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4 min read

Jenny & James's Story Cont'd...

Jenny & James's Story Cont'd...

 

James was working at an insurance company when he met Jenny, who was working as an underwriter at the time. For their first date, he cooked her roast beef and cheesecake, per her request. They later married and began their life together. Their love story was thrown into chaos when Jenny was diagnosed with appendix cancer in 2014. 

At only 29 years old, Jenny was faced with a very rare type of cancer affecting only about ten patients per million. She underwent an extremely difficult procedure: Hyperthermic (or Heated) Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy (HIPEC) is a surgical procedure that targets abdominal cancers. Immediately after removing visible tumors, surgeons pump a powerful dose of heated chemotherapy into the patient's abdomen.  

Devastatingly, Jenny’s cancer was back within a year, before she was even fully recovered from her first procedure.  From 2014 to 2017, Jenny had undergone three intensive abdominal surgeries, lost almost all her non-essential organs in her belly, and gone through exhausting chemotherapy. All the while, James remained at her side, her determined caregiver and partner through this trying diagnosis and the many treatments. Jenny shared that he had been there for her “every single step of the way,” and described their partnership as “a unit of one,” and they “sought help together.” er 

James watched Jenny’s journey through the first three years of clinical and treatments and supported all her decisions, but they both felt helpless against this disease that kept coming back no matter what they did. Amid this, James was switching jobs and trying to maintain stability for them as a couple to best support Jenny’s treatment. “Jenny woke up and got inspired,” James described. “She decided she wanted to be the driver in this journey.” 

Jenny found Cancer Support Community online and shared “it was exactly what I was looking for.” She explained, “I learned to be my own advocate and take a more active role in in my cancer treatments and decisions. I went from feeling completely powerless to taking back some of that power and control.” James believes that Cancer Support Community “helped change her mindset,” he shared.  “When you get that cancer diagnosis, they don’t tell you anything, it is like you are just flapping in the wind. What is amazing about Cancer Support Community is that everything is explained.”  

Jenny and James attended the Metastatic Support Group meetings throughout their cancer journey. “When we drove up here for the first time, initially I was on guard, you don’t know what you don’t know. People feel vulnerable, but the more you ease into it, you become friends with others in the support group. Coming here, you have that comradery; it is another family away from your family.” 

Jenny and James became an integral part of the community over the past six years. “She became a lot stronger because of Cancer Support Community.” James offered. “Here, you come in here and you see these people month after month. We have become a lot closer throughout the years, we are just close, it’s natural.” 

At Cancer Support Community, Jenny and James were able to find hope. “I know Jenny lived a lot longer than she probably should have because she came here; hope goes a long way, it really does.”  

Jenny passed away at the end of August 2023. She was 39 years old. People with Jenny’s diagnosis on average have a life expectancy of five years; she made it to almost ten years.  

James now attends Cancer Support Community’s weekly grief support group. “I thought I was prepared, but you just can’t be. When it happened it was just like, whew – your whole life just changes instantly.” James was Jenny’s caregiver for almost a decade. “I was at 100, then to 0. Now I have to take care of myself, what is this?” he expressed. “The caregiver is silent actor; a lot of people don’t realize what you go through 24/7. It is hard when you are not geared to taking care of yourself.” 

James is now facing the next chapter in his journey without Jenny, but he is not alone. “I have made so many friends in this support group, I don’t ever want to not be involved. I don’t ever want to not deal with cancer. Once I get through the grief, I am considering volunteering because I remember how much the volunteers helped us along the way.  Thinking about that helps me not think about that kind of stuff.”  

“Grief is like waves,” James offered. “There are times when you are fine, doing great, and then time just stops and it is so slow and I have this tightness in my chest, and I don’t even know what causes it – just something your brain picks up on and that wave hits you. The tsunami was after her celebration of life. We talked about this in grief class, about how people have pulled back.” 

“The biggest thing you can do in grief is find a routine. Cheddar is my lifeline, my little Corgi. Another reason I signed up for the Saturday grief support group is it gives me something to do; the weekends are the worst. It fills the emptiness, when you are focusing on the support group you don’t have time to think about the loss and wallow. I don’t want to put away every picture and not think about her, that’s ridiculous.” James started writing a book to share their story and fill his time. “It’s a fantasy story about me and Jenny, how she really helped me at a bad point in my life; it is basically going to be a love letter to her.” 

James not only continues to be a participant at Cancer Support Community, but he also gives back. “I wrote a check to Cancer Support Community for what I could give, but I really can’t quantify it; I am at a loss for words, which is amazing, that rarely happens. If I can give, I am giving.” 

“Cancer Support Community armed us with knowledge so we could ask questions of the medical team. People in the support groups shared information and resources, and Angie guided us through that.”  

What I would recommend for people who are on a cancer journey is to come in to Cancer Support Community and just listen and absorb. Learn what you can from Angie and Darlene to prepare yourself. You can’t always, but Cancer Support Community’s help is amazing.”