Today’s story of perseverance comes from Jennifer Romriell and her experiences with cancer.
Mom to: two young children
Briefly describe your experience:
It's funny how life works out, a roller coaster ride of ups and downs. To me, life doesn't often feel like that thrill ride with adrenaline, excitement, ups and downs, and a 2.30 minute lasting time. If only the hard times rushed by that quickly. Honestly, I felt life was more like heavy lifting than a ride, because burdens are like lifting boulders. Boulders of varying size and weight, forcing us to hold and balance them as we try to keep life going, keep life 'normal'. Sometimes we choose the boulder, but most times it's thrown at us, suddenly, often without any warning. Often we get to put them down, recover and move on, but sometimes we have to hold them until we feel like we will break under the pressure. One burden that I've had to hold and that I hate the most is cancer.
I've had bone cancer twice as a teenager. It was a challenging time, but like heavy lifting, this boulder made me stronger, and though I hated holding it, I am thankful for it and how it changed my life. Even with my own personal experience with cancer, it didn't prepare me for the hardship and burden of helping the love of my life try to hold his own cancer boulder. Watching and supporting someone go through cancer, for me, was even heavier than my own cancer burden, especially as a wife and mother.
When we had been married almost 9 years, with our little miracle -rainbow baby, now a toddler, and just starting the process of building our own home. Nick started experiencing digestion pain and felt a lump in his abdomen. We tried to treat it on our own by cutting out foods, trying different diets, but then he started losing weight quickly, so we went to a digestion specialist for tests: an endoscopy and colonoscopy. No answers were found. That has to be the most hopeless, frustrating, and anxiety ridden process: knowing something is wrong, but not knowing what was the cause.
When his pain increased to unbearable, he ended up in the ER. The ER did an ultrasound and found a softball size tumor in his small intestines. He was emitted to the hospital with a team of doctors that cycled through to give us diet advice, requests of what seemed like endless tests, and projections of possible outcomes and diagnoses. This process of uncertain limbo was just as exhausting as it was frightening. After the biopsy, we learned he had a desmoid (a tumor that acted like gum in his small intestines) and he was moved to the Huntsman Cancer Institute, in Utah. A plan was made to try to shrink the tumor, but his organs started failing and they had to do emergency surgery. He was declared cancer free after a successful removal of the tumor and all that it was stuck to; appendix and several feet of small intestines. They also found another, more malignant, tumor called a gist. This meant our cancer free celebration came with the knowledge that both types of tumor can come back, and due to the invasive surgery, his intestines suffered scar damage that will always make eating and absorption of nutrients difficult. The burden felt lighter, but wouldn't truly be dropped.
How did we make it through this ordeal?
With a village of friends and family helping us hold these burden-boulders. We were only so strong because there was no other choice not to be. We were able to bear the weight, without fully breaking, because of loved ones that came to our family's aide. I knew I had thoughts and prayers, which was a cheering section of faith that helped Nick and me keep hold of this cancer boulder, but what helped me the most was having people take care of my little boy when I didn't want to leave Nick alone in the hospital. Having meals brought by and my home tidied to make sure our basic needs were being met. Our saintly mothers, and fathers, dropped everything and traveled from Oregon and Idaho. Our friends that literally helped us lift this weight. There were many moments where I cried on the stairs, in the shower, on the way to the hospital. Where I felt this boulder was going to crush me and my family. But seeking and accepting help was truly the only way we could have made it through, and honestly still do.
Update on your family:
We ended up finishing our 'dream' home, having another rainbow baby and found life with a new normal. But we asked ourselves a big question when Nick was walking around the Huntsman, trying to gain his strength back. Do we have any regrets? If this cancer hadn't ended like it did, would we have any life regrets? One regret we both shared was not being able to travel the world as a family. And because we both had to hold this burden of a boulder, because the weight of it was so large, I believe it made us stronger and braver than ever. So much so, we decided to live our lives without regret. We sold our car, our house and everything in it. We moved our little family to Europe to travel, live out our dreams, and to see the world as a family. We have done that for 3 years now.