How This Started
In October 2002 Larry developed a knot in his groin area that began to grow rapidly. The mass had become so large that is was the size of an apple and could be seen through his clothes. It caused him no pain unless he applied pressure to it. Larry usually offered resistance to going to the doctor. This time it was different. When he showed me the knot and expressed his concern for its sudden growth, I knew it was something that should be given immediate attention.
Larry and I were temporally working in Oklahoma City at the time so I made him an appointment with a doctor of Internal Medicine. The doctor felt sure that the growth was a strangulated hernia. He marveled at the size but said it was out of his field. He wanted Larry to be seen immediately by a surgeon. He made the phone call and set up another appointment for one hour later.
Larry and I went to meet with the surgeon and was intrigued by the size of the growth. But, he was more puzzled by some other factors. He called another doctor in his practice for yet another opinion. They could not understand why Larry was not having a lot of pain and why he did not show some kind of prostate problem. The most puzzling issue was why they couldn’t push it back through the hole where it had broken through. He looked at me and told me this was nothing to postpone. It would be life threatening if it ruptured. However, I would not let him schedule Larry for surgery without a second or third opinion.
A Second Opinion
I began to make calls back home and made him an appointment with a surgeon in the Houston area. He examined Larry and reflected the same sentiments the doctor in Oklahoma City had, except he said he wasn’t 100% sure that a hernia was what it was. It could possibly be something else. When I tried to pin him down on what that something else could be he simply wouldn’t say.
We went back to Oklahoma City to work to have his surgery there. I told the doctor, prior to surgery, that I had him seen in Houston by another doctor and that doctor wasn’t sure that it was a strangulated hernia. He assured me he had seen many of these and was quite confident of his diagnosis, and he would see me forty-five minutes after surgery.
Larry went into surgery and the doctor was back to give me his report within 30 minutes. He came and began to rush through his report and told me the surgery went well, he was able to get it all. Larry would be fine and I would need to call his office. He would have them make Larry an appointment for treatment with another doctor. I stopped him and told him, I thought this went well, and you got it all. Why does he need treatment? He said the surgery would not solve his problem.
Not What We Expected
This was not a hernia, this was lymphoma and he will need to take treatment. I didn’t know what lymphoma was so it didn’t ring a bell to me. I said ok, what kind of treatment, he then replied chemotherapy. I did know what chemotherapy was. I was shocked; I said chemotherapy is for cancer. He then acknowledged me and said yes he has cancer. I had been riding high on his upbeat initial good news now my world had gone dark. Larry’s parents and my parents were there and we were amazed, to say the least.
Moving ahead we came back to our home outside of Houston a week later and got Larry into MD Anderson hospital. His diagnosis was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, which was in stage 4 in all of his glands from his groin area to his neck. It was also in his spleen and it was very enlarged. One of the cancers was slow growing in his body. They said he could have possibly had it in his body for 15-20 years. They also found through the PET scan another type of cancer that was fast growing. It was the Large B Cell Lymphoma. It was all up his spine from his tailbone to his neck and in his shoulders, plus wrapped around his ribs. There were only 2 vertebras that did not show cancer. He was in stage 4 in this also.
Yet with all the cancer spread throughout his body it did not show up in his bone marrow. They told him it would be like treating cancer with two faces at the same time. All of the Oncologist looked at Larry’s diagnosis and discussed the best treatment for him since there was not a lot of data to draw from. All cancer treatments in the world are reported to a data service in Germany. At that time there were only 80 cases that had been treated worldwide. MD Anderson had only treated 15 of them in all their treatments. Larry began treatment on December 26, 2002.
The Bigger Story - Faith
Larry was full of nothing but hope and faith. He took eight rounds of chemotherapy in 21 days cycle. During his time of treatment, he suffered two setbacks with infections and had stayed in the hospital. His last treatment was in May of 2003. Through everything, he never wavered in faith that he was going to overcome this ugly disease. His spirit was always good, strong and courageous.
