Her husband Steve wasn’t just forgetting his keys on the kitchen counter or having another of the myriad brain farts we often associate with middle age. He’d stop in the middle of a sentence, like he’d just hit a brick wall, and that was that.

“It wasn’t that kind of gradual onset that Alzheimer’s is. It didn’t sound or feel like dementia. This was so sudden – and it was very eerily similar to what happened to my Aunt, my Tia Gloria,” says Felicia.

This time, it was her husband.

Over the years, they’ve built a cozy life together in a sweet, spacious home overlooking the 110 freeway in Highland Park. She’s head of marketing for Foothill Transit. Steve Julian is one of a handful of trusted voices helping Angelenos navigate the freeways every day, as morning anchor for KPCC-FM. In his off hours, he writes plays.

Now, he was having trouble navigating his way through a sentence.

“Technically, all tumors are operable,” Felicia explains. “The question that comes into play is: what are you willing to sacrifice in order to get it out? The position and location of his tumor is such that you would have to completely destroy a lot of healthy brain tissue in order to remove it. You would be creating a situation of paralysis, major cognitive dysfunction, irreversible brain damage, and ultimately for possibly very little reward. There’s no way of skirting around it: I was looking at his death.”

Read more of Felicia's reflections on her ongoing efforts to care for Steve with the help of the community on KQED's website.