“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul – and sings the tunes without the words – and never stops at all.” -E. Dickinson
The series of circumstances that have connected us have been seemingly random,
but meeting Jennifer, getting to know her, slowly being let into her journey,
it’s one of those stories that challenges and inspires.
Sharing someone’s story is one of the most intimate of privileges.
To get it right, to honor their strength, to share their conviction, to inspire with their beauty….it’s a daunting task.
So much so that I would never claim the pretense of understanding in totality the depth of emotion journeyed or the ability to connect the points along the way summarizing the beauty completely.
And yet, when a woman has settled into a fight with resolve like she has,
in spite of having born the weight of devastating news once,
in spite of the journey of the weary battle,
in spite of a seeming victory just to find herself back again where she began,
I can’t help but share in sparks, a glimmer of the hope flame she continues to feed, to fan.
And the inspiration shines, lights the way for others.
Her courage is quiet yet sound.
Her voice is steady, smooth, unmoved.
You’ll hear it as she tells it.
“Life for me has been a rollercoaster over the past three years. Certainly everyone has their unexpected highs and lows, and we are no different; ours have just been extreme peaks and valleys, with all sorts of unexpected hairpin turns thrown into the mix. In Fall of 2010, I accepted a job in Kansas City which would move my husband and I from our little home in Des Moines, IA. This was an amazing time to try to sell a home (ahem) but given the circumstances, we didn’t have much of a choice. I packed myself up and moved to Kansas City while Ben stayed behind with our pup to fight the real estate market and to try to secure a job for himself in KC. Months passed without success on either front, when finally, in May 2011, Ben finally secured a position. We received an offer on our home within a few short weeks and we finally closed the chapter on our Iowa life together and reunited in Kansas City.
As we settled into our new town and prospected for a permanent home, I developed a nagging cough which progressively worsened. After countless doctor appointments, urgent clinic visits and prescriptions for medications which failed to remedy the problem, I was diagnosed in September 2011 with a high-grade Neuroendocrine Tumor (or NET) which had collapsed the upper right node of my lung. This is an aggressive, fast growing cancer normally seen in older men with a long history of smoking. As a 30 year old non-smoking female, I was told I had essentially won the reverse lottery. With nothing to do but move forward, I boarded the speeding train of cancer treatment and began 6 grueling rounds of aggressive chemotherapy which took place over the course of three days every three weeks for hours on end. I completed 30 rounds of radiation therapy on my lung which resulted in esophageal damage and the most menacing heartburn known to man – a great recipe to lose a lot of weight, although I highly discourage it. Once the standard treatment was completed, I began a preventative radiation therapy of 15 sessions of brain radiation, which quickly zapped the tiny peach fuzz of hair I had finally sprouted in my early days of recovery. In June 2012, I finally went without a scarf on my head and by the end of the summer, I felt more like myself again. I was stronger and had energy and was ready to reclaim my life.
With my husband by my side, we did just that. We finally explored Kansas City, started to make friends outside of the Cancer Institute, and started to feel like we were finally on the right path. Each passing month brought more and more confidence in my growing health and in our long future together. As my leash attached to the Cancer Institute grew longer and longer, I began to think more about starting a family. At this point, I was 32 years old and if we were going to do this, I felt we had better get started. In March of 2013, after a full year without treatments and continued clear scans, I was given permission by my oncologist to proceed with our family plans. Literally days later, I was pregnant. It had happened a little too easily for us and we were a bit thrown by our success and the resulting impact to our lives, but we were excited about this newest, happy challenge and decided it was time to settle down permanently. We bought a house with room to grow in a neighborhood with a good school and watched my belly grow through the spring and into the summer. Then, out of no where, life threw us another curve. I was diagnosed with a recurrence of the cancer, now in my liver and in the fatty tissues of my back, and I was 22 weeks pregnant.
Needless to say, there were a lot of tears and a lot of stress as we tried to come to terms with this latest news and the impact it would have on our family and our future. But I know of no other way to address this type of situation other than to just accept it and move through it so I can make it to the other side as quickly as possible. So Baby and I began chemotherapy treatments and Baby continued to grow and develop. There are a few realities about this which I can’t change – Baby will be born with a low birth weight and a suppressed immune system. I will not be able to breastfeed my child so as not to pass chemotherapy on through my breast milk. I will deliver this child early as the impacts of chemotherapy build in my system and start to cause distress for my child. And I will return to an aggressive treatment schedule as soon as possible following the birth in order to allow me a chance to watch this child grow and to live the life I have planned. Without my husband, our families and our friends, this already daunting challenge would be impossible. I will be damned if I do this a third time but we never know what is lying ahead around the next corner. So I’ll keep moving forward, hoping for more ups than downs, with my child and my husband by my side.”
Jennifer’s in my life now.
It’s how it is.
I think of her, I wonder about her, I pray for her.
She’s currently 37 weeks pregnant, waiting for the platelet growth, the strength, the final word when she’ll get to meet her sweet hope baby within.
We plan to to continue to share her journey of strength, her story of hope, and, in time, her healing.
Thank you, Jennifer, for sharing your pressing forward, your inspiration.
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