We were so blessed to be surrounded by a wonderful church family since most of both of our families lived in Oklahoma City. We believe we went through Cancer victoriously for a reason, and that was to help others that will be walking through it.
From Challenge to Opportunity for Service
We felt like we come through this on purpose for a purpose. Just like in the movie “The Field of Dreams”, we believe if we built it they will come. Cancer patients and their caregivers not only fight battles with their sickness, but there is the added burden of finances; then follows discouragement and depression which interferes with the healing that needs to take residence in their body. We want to offer relief by being a hope-filled Messenger, possessing a hope-filled presence, at a hope-filled place, called Hope Cancer Retreat.
Inserts from Jenny's Journal
From the very beginning of this diagnosis one-month ago, I likened it to a journey. That seems to be the only way I can wrap my mind around this. A journey there is a beginning and an end. A journey is temporary not a permanent destination. Perhaps that is my coping method with this. My assignment given to myself is to shelter Larry. I have always sheltered him but it would pale in comparison to the assignment I have given myself. I will be picky about who I receive my information from. I will not talk with anyone over once who even hints that they might be negative. I will be Pookie’s (AKA Larry) biggest fan and cheerleader. My job is to not only taking care of him but see to it that he stay pumped up mentally. If there were ever any doubt about the depth our love there would be none now.
We had a talk last night about our positions. He told me he was glad were both in the positions we were in. I didn't understand exactly what he was saying and questioned him. He said if we were going to have a journey with cancer he would much rather he have cancer than me. He felt he could bear up under whatever cancer and chemotherapy dealt, better than he could be a good caregiver and keep up with everything that I do. If he only knew, how very weak I feel.
I have never experienced such a battle of the mind in all my life. It’s not one day good and one day bad. It’s a moment by moment thing. I feel so unstable, I feel like I am in the fight of my life in my mind and I can’t put a voice to it. I don’t want anyone to view me as weak or to have to give any energy or attention to me. We guard everything we listen to. We never talk to anyone that is negative. One moment my mind is up and I have my “hopes” up. As soon as I feel up, my mind goes wandering down the road to “what if?” I feel such an overwhelming sadness and I’m trying not to let it show if front of Larry. I have to schedule my breakdowns to when he isn’t around and that is not very often. I’m going to the bathroom a lot and spending time there crying. I feel so tired, I wished I could shut my mind off so I could get rest and sleep at night. I know it is people’s prayers that are giving us the strength every day.
When we come to the hospital for all his test we always bring what I call our defense tools. We carry a bag with our Bibles, tapes, and CD’s writing pad so I can journal my thoughts like now. I’m not going through this just for Larry and I. I have to journal in order to be able to help someone else who will go through this down the road. I don’t want to see anyone go through this.
Today I found great comfort in David again. I would read one chapter in Psalms, and David would be bragging on God. The very next chapter he is accusing God of hiding from him when he needs him.You know David sounded bipolar and like he needed medicine to stable his mind yet he was greatly used by God. He shows us his ups and downs in his writings. I appreciate his realness, I can relate. It’s helping me at this moment. He has actually given me hope and comfort. There I go using the word ‘hope’ again. As I read the 23rd Psalms, I think I could write my own.
