By Guest Blogger Jennifer Sharpe
June 4, 2017 started out just like any other normal day. I had been having severe stomach pains for a couple of months and after ruling out a few things, my doctor was convinced I had gallstones. Because there was no sense of urgency, my doctor suggested I go to the emergency room for an outpatient ultrasound since his office was unable to fit me in for a few weeks. Thinking this would be a simple in and out procedure, I went by myself between running errands. I was all alone when the on-call doctor called me back and delivered the news: there were large, suspicious tumors on my pancreas, liver, and lungs. They immediately sent me back for a CT scan. I remember lying there for the scan praying to God to please hold my hand and help me get through whatever was coming my way.
Shortly after, I was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer.
As soon as I found out about my diagnosis, I called my family and friends, and my support system quickly fell in place. I was going to need major support and help; they all went above and beyond! Friends took my daughter on their family vacation so she could have an enjoyable summer, meal trains were organized, house cleaning arranged, and prayer chains were formed in multiple cities. Having the support of my family and friends helped me feel strong and hopeful. Not long after my diagnosis I asked a friend to help find me a Christian counselor. Working with this counselor was one of the best decisions I could have made and I still rely on her today. Without my counselor, family, and friends, I don’t know what I would have done.
While I remember that initial day I was diagnosed so clearly, the days immediately following are a blur. Some of my best friends recall a story:
We asked Jennifer what she needed from us as she began her journey. We expected her to tell us that she wanted help with her daughter and husband, to be a shoulder to cry on, to run interference with the outside world when things got tough. Instead, she told us that she needed us to NOT cry, treat her the same way, keep life as normal as possible, think positive, don’t let others feel sorry for her, and to kick her in the ass when she started feeling sorry for herself! She didn’t want to talk “odds” or “life expectancy”. She was matter-of-fact about what she needed to do and was ready to face it head-on. She refused to dwell on the “what-ifs” or discuss anything to do with a terminal outcome. We are convinced that her refusal to entertain negativity, paired with her unwavering faith, are the reasons she is such a success story today.
Treatment started less than two weeks after diagnosis. My doctor told me I would be on one of the most aggressive treatment plans available. I would be taking five different chemo medications within a six hour infusion. Then, I would bring home my port, “Port Penny”, which I would be hooked up to for an additional 48 hours. This process would happen every fourteen days, for at least four rounds. If I was strong enough, I would do an additional four rounds. This chemo plan is nicknamed “Five Feet Under” – and for good reason. Treatments would feel as if I was dying, then I would have to fight my way back to some sort of normal. Just as I started to feel like myself, it was time to do it all over again. As my therapist said, I went into fight or flight mode and that’s the only way I got through it.
The side effects started immediately and were definitely not what I expected. One of the chemos caused me to have a severe sensitivity to cold. I had to wear oven mitts to get anything out of the refrigerator or freezer because cold air would burn my skin. If I wanted to eat cereal I would have to heat up my milk to room temperature. The morning after my first chemo, I woke up with chunks of ice in my mouth. The air conditioning blowing on me overnight had literally frozen my saliva.
Losing my hair was not a big deal to me, but the emotions that came from watching it fall out, and what that signified, were hard. I remember being in the shower watching chunks of hair going down the drain and sobbing. “It Is Well” by Bethel Music was playing on my phone and I started singing along through my tears. I knew God was with me and I felt a sense of peace wash over my body. I decided then that I was going to be here for my daughter and family no matter what. Sheer determination and my faith were going to see me through.
After a grueling eight rounds my cancer numbers went from 543 down to a 2. It was working! I was determined to keep going. My treatment was backed down to one chemo infusion and six chemo pills every day, for 14 days, with a one week break. Though this new treatment regimen was slightly easier, I was getting sicker from the side effects building up in my body. My doctor wanted me to keep going on this treatment plan as long as I could handle it. I stuck with it for another seven months until I finally decided my body was wearing down too much. We stopped the infusion but have continued with the pills.
One year later this 21-day-cycle of chemo pills has become my new norm; my tumor marker is still holding at a strong “one” with no evidence of disease!
Through lots of prayers, counseling, and my support system, I have never questioned “why me,” or entertained the idea of giving up. My faith, my fight for my daughter, and my family keep me determined to stay in the battle and never look back. I thank God every day for the healing and incredibly supportive people in my life. I stumbled across Lauren Daigle’s “It is Well” about a year ago and I sing it loudly every day. No matter what the future holds, my motto will continue to be: It is Well With My Soul.
Want to see more blogs like this and get notifications on local events and happenings? Subscribe to our free weekly newsletters here.