Trueline Spotlight: Writing the Next Chapter
Jim Cavan’s dad likes to joke that when his son left home for college, he turned left out of the driveway (literally and politically)—and never looked back.
Though he once dreamed of playing for the NBA’s New York Knicks, immersion in books and a blossoming counterculture ethos drew Cavan east of his home in suburban Detroit to the University of New Hampshire. There, in small-yet-liberal Durham, Cavan would study philosophy.
“I thought it was a real growth industry,” he jokes.
By his senior year, however, he’d traded designs on a PhD for a dream of becoming the next Hunter S. Thompson, gonzo journalist, penning incisive (and somewhat controversial) columns for the school paper. Little did he know the most powerful story he’d have to tell would be his own.
Despite a promising post-grad internship at a political magazine, Cavan struggled to get his foot in the journalism door, so he returned to one of his college side gigs: cooking in restaurants.
His big break was falling head over heels in love with the future Mrs. Deana Cavan in 2008.
The following year, Deana introduced Jim to Sarah Brown, executive director of a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, organization called Green Alliance, who was looking for a director of media to help her write stories about her clients: small local businesses eager to embrace sustainability.
“I had had no business getting that job,” Cavan recalls. “Sarah taught me how to write in a way I never had before: clearly and concisely.”
By 2013, he’d resurrected a childhood dream, doing freelance sports writing for outlets like Sports Illustrated, the New York Times and ESPN.
The following year, the Cavans welcomed their first-born son: Everett Thomas Cavan—a beautiful baby boy with sky-blue, owl-like eyes.
“We had everything,” Cavan recalls. “A healthy child, jobs we enjoyed, a community we loved. It was the happiest time of our lives.”
The resilience of Rett’s Roost
As soon as the sun seemed to rise, however, dark clouds closed in.
The following November, when Rett was just six months old, the shattering discovery of a malignant rhabdoid tumor on their son’s liver rocked Jim and Deana’s world. After a four-month battle with the rare and aggressive cancer, Rett passed away on February 22, 2015.
Amid the darkest days either had ever faced, Deana and Jim’s resilience and strength were put to the test.
Together, and in honor of their son, that April they launched Rett’s Roost, an organization that hosts retreats for families who have experienced childhood cancer. To date, the organization has hosted 23 retreats for survivors and bereaved families.
“After experiencing such a massive trauma, we tried not to lose sight of the beauty of humanity and the way our community rallied to our side,” he says. “We wanted to pay that forward. The longer we do this work, the more strength and inspiration we draw from it.”
In the months that followed Rett’s passing, Jim found his way back to his writing desk as a columnist and senior editor for The Cauldron, an affiliate of Sports Illustrated. Before long, the road led him to Trueline.
The light of their lives
Starting as a staff writer in 2017, he was promoted to senior writer and content manager in 2019.
“Coming here was one of the best things that ever happened to me,” Cavan says. “I’ve been able to hone my craft every day and work with some incredible people.”
He credits the company’s work-life balance for leaving him the time to work on his biggest project to date: a memoir about his family’s experience.
Working late at night, Cavan admits he’s often faced with a blinking cursor as he searches for the right words.
“Deana and I have both found ways to honor our son—to stay connected to him,” Cavan says. “For her, it’s running Rett’s Roost. For me, it’s the book—just chipping away a few hundred very hard words at a time. In a strange way we still feel like we’re raising him, that his presence is always growing.”
As with so many stories, Cavan still has plenty of happy chapters. The happiest of all: welcoming his daughter Everly—named in honor of the brother she never knew—in 2016.
“She’s the light of our lives,” Cavan says. “I know Rett is proud of her. Just like she is of him.”
Favorite Drink: a Manhattan made with Bourbon (with friends) or Canadian whiskey (with Clan Cavan). Also: any microbrew you got.
First Rock Concert: The Offspring in Detroit at age 12. Embarrassingly, he wore earplugs.
You’d Never Guess: Cavan has a mouth. He was the team’s leader of technical fouls for mouthing off at the basketball referees in high school.
Can Easily Quote: anything from Spinal Tap, The Big Lebowski, or The Royal Tenenbaums—much to Deana’s chagrin.
Can Make: a mean Paella.