The 23rd Psalm
As written by Jenny Jackson in the waiting room at MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Lord, you are my protector. My comforting and caring Daddy God. You’ve blessed me today that I can once again lie down in my own comfortable bed, in my own home. That is my green pasture. You lead me by still peaceful waters today; not the loud rushing water that I have felt. You once again have restored my hope and strength. You have lead me in paths of right standing today at MD Anderson for after all I am representing “Your name’s sake”. Yeah though I walk through the valley with a shadow of death all around me, I’m trying desperately not to walk through this in fear. I’m trying to remember that “through” means there is an end and where the sun will shine again. There is a place where we, will feel like laughing again. I know you are with Pookie and me. You’ve opened every door before me. You are our way makers. You’ve enlarged the path we’re walking. Your Word, your presence, your people, they all are so comforting. You’ve prepared the very best for us. You somehow will always be our provision. Help me to always remember that and not feel needy. You anoint daily my mind that in everything I can be thankful for something. At times Lord I feel so grateful and so blessed that if I can’t tell someone, I have to write it to you just as I am now. Father God, way down deep there is this stillness in my knower that knows I am not alone. My friend's Goodness and Mercy are with me every step of this journey just as they always have been all of my life. I will continue to dwell wherever you are forever as long as I shall live. Amen
Moving ahead to July 20, 2011
This is an insert from an email sent to family and friends
It is with much sorrow that I send out this email. For some time Pookie has had some symptoms that have alarmed me. We wanted to get our summer visit with our grandson over and then I immediately scheduled him for testing for cancer. 1)He has been running a fever with the sweats at night. He tried to blame it on my having hot flashes but his hotness was very alarming to me and I began to take his temp. It brought back the fevers with cancer. 2) Every time he eats he gets really uncomfortable in his stomach. It hurts and it is like it is crowding something. 3) He gets very tired after working a bit. I know it is very hot out there but this is different. His energy level is low and he gets tired easy.4) His shoulder where the cancer was hurts him constantly. His friend Doc said it was a bone spur but I was not willing to let them do anything to it till we had him tested for cancer.
It’s been a whirlwind week so far. Friday we go and meet with the oncologist. She wants to send him for a PET scan first thing. The insurance usually balks at the PET scan w/o good reason but it went through. He had a PET scan Monday. They called us Tuesday and said the Dr. wants to see you first thing Wednesday morning. Needless to say, it was a long, hard, awkward, night. We were both in semi-shock and our brains were running. We didn’t want to talk, there just wasn't anything to say. The quietness between us was deafening. We knew that was not good. We went and saw her, she said well your cancer is back with a vengeance. Larry said is it in my right lymph gland? She looked at him as if saying are you kidding, then she said No it’s everywhere. It is spread all over your body. We asked about his organs, she said this is very odd. People generally only have one type of lymphoma, you have two. One of the giants is awake and we do not know which one it is. I am going to schedule you for a CAT scan today so we can see the best place to take a biopsy. We cannot start treatment till we know what kind of cancer we are treating. They respond to different types of treatment. We said we’ve heard this before that is what they told us before. Here is what we know. The cancer is in Stage 4, it is showing attachment to the base of the liver, but they will not be able to tell for sure till they see the CAT scan. It is showing metastasis to his spine specifically in the T3 T4 and T12 with a tracer elsewhere. His spleen is very enlarged also. Other than this news we are left waiting in limbo for about 2 weeks. She will be calling us in as soon as they know more from the results of the CAT scan.
We were in the waiting room to take the CAT scan and I began to tell Pook what my niece Lori had told me. She said ever since you text me and told me Larry was going for his test all she could think of was Job. She said my prayer has been and will continue to be Lord use Larry. She reminded me that HCR would have never been here had it not been for our journey with cancer. It is now blossoming, and she said I cannot even imagine what is going to happen after Larry comes through this. She hates we are having to go through it but she knows God will once again show himself strong in the end. I began to tell Larry this and I reminded him of our Pastor Bishop Jones who died of cancer. He told his boys he had shown them how to live a Christian life, now he was going to show them how to die. I told Larry we are going to continue helping cancer people just like we always have. This time the guest who comes and lives at HCR will not only read about his journey with cancer they will see it. He began to cry and sob and said but I don’t want to go through this again. I said I know, he said no you don’t know. I don’t want to go through this again, I’ve been through enough, go pick on someone else.
The first thing I told Pookie is I am so glad my mom is not here with us now. I got to take care of her and get through that so now I can focus on him. This would have been very hard on mom if she could remember who we were. Just as I had a scripture of confirmation I prayed over mom. I got my scripture for this last night.
Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.
So I know you probably have questions. But we don’t have answers right now. Give us a couple days to digest this and get a grip. Feel free to email or text but we just are not up to having conversations over this at the present.
