Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea--Psalm 46:2 (NIV)
In preparation for the prayer event on Thursday for my healing from brain cancer, I am providing this background per my friend David Heatherly’s request. For those of you who don’t know me well, I hope this gives you more insight into who I am as person. Before I even start, I must acknowledge that so many people have gone through worse things. For me, loosing my baby nephew Elijah to a heart condition in 2004 was more painful than anything I’m experiencing now. Still, this has its own challenges. I am grateful for the many people who have poured into my life in the past 36 years. My life has been formed and blessed by so many others (family, friends, professors, mentors), that I will never be able to repay.
I’m seeing more and more blessings each day as I walk through this challenge. I have been moved by the stories I have heard from others and blessed by their encouragement and experiences. While I know our suffering has not been identical, I have walked and am again walking a path similar to many of you. I also must acknowledge that in spite of the circumstances, I count myself among the fortunate ones because I have such a great, caring family and enormous support network of prayer and friendship. I also know God is calling me to be transparent about this experience so that others might be helped.
For me, the worst thing about the brain cancer diagnosis is not fear of death (I know I have eternal life if Jesus Christ), nor is it getting sick from chemo/radiation (I’ve dealt with feeling poorly for a while now), nor is it loosing my hair and my youthly beauty (I can get that back), its about the pain and damage my illness inflicts on my family (a kind, generous, hard-working faith based middle-class American family) who means the world to me—that is the hardest thing.
[POSTSCRIPT (12-23-2017): Looking back, I underestimated just how difficult the illness from chemo/radiation would be. There were days I was so sick in bed that I had fleeting moments of wanting to give up, and asking the Lord to "just take me now." But, I would tell myself, "just hang in one more today, tomorrow might be better." I did this everyday until I did feel better. I also underestimated how I would feel about loosing my hair. I was disheartened to see the shocked look of my sweet 8-year old niece when she first saw me bald. Although, after she replaced the shock with a smile, she said, "Aunt Ne Ne, you are beautiful." I also recall a feeling of sadness, when out of habit I picked up a hair brush and realized I no longer needed it.]
I am 36, unmarried without children (although I count my nieces and nephews as my kiddos). By the grace of God I have had some amazing opportunities in life. I have served the past ten years in executive non-profit leadership in the pro-life movement. Serving first as the General Counsel of Care Net from age 27 through age 32, where I helped pregnancy centers navigate through legal challenges and led coalition efforts to fight over a dozen pro-abortion attacks against PRCs. These efforts kept hundreds of PRCs open and able to give women alternatives to abortion. Even at my young age, I have routinely have been invited to speak at events and conferences and have had my op-eds featured in major media.
[POSTSCRIPT (12-13-2017): I am now 38, still unmarried and without kids, but still blessed by having my relationships with friends and family]
In 2012, I then felt a calling from God to make a change and serve Americans United for Life, the legal architects of the pro-life movement, which I did from January 2012 until my health forced a resignation before the start of 2016. At Americans United for Life (AUL), I worked with a team that created model laws resulting in what major media called "a tidal wave of pro-life legislation" being enacted across the country in the past few years--which have been statistically shown to result in fewer abortions and more lives saved
Before starting my career, I graduated summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA from Westminster college in Fulton, MO, and was accepted into Harvard Law School. I opted to attend Boston University School of Law where I received a full tuition scholarship, graduating cum laude. I have served as a summer clerk for two state Supreme Court justices (in Missouri and Massachusetts). Most importantly, I have strived not to live by accomplishments, but to serve others, which is why I dedicated my life to the pro-life movement.
My parents have been pro-life activists since I was a small child. My mom ran the crisis pregnancy center in Amarillo Texas for over 20 years (and, until my seizure, was running a pregnancy center in Charleston West Virginia), and my dad, a hard working employee of General Electric for 30 years, was very involved in pro-life activism and church ministry as well. We were that family that would bring by diapers formula and money to a mom in need in the middle of the night, so she could care for her family. When I was 13 my parents temporarily relocated to Wichita, KS for several weeks so we could participate in the Summer of Mercy protesting late term abortionist George Tiller.
My desire to serve others is motivated by my relationship with Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior and why I served the pro-life movement. The most important things in my life have been: loving Christ and following my calling in the pro-life movement, loving my family, being good to other people.
My philosophy in life has been to be the best daughter, sister, aunt, employee, student and friend that I could be in every situation; and while I know I have failed many times, I’ve tried to be kind and generous to others while simultaneously being fully obedient to God. My biggest fault is that I have never allowed my self to trust or rely on anyone for much of anything…until now.
