At least I can walk
Jenny walks with a slight limp toward the table. Her naturally curly, dark brown hair is about shoulder length now and her eyelashes and eyebrows have grown back. We chose to meet at Jazzman’s cafe, but it is too noisy with blenders grinding in the background. I suggest that we go upstairs, heading toward the staircase. She stops and says, “We can, but I would need to take the elevator.”
This athletic, tall, star high-school basketball player, can no longer sprint up a flight of stairs. Her life has been changed forever.
“When I first found out about the tumor, I wasn’t necessarily worried about it,” Jenny says. “I just thought people get these all the time, get them removed and get on with their lives,”
“The only reason I played basketball in high school was for Jenny. We were best friends,” fellow Liberty student Anna Gaudio said. “She was laid back, really fun, kind of a Bob Marley type of person.”
Anna describes the time in AP Psychology class at Bible Baptist School in Shiremanstown, Pa., when Jenny was unable to bend her knee under her desk.
“Athletes are never really completely healthy, so I didn’t think much of it,” Anna says. “At a track meet soon after that, I was walking behind her and noticed that her right calf was significantly bigger than her left one.”
Their throwing coach, who happened to also be a nurse, looked at Jenny’s legs and told her to get them checked out at the doctor’s office. Jenny’s doctor ordered a leg ultrasound for her and found a blood clot in her leg. She quickly started taking blood thinners and had to give herself a shot in the stomach twice a day. She missed her senior trip at the end of May 2010 because her mom wanted her to be careful to not dislodge the blood clot. If it had entered her lungs, she could have died.
Jenny explains the situation surrounding her end-of-summer checkup in August 2010.
“When they did the ultrasound, they also found a tumor where the blood clot was,” Jenny says. “They found out that it was encapsulating my whole muscle. It was about five inches by three inches, in the middle of the two bones of my calf.”
Jenny speaks quietly, not wanting many to overhear her story — not out of fear, rather out of humility — not wanting people to feel sorry for her.
“She’s definitely strong, both in character and physically,” Christiann McNew, Jenny’s best friend, says. “You can tell she gets frustrated if she can’t do certain things, but she tries to find other ways of doing them.”
Jenny describes the day she got the results of her end-of-summer checkup. She was packed and ready to go to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., for her freshman year of college.
“My mom took the call, came up to my room, and then told me, ‘You have a rare type of bone cancer,’” Jenny says. “I remember being shocked and starting to cry cause I knew that meant I wasn’t going to Liberty and my life was going to be completely changed. I had no idea what to expect. It was just a complete shock. It happened a week and a half before I was going to go to Liberty.”
From the moment her mom received the call and shared the devastating news with Jenny, she knew her life would never be the same. She started 14 rounds of five different types of chemotherapy — the exact day she was supposed to leave for college. She went to the hospital for two to five days at a time to receive treatments. It took 10 months to undergo treatments, rather than the original seven that the doctors expected it to take.
Jenny was not alone in the process, as many of her younger friends stepped in to fill the roles of her friends who had gone away to college while she stayed in Pennsylvania to undergo treatments.
“Jenny and I had gotten super close during that previous year and over the summer, when I was a junior and she was a senior in high school,” Liberty sophomore Jasmine Rockey says. “If I was in her situation, I wouldn’t want to do it alone.”
Jenny explains that despite having friends and family by her side throughout the difficult process of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, she still doubted God.
“I was 18. I was very healthy. I was going to go to college and play intramural basketball, and then I was going to try out for Liberty’s team,” Jenny says. “If I didn’t make it, I was thinking of transferring out. I was almost deciding on college decisions off of playing basketball. I’d grown up with basketball, so when that was taken away from me I thought, ‘How can your plan change that much, God? You’ve got to be kidding me. You built me up for this and then you took it away.’”
Jenny describes how difficult it was for her to pray and trust God during that time of her life. She is starting to understand, but she does not fully know why God allowed this to happen to her.
Prayers were very encouraging while she was facing her battle with cancer. She explains that many people knew how terrified she was of vomiting. Her friends and family began to pray that she would not feel very sick while undergoing treatments.
“I was nauseous the whole time, but I didn’t get physically ill like that. That was a huge thing for me in which I can see that it was just God’s little silver lining,” Jenny says.
Another time that prayers worked, according to Jenny, was when Jasmine told the students and faculty of Bible Baptist School that Jenny would need to have reconstructive surgery on her leg. On Dec. 15, 2010, the school allowed students to go to the chapel to pray for Jenny during each hour of her surgery.
“Every single hour, someone different went to pray for her. At least five people were praying continuously during each hour,” Jasmine says.
Friends, family and church members came out to show support for Jenny as she went through surgery to restructure her leg. The surgeon replaced her right tibia, knee, and one third of her femur with 17 inches of titanium prosthesis. She received the call a few days after her surgery that she was cleared and free from cancer.
Jenny talks about the challenges she faces each day as a result of her cancer and surgery. “I will never be able to run again which, to be honest, at this point, I’m fine with,” she calmly discloses. “I can walk and that’s all I need.”
Jenny’s story has already impacted many people’s lives, including a friend’s father who faced prostate cancer. He told Jenny that if she could be so strong and brave to face cancer at 18, he would be able to get through it as well. Her high school administrator has also asked her to come back to the school to speak to the students about her battle, and how God helped her overcome cancer.
“I would really like God to help me use this in the future,” Jenny says. “One of my biggest prayers has been, ‘Help me find a way to glorify you through this. How am I supposed to use this? I know you have a plan and it happened for a reason.’”
Jenny’s story has also impacted her closest friends, who helped her through the battle with cancer. Jasmine explains that God used Jenny’s situation to direct her toward her major and ultimate life goal.
“I’m majoring in oncology because of Jenny,” Jasmine says. “Hearing the doctors and nurses talk when I was with Jenny in the hospital led me to where I want to go in life.”
Jenny’s best friend Christiann explains that Jenny has a new perspective on life as a result of this trial. Christiann looks up to Jenny and they plan to live together as roommates in the coming school year.
Anna also describes Jenny as more serious and mature than she was before the ordeal happened.
“It made her grow up a lot faster,” Anna says. “She’s still fun that’s not gone but her outlook on life is different.”
Instead of playing basketball now, Jenny loves to support Liberty’s basketball teams by cheering from the stands as a fan. She and Christiann attend many sporting events and enjoy recording fun videos in their dorm together. Jenny loves to play piano in her spare time and also plays guitar. Despite not being able to run or play basketball anymore, she still sees value in her life.
Jenny now plans to complete her degree in business administration with a specialization in project management. She loves interacting with people and hopes that God will give her more opportunities and outlets to share her story with others.
Jenny survived Ewing Sarcoma, a rare childhood cancer that affects 1% of cancer patients in America each year. She has now passed the two year mark of being cancer-free and is looking forward to living her life trusting God. She takes life one day at a time and encourages others to do so as well.
“Trusting in God really makes all the difference,” Jenny says. “It really does.”