On December 12, 2011, Larry had his Stem Cell Transplant. Everything went textbook perfect. He was very sick for about 3 weeks after the transplant and had to stay in the hospital for over a month. In fact, 2011 does not hold very good memories for us. He was diagnosed in July, and we spent most of the next six months in the hospital. Both of our birthdays and all the holidays were in the hospital but....GOD WAS FAITHFUL!
Walking a journey with cancer is not anything we would have ever chosen or signed up, but it is a part of our lives we would not take for. There are so many lessons to be learned in life especially when you go through something so devastating. You learn who really cares about you. You learn how really strong you are. You learn just as the childhood song says "He's got the whole world in His hands". Your world may be tilting and spinning a bit but you put those Big girl panties on and Focus on the Fight, not on the fright. I found a scripture in the Bible that meant so much to me that I put it on Post It's and stuck it around my house as a reminder. It says "He is before all things and in Him, all things hold together. Col. 1:17. In life, you always have a choice. You may not have chosen cancer, or a stroke, or Parkinson's disease but you can choose how you deal with it. You can be bitter or you can trust God that he really does have the whole world in His hands and see's the big picture.
One of the lessons I learned is this. When I was a child I committed my heart to God. That simply says to God, when I die and leave this earth I want to come to heaven to live with you. We think that part of the story is sweet and great but the getting from here to there involves some hurt and sorrow for some people. The one who is going, and the family left behind will suffer hurt.We are spiritual beings having a temporary physical experience. We often live like we are a physical being having some temporary spiritual experiences. We all have a vehicle that will take us from earth to our final destination. There are many vehicles. To some, the vehicles have been war, a car accident, a heart attack, and yes some have been cancer. We choose to Trust God, that he knows the right timing and the right way.Until he chooses to take Larry, we were going to do our best to leave a legacy, make a mark and stand for something. We were going to use ever how many days we have left in a positive way.
It has been six months since his STP and he is doing very well. We are focusing on his strength the continual growth of HCR.
Update in 2015:
It has been 3 years since Larry had his stem cell transplant. Life is good. He still lives a very productive life. In fact, if you were to see him you would never know he has been sick a day in his life. Every person reacts to treatments differently. Larry had a mono stem cell transplant which means they were able to use his own stem cells to transplant back into him after months of heavy chemo. They grafted well but for some reason, his immunoglobulin (which is his immune system) does not replenish itself. It depletes itself. This is not normal, in fact, his doctor only has one other patient that reacts this way. It has been that when his number gets below a certain point he gets run down and catches things. So for the past 3 yrs. about every 2-3 months he has to go back to MD Anderson and have an infusion of immunoglobulin to build him back up.It is our hopes and prayers that someday this part of him will heal and will function normally. He also found out last year he had heart blockage and they put in 4 stints but life is good. He still lives a very normal life.In life you have choices. We choose to look for the blessing hidden in every obstacle that comes our way.
Update on Jenny November 2015:
On July 20th 2015 I (Jenny Jackson) embarked upon my own journey with cancer. It was something I never expected to go through. In my natural reasoning I figured all that I had been through with Pookie, someone had to be healthy. Up to this point, the only thing wrong with me is I took one blood pressure pill a day and could stand to lose some of that baby fat I had carried around for 59 years. If you have had any experience with cancer you know being told you have cancer dazes you into a fog so quick you only take in half of that you are being told. I am no weak lady and I have been through a lot especially in the past 10 years but I found when cancer knocked on my door, it did some temporary damage to my fasteners on my “Superwoman” cape. I wasn’t at all expecting to hear anything like this so Pookie wasn’t even with me. When the doctor told me I had cancer I remember I started crying. He asked if I was all right? I said yes sobbing. I am no stranger to cancer and told my doctor about Pookie and HCR but I never expected to hear this. I love what I do. I don’t want anything to stop what I am doing. I don’t know… well I just don’t know… sob sob. He said Jenny, you will do it the same way you went through it with your husband. You have one heart not two and you can live with one kidney. The same caring and giving heart that got you through it with your husband will get you through this too. I found myself in surgery so fast my head was still spinning. They removed my left kidney and ureter. They told Pookie I had transitional cancer and would have to receive probably 3 rounds of chemo. When they examined the ureter they found no cancer in it and since the cancer was all confined to kidney I was blessed and didn’t have to receive any chemo.