My decision to leave my position at AUL and relocate to Dallas was extraordinarily difficult. I cried for three days straight, still I knew it was what God was requiring of me, I just didn’t know why yet. I took great solace in the fact that I was able to secure work for some fantastic pro-life groups doing great things to save women and children from the destruction of abortion. My larger dreams turned into simpler ones. I wanted to be able to help my brother and sister-in-law with rent so they could start college saving funds for their kids, or so they could save to visit my sister-in law’s family in Taiwan (she has not been home for 10 years); I dreamed of being able to help my oldest nephew with his homework, to take my niece to get nails done, and to chase my toddler nephew around the house. Assuming all worked well, I was considering adopting a child and giving a home to another. I also was pondering God's command that we honor our mothers and fathers and had concluded that means caring for them as they age. My hope was that I could save enough money to get an affordable home in Texas that I could share with my dad as he gets older.
[POSTSCRIPT (12-23-2017): In His miraculous way, Christ has made many of all these "simpler dreams" come true for me in spite of the circumstances that I faced two years ago. Today, I help homeschool my nephew and my niece. My niece and I have had dates at the nail salon many times, and, while chasing my youngest nephew is hard for me, I have had many sweet moments with him. My dad and I are even discussing the possibility of purchasing a home together once I'm back working, and my medical bill have lessened].
At the time I made the decision to transition from AUL, I didn’t quite know why God was calling me to a new season. Even though I was daily living with the pain of an extremely large tumor which was causing debilitating headaches, we had not yet identified the tumor yet. Still, my family and I started to feel something more was wrong. I had seen three different doctors who each identified me as having a sinus infection without ordering scans. I started praying to God that if there was something more serious we were not catching that something dramatic would to force medical attention to my situation. God would soon answered my prayer and my world was be rocked, my faith shaken, but His answer to my prayer may have very well have saved my life.
The very week I planned to move to Dallas, I checked into the emergency room having gone temporarily paralyzed on my left side following a seizure. Ironically I was already at the hospital when the seizure occurred for a routine doctors appointment, but God allowed me to have the seizure to catch the tumor at that exact time.
While in the ER with my dad and best friend by my side, and my mom on her way from West Virginia, I knew it was bad news when every doctor or nurse let out a huge sigh before pulling the curtain to my bed. The doctor who broke the news to me that they found a "mass" even started to tear up. Every doctor said they wished they had "better news," or "any good news." They started to prepare me for the worst. The decision was made that going to Dallas for the surgery would be the best for me given that the necessity for long term care from my family.
It was shocking to go into a doctor’s office in Dallas and then be told you had the largest tumor they had ever seen, be told its likely malignant and aggressive, and then be immediately wheeled into a hospital bed. I had to face the reality of my situation quickly and with the help of a very good attorney friend of mine, I was able to secure the proper advance directives I needed, then I asked my family to leave my room, so I could give funeral instructions to my best friend, just in case.
These are the things people don’t normally have to face, or even think of at age 36. I have now learned that my tumor was the size of a lime, and while my surgery was a great success, the pathology confirmed I had a malignant grade 4 cancer, which t was the most aggressive form of brain cancer, with only a 10% chance of survival after 2 years, and only an average survival of 12-18 months. While I was praying for a miracle along with so many of you, I had suspected bad news, because I knew bad news meant that God could do a greater miracle. There is some good news, people do beat this, and I am young enough that I’m better positioned to fight. I have a gene mutation that responds well to chemo and radiation. I don’t actually think this will kill me, but I do know it means I have a long road ahead with a lot of physical and emotional pain, and a complete and permanent life-style change. For better or worse, I will never be the same.
[POSTSCRIPT (12-23-2017): Early on, I had been told by many people they believed Christ would or had already healed me, many of them citing the same scripture Psalm 118:17, "I shall live and not die and declare the glorious works of the Lord." Several months later I received my own word from the Lord, 2 Kings 20:5 "‘Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will heal you." This was also spoken to King Hezekiah when he became terminally ill in the early years of his life. The wonderful story about Hezekiah is that he was not a perfect man, but he pleaded with God to heal him and God did so by Isaiah to applying a "cake of figs" to Hezekiah's boil. See Isaiah 38. This confirmed to me that God often chooses to heal through medicine and treatment. Please read some of my additional blog posts for examples of this.]
The circumstances surrounding my move to Dallas are a testament to the faithfulness of Christ. I had already wrapped up my work for AUL, I had packed my U-haul truck, cleared out my apartment, and even found a home for my cats. But instead of doing a three-day drive to Dallas, I was wheel-chaired onto a last minute flight to Dallas so I could undergo emergency brain surgery. I was in a total state of shock, PTSD really. 2016 was supposed to be the “Year of Jeanneane” where for the first time in my life I focused on myself, my health, and those simpler dreams I had always wanted, but now those seemed impossible.
