Xo is healing from her single mastectomy, but until Jane The Virgin "Chapter 80," she has seemed rather healthy and in good spirits. Spoilers ahead. But making a connection with someone else in treatment not only gives Xo someone to talk honestly to, it also brings back the deadly realities of this disease.
Xo decides to do cold cap therapy along with her chemotherapy treatments, in an effort to reduce hair loss. There, Xo meets Donna (Amy Brenneman, in her return to TV after her stellar performance on The Leftovers), who is a pro at cold cap since she has been dealing with breast cancer for years. But when Donna dies in "Chapter 80," Xo not only loses a friend, but she's reminded yet again of her own mortality in an incredibly grounded and moving episode.
Jane, Alba, Rafael, and Rogelio are all supportive of Xo as she goes through her cancer diagnosis. But Donna's introduction means that Xo gets a friend who is experiencing almost exactly what she's going through. Donna helps Xo find humor in breast cancer — explaining that she calls her breasts "hot toddies" since radiation has made her implants warm to the touch. And she also reveals that she uses marijuana for the pain, which also lifts her spirits. (Medical marijuana is available in Florida). But Donna also warns Xo early on in her chemo treatment that things will get worse. After a three-week time jump, Jane The Virgin shows how Xo's race to the finish line (as she calls it) is much more difficult than she had hoped it would be — just like Donna had said.
Brenneman's character only appears in two scenes before a nurse at the cold cap treatments has to break the bad news that Donna had "an unexpected recurrence with complications" and died. Even for Xo, who understands firsthand that cancer could lead to death, Donna's sudden passing is hard to comprehend. And it's a brutal example of how unpredictable and cruel cancer can be. Beyond the physical toll that her cancer has taken on her, Donna's death is a blow to her emotional health. While Xo tries to put on a positive and brave face for Rogelio, she accutely misses Donna — a person that she could just be herself around. The loss of her friend also makes Xo realize that there is no "finish line" when it comes to cancer. It's a threat that will always be there, long after her chemo treatments.
Thankfully though, even if her family can't fully grasp what she's going through, Xo has tons of support from them. Rogelio agrees with her decision to stop the cold cap treatments since they're an additional (and medically unnecessary) form of torture. And he tells her that she doesn't need to be optimistic for his sake. Plus, Xo finds another pal — quite unexpectedly — in Brooke Shields' River Fields. After River consumes one of the pot brownies that Donna bequeathed to Xo, it and Xo help River understand the beauty of telenovelas. So Donna is still able to bring Xo joy, even after her death.
While "Chapter 80" is a particularly tough episode to watch, it would have been unrealistic and out of character for the show if Xo breezed through her treatments. And this storyline comes from an organic place. Showrunner Jennie Snyder Urman told Vulture that her mother had breast cancer twice. Valentina Garza, the writer of the episode where Xo decided which course of treatment she would take, is a breast cancer survivor herself. So unlike the telenovela twists and turns that are sensational for the sake of being sensational (I know, right?), the drama surrounding Xo's breast cancer is painfully true to life.
But while Donna's death serves as a reminder that even with diligent treatments, cancer can take a person's life, it seems like Jane The Virgin will give Xo a survivor's journey. That doesn't mean there won't be more hardships for Xo to overcome. But Jane The Virgin has established her resilience time and time again. So even with the loss of her only friend with cancer, she'll do as Donna wrote to her, and keep fighting.