It was still no cake walk. After my surgery, this strong lady began to have panic attacks. I would wake up out of my sleep with my heart beating so fast and could hardly breathe and hear the doctor say, you’ve got cancer. This happened over and over. I went to my primary care physician and told her and she wanted to put me on some anxiety medicine. She said Jenny here is the problem. You are strong but not invincible. You live a very stressful life. I said but I love what I do, I don’t want to ever stop. She said I am not saying you have to but you have a “Superwoman” cape so to speak and everything that has happened with your husband you jump and put it on without skipping a beat and see him through it. Same thing on your guest, you go do the same for them but you can’t find your cape when it is happening to you. This is real life now happening to you. You have to take time for yourself and heal. Give yourself downtown to step back and get away and refresh. What I was hearing was I can’t pour anything out of an empty cup. I had to take more small breaks to refresh mentally and spiritually in order to continue doing a good job. Pookie was all over it. It was me. I was the problem. One of the problems first off was having the finances to go somewhere. The second and main one was this. I have a relationship via phone, email, text with our guest before they ever arrive. I provide them with knowledge, compassion, and understanding. I give them a realistic view of their days ahead, their energy level, and where things are. We are already close friends before they ever arrive. They are looking forward to meeting me. If we have a few days to go away someone is always checking in or out. I feel like I would be abandoning them in their time of need. The pressure being placed was only by me, on me.
Well, it is November 2015 now. On my down time while healing I did some evaluation on my life and my standards. What happened to me was just life.“Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans.” I didn’t ask for it but there was something to learn from going through it. I fine tuned my hearing that I could hear the whisper of God. Running HCR I hear and see stories every day and I of all people know LIFE IS TOO SHORT!!! Live life and mark things off of your bucket list. I am doing good and back to normal again doing what I was called to do and that is loving and encouraging people while going through cancer.
Update on Jenny June 2016:
People have said to me many times that it looks like everything we want and I post I get and it just falls in my lap. I have chuckled many times and thought if you only knew. EVERYTHING HAS A COST! Just like in the USA “Freedom is never free”. It cost somebody something. When you are in battle you never broadcast how/where the enemy is attacking you and hurt you because you would be showing your hand. You don’t broadcast your counter attack (especially on FB although some do).
Last May (2015) I began my battle. I had a sinus surgery because I have severe sinus infections all the time. I went to a doctor and just began wellness checkups for me, aka Jimbo or “Dr. J” because all my energy and time has been devoted to Pookie’s health and wellness for 14 years and also our guest. In my so call wellness exams began a long hard mentally exhausting battle. I had diagnosis and surgeries trying to be done on me that I knew was wrong. There was not a doubt in my mind. I am good friends with my Primary Care Physician. She was an angel to me and when I ran my feelings on certain doctors and test etc. by her she directed my steps. I sat on a mission to prove test wrong (or right). Some turned out wrong. I got to keep some of my important body parts but….. on July 20, 2015, I was diagnosed with cancer. On July 28th, I lost a kidney to cancer. There were so many good things that came out of my cancer. #1 I am alive. #2 My youngest son Randall argued with me and flew down and stayed a week for my surgery. I tried to tell him that he had more important responsibilities at home with his wife and 4 kids but I lost and am glad I did. He stayed with me at the hospital. I knew him as my baby where I take care of him, but I got to know him as “my son a good and caring caregiver.” In that, he got to see parts no son should ever see on his mom in just helping me in and out of the hospital bed to the bathroom in those lovely hospital gowns. For that Randall, I will tell you once again I’m so sorry. I was just too weak to be able to help myself. I hope you are eventually able to block that out and eventually move on in a healthy way. Lol! I think he got even with post and pictures he made of me while tending to my FB account. He lost sleep all night long for me where I had done this for him raising him up. To me, this was priceless gifts from God and memories especially when he and his family will be leaving in just a few days to go to Africa for 2 yrs.