The Bible says Satan comes to “steal, kill and destroy,” and he does, and he doesn’t wait for you to recover from brain surgery or to "process", or wait for you to have any peace. Satan immediately started to implant thoughts about lost dreams and uncertain future and pain that were a struggle to fight. He told me this would be my last Christmas, that I would never get married, never have my own children, and that even my dreams to serve the pro-life movement would somehow be compromised. I now know that I don’t have to accept Satan’s lies. For the first time in my life I was grateful I had no husband or children, because it meant fewer people in pain over my situation. The most significant lessons I’ve learned so far are:
1. Work out your theology now. When you are facing emergency brain surgery, you do not have time to suddenly “get right with God.” We don’t tend to feel the need to think of these things when we are young and healthy, but tomorrow is never promised. When I was going into anesthesia, I didn’t know whether I would wake up in heaven, wake up in a vegetative state, or wake up normal. But, I was in a state of amazing peace because I knew that Jesus was with me. Praise God, I had the best surgical outcome thanks to the power of Christ, your prayers, and the stellar neurosurgical team at UT Southwestern. I imagine the possibility of death is a very scary thing for many people to face, for me I was comforted by the fact that if the worst happened, I would be in eternity with my Savior, Jesus.
2. Kindness matters, so many people, even people I don’t know have supported me sacrificially through prayer, donations and in other ways—the local pro-life group that has been delivering food weekly to my family, the Facebook friends who have encouraged me and organized prayer events, the friends that have traveled long distances to see me, the Dallas non-profit that ensured my family had a Christmas meal, the friends and corporation who made sure I had Christmas gifts for my nieces and nephews and the corporate Chaplin who sat with my family through my seven hour surgery, the generous AUL board member who gave my sister and her family flight miles so they could be with me. The childhood friend who set up my medical bills fundraiser, the friend who organized my money bomb, and so many others. I feel the great love and it means the world to me. I would not be doing as well without it.
3. For some reason God has called me to be the one to walk through this. This is a comfort to me because I know just how weak I have been in the process. But, our God delights in weakness.
Admittedly, everything is still very raw for me, and in time I will write more about my experiences, until then, I will continue to post on Facebook. But, I wanted to put something out now to say mostly that I have been so blessed by the love, prayers and encouragement I have received from thousands of people. I am truly blessed, and more important for me, my family also feels very blessed. Thank you all. Please keep praying for my healing daily, for God's Provision and for Him to be in in the details of every aspect of this process. I believe God will get me through this (I have seen so much of his hand already), and someday so many of you will be able to share in this miracle with me as a testimony to His majesty and grace and glory. I look forward at continuing this journey with you, and am so blessed to have you all in my life. Thank you!!
[POSTSCRIPT (12-23-2017): Today is two years since my surgery. Despite the statistics, I am still here. There are so many more things I can saw about my experience over the past two year. Someday I will put as much of those as I can in writing, but for now I just want to say how blessed I am to have had so many friends, and people I don't even know praying for me and walking through me in this. #TeamJeanneane remains as strong as ever. I am especially appreciative of my family, particularly my mother who relocated to Dallas for a significant portion of this time; my dad who has accompanied me to every MRI and doctors appointment and has faithfully been by my side since that first day in the ER, to support me financially, emotionally, spiritually and in many other ways; my brother and sister-in-law in Dallas who have sacrificed on a daily basis by sacrificing room in their home, and space in their lives to care for me; my sister in Virginia who has been a source of encouragement for me; for my precious, beautiful and brilliant nuero-surgeon Toral Patel, my oncologist Karen Fink and her team, for my naturopath Dr. June Meymand, and every skilled medical professional who has helped me. I'm thankful for my many people to gave such helpful practical assistance during this journey. I think of Nicole Boone, who was always willing to come stay with me in Dallas. When I faced seemingly insurmountable medical bills, the friends who set-up fundraisers or gave substantially to my medical fund. Others who gave significantly in finances or in organizing meals and other assistance. For every friend to came to visit, and for every prayer, for every scripture, for every note of encouragement, for every donation to my medical fund, for every gift, for every expression of love! I thank all of you. So many of you I am grateful for that are more than I could possibly mention. Of course, I'm most grateful to Christ my healer. He never rejected healing and most of his ministry on Earth was healing. "For by His stripes we are healed." Thanks to all of you! Christ is worthy to be praised.]