Disclaimer: I’m writing this piece in the first person intentionally. This is a tribute to my friend Jane that I hope amplifies how she impacted me and so many others.
America’s Got Talent celebrity Jane Marczewski, popularly known as Nightbirde, passed away earlier this week after a fiercely fought battle with cancer. Anyone who knew Jane knew that she was a woman of inspiration and joy — even during times where joy would seem foreign to most.
One example of her joy was made evident last year when she sent a video of encouragement to a 15-yr-old girl who is also battling cancer. I had just posted about Jane after her huge success on American’s Got Talent. In the comments, a woman reached out to me regarding her niece, Riley Blue, who had been diagnosed with Epithelioid Hemangioendothelioma (EHE) in the fall of 2020 and was told that her condition is not commonly curable.
The opportunity to bless this young teen with some encouragement had “Jane” written all over it. No surprise, Jane jumped at the opportunity when I called her. In the video, Jane shares of her own journey and encourages Riley to expect the impossible and to wait on God’s plan.
“I heard about your story from a friend of mine and I wanted to take a second and reach out and say, ‘I’m so sorry for what you’re going through.’ I understand at least a little bit what it is to be so disappointed and just confused and angry and all of the feelings.
But cancer is not all you are. I also heard that you love to sing and you love to play sports and you love to hang out with your friends and that you’re definitely not letting the word ‘cancer’ disrupt your beautiful life — and that takes a lot of courage.
Always, always remember that it doesn’t matter what the odds are or what the statistics say. Doctors can tell you what usually happens, and what could happen, but they can never tell you what will happen to you and your future.”
So, it doesn’t matter what anyone says. You keep fighting because impossible things are possible.
Never forget that even though life is so, so hard and so, so unfair, life is also so beautiful and full of gifts and full of joy, and when you get sick the way that you’re sick and the way that I’ve been sick, we actually get a really special gift to be able to see the world in a way that most people don’t get to see the world.
And my prayer for you is that you keep your eyes open, and you keep looking for things to be thankful for and you keep looking for the gifts and that you listen and hear God speak because I think God has a little extra something special for people that hurt the way that we’ve been hurt and those who are still brave enough to listen.
I know that you’re going to have so many beautiful stories of this journey even though it’s not the story that you wanted — it’s still a beautiful story.
So I’m praying for you and I believe in you. I’m proud of you and I’m just cheering for you and rooting you on and so many other people are too, and we know that you can totally do this.
Sending all my love.“
Riley was baptized shortly after her diagnosis was discovered. Despite her circumstances, she continues to play sports and participate in the same social events she did before her diagnosis.
Riley’s father, Aaron, spoke with the Standing for Freedom Center, saying:
“Our local community held a fundraiser for Riley a couple months after her diagnosis. OU Children’s Hospital in Oklahoma City and the Toby Kieth Foundation/OK Kids Corral have been great to us as well. The OK Kids Corral is a wonderful support facility for kids with cancer and their families.”
In the shadow of her diagnosis, Riley’s courage has been a light to so many.
“What sometimes appears to be a curse can be a blessing. Our time on earth is not guaranteed and we are here to take advantage of every day to worship God and appreciate the blessings we have in life. We tend to get caught up in our everyday routines of life and miss the things so important: God, Family, and Friends … When she was diagnosed with EHE cancer, it, of course, was a shock. Our family became very aware of how precious each day is and our relationship with the Lord and each other. She has always kept a positive attitude and it impacts those around her. We have learned to take each day one at a time and thank God for the days we have.”
Starting out as a local celebrity in Lynchburg, Virginia, where she graduated from Liberty University, Jane glowed on the many stages she graced. Leading worship on stage at her church, performing at local dives, or performing in Lynchstock, Jane was very much present but never too good to talk to anyone. She was just as much a person in her humility and was a great example for others to aspire after.
Local coffee distributor Nomad Coffee created a drink named after Nightbirde. All purchases of the drink this month will see a percentage go to Jane’s memorial fund. Nomad Coffee owner Joshua Davies, a friend of Jane’s said, “She won. And we all saw her win. The battles of life didn’t take away her joy. Her global impact will always be remembered.”
Jane was known by many to have the spirit behind her video to Riley Blue. There is inspiration, but not a hint of surprise by those who knew Jane. Her joy was obnoxiously envious. Normalcy to Jane was to pursue things that were hardly tangible.
Embedding my tribute on Facebook here:
The heavenly choirs just gained a new voice, and they’ve never sounded better.
O sweet Jane, I know “it’s okay” but I’m not okay right now. A lot of us aren’t. That’s okay, too, right? Therapeutically, I like to imagine you standing on a piano with your incomparable spunk and enthusiasm orchestrating laughter among the heavenly chorales. (That’s probably not biblically accurate but heresy is pardoned in the grieving process, yea?)
It is easy, and very understandable, for many of us to feel robbed in this loss. And while it’s not the right way for us to look at Jane’s passing, it’s just how a lot of us are going to feel for a bit if we’re honest. But I hope to genuinely convert that grief into an appreciation for the magnitude of life lived in her short time before Glory.
Jane, the last several years of your life saw events that none would envy. But gosh what a testimony of Christ in that through the darkness you had joy. Last fall, while sitting on your rooftop, your voice was fairly strong, only slightly faint, but it was 100% Jane. You were smiling and laughing and facetiously philosophizing the most ridiculous things and it was a night I’ll never forget. It was perfect. I love that we shared it, but I hate that it was our last.
It can’t be said enough. You were SMILING and LAUGHING while battling a terminal illness that often had you bed ridden and too weak to talk. There is simply no logical source for such an impenetrable joy than Christ in you.
From the perspective of our finite time-bound minds, your life was cut short. But from the perspective of the impact you had on people’s lives, you outlived some of the oldest people in the world. If I live to die of old age, I hope my life span shows half the courage and joy that yours did in 31 years. I’m gonna be super real here.
As a professional wordsmith, I know how to orchestrate words to deliver a hard message. I’m writing all of this because it’s true and I want to honor Jane. But don’t mistake eloquence for strength. Truth is…I’m sad, I’m angry, and I wanna throw my phone.
But I rest in the peace that for you, Jane, death was but a portal to eternal life with your Creator. If any AGT or Hollywood people see this post, please know that Jane’s strength and joy comes from the only one true God, the same God who she praised on the worship team at her church, the same God who loved YOU so much He created a path from destruction to redemption through Jesus’ work on the cross, the same God who beckons you to repent and follow Him. You will never find the joy you saw in Jane anywhere in this world, because such a joy is not of this world. If you don’t know Christ, then for Jane’s sake please find a local church and talk to a pastor about the gospel. She would want the same joy for you.
To quote you, Nightbirde:
“Oh, I think I’ll go
I’m not afraid of the unknown
I’ll look right in the eye of my greatest foe
Oh, I think I’ll go“
Your life span on earth was unknown, the galactic reach of your impact will never be known. But what was known is that your eternal victory lay on the other side of the unknown. Free from sickness and sorrow, your life is now eternal and your story will live on for years here on earth. Worship the Father, keep writing songs, and, as always, eat some cheese (Heaven has to have cheese, right!?)
I miss you, friend.