Two months after I had a kidney removed I had a hiatal hernia repair. For the past year, I have had some real challenges on getting my health back after 3 surgeries in 5 months. During my downtime with my surgery from cancer, our friends at Home Depot came to us and said we want to do something for you guys. They came and started and did what will be an ongoing project of landscaping. It was like a “kiss from God”. It sidetracked my mind and helped me battle panic attacks etc. About a month ago I went to my primary care doctor over some things; she insisted I go to a specialist so off I go on referrals, CT scan’s, labs, test etc. I go back for results Monday by myself (which I should not have done) and get results I never wanted to hear that put my mind in a storm, plus just made me mad. NO WAY! NO WAY! To add insult to injury I couldn’t even communicate with this doctor because I couldn’t understand his English. His foreign dialect was lacking and so was his people skills. He tells me several pieces of news I wasn’t expecting then moves on and I go deaf on him. I am still stumped at the first report. When I try to tell communicate to me he sticks his hand in my face like “talk to the hand” and would not discuss this and did this twice. To add to my mind battle while at this doctor appointment I get a phone call from Home Depot and they do something very nice for us we were not expecting. While I was happy my mind went to my OMG moment remembering the last time they called and wanted to do something was when you found out you had cancer so for 3 days. I believe in “God Winks” but I don’t want them this way. I have been in this storm and couldn’t talk about it. Though I am a good friend of my doctor I respect her time, and she is a mom with kids too so I wait and make an appointment with her today to discuss all the results. She once again steps in and starts redirecting my steps and puts my mind at rest over the most important thing to me. I have been gone all day but she properly interpreted some results and put my mind to rest. She had to prove to me some were “false negatives” that I did not need to worry about. I still have new doctors and test ahead but it’s ok and all doable is now just sinus. I have not nor will give details of other tests that were false negatives I just don’t want to talk to people about it.
The purpose of all this is to say this… the devil has come to kill, steal and destroy our lives. We are not the first people that have gone through these extraordinary storms.I just happen to be more vocal on sharing them so that the people coming behind us will benefit from them. We have guests here all the time in those same storms at HCR. First Pook and now I seem to be the object. We were chosen to start HCR because I will share our storms and people can relate to them with their own storms. Today I was reminded of a song, There’s not a crown without a cross. Here are some of the words. The Martin’s made it popular you can YouTube it. But I am living this song out this week again.
To every life there comes the question of the heart
For extraordinary pain
Struggle greets you on the mountains that you climb
A war within the soul - for every step you gain
Remember when the winds of sorrow strike you down
And leave you hopeless and afraid
The proof of battle is the wounds that you will bear
The scars that build you strong for the journey that you make
Cause There's not a victory without a fight
There's not a sunrise without a night
There's not a purchase without a cost
There's not a crown without a cross
Freedom is never free. Everything cost someone something. HCR did not come together with no pain. It was born through our pain. One of the odd things I have noticed this week with every thought of negativity I had God sent us angels to help us every time I turned around and they knew nothing about what I was going through. I had a choice of which I wanted to concentrate on my storm or the blessings. The choice was mine to make. I know many of you can relate to my story I have just told. I hope this helps you with your journey.
PRAYER OVER TREATMENTS
(This is a prayer we found posted at MD Anderson’s in the treatment rooms where the patients were to receive Chemotherapy)
In the name of the Almighty “Jesus Christ”, I pray over this chemotherapy. I ask that your “Anointing” through the power of the “Holy Spirit” fill this room, and I pray that you wash this chemotherapy with your “Blood” to purify it and make it wholesome. I pray against any side effects, ill-effects, or complications from this treatment. And I pray for strength and comfort during this treatment. I pray your “Spirit” flow through me and protect all my internal organs and body. If you see any damage from this chemotherapy, turn it into plain water and your “Spirit” destroy the Cancer cells from my body without harm. I pray the “Blessing of Health through Healing” over my body. And I pray this in the name of “Jesus Christ” and I thank you and Love you, “Lord Jesus”.