by Connie Jaynes and Rev. Jeff Jaynes
In December of 1984, when I was 8 years old, I had a tonsillectomy. Tonsillectomies are not typically events that merit mentioning decades later, but as I recovered after the tonsillectomy, a nurse heard something unusual when she checked my vitals. She ordered a chest x-ray (for which I’m eternally thankful) and found the unusual source: a grapefruit-sized tumor.
Surgery was needed and it was decided to schedule it after I finished that school year. So, on the day 1st grade ended, I was admitted to the hospital. I remember parts of what happened next fairly clearly: being wheeled into surgery, recovering in Intensive Care, playing in the game room, and my family (and pastor) visiting. It was a big deal, but I had no idea how big it was.
There is not much more to strike terror in a parent’s heart than the words “your child has cancer”. But, in May 1985 that’s what I heard in the days following Jeff’s surgery. “It’s not good,” the doctor said. “You need to call your pediatrician.”
Somehow I managed to get Jeff out of the hospital and settled at home before I called our pediatrician and then my husband. The pediatrician then empathetically explained what we were facing. At that point, I didn’t know the difference between mass, tumor, malignancy or the other code words. But, when he finally said the “c” word, I almost lost it. I knew I had to hold it together so Jeff wouldn’t panic but I practically screamed at my husband over the phone because I didn’t think he was upset enough. Needless to say, I was not thinking clearly. I prayed for God to give the cancer to me so I could handle it. What I did not yet realize is that God already had it well in hand.
I now know a little of what my mom must have been going through. Recently, when going over the usual background questions with our boys’ new pediatrician, I told him of my cancer history. When I said I had ganglio neuroblastoma he stopped me, looked at me with eyes welling up with tears and said, “You’re kidding.” When I assured him I was not, he said, “I’m sorry. I’ve had two patients who have died with neuroblastomas. You are very lucky to be here.”
Still reeling from that initial shock, we were introduced to a kind, considerate pediatric oncologist who laid out the game plan for multiple tests to see if the cancer had spread. This particular type of cancer is one of the most common in children and, because it attacks the nervous system, it can travel throughout the body. So, after surgery, we began a round of tests–some fairly innocuous, some pretty scary–to see if there was still cancer in his body. We didn’t tell many people what all was going on. But we did pray. Thankfully, our prayers were answered with clean test results—no more cancer to be found and only simple tests in years ahead to make sure it didn’t reappear.
Indeed, the cancer has not returned. But our story did not stop there. God found a way to turn our story of cancer into a story of His glory, and of building His kingdom.
As an 8 year old , I had no idea what it meant that I had cancer. It wasn’t until cancer hit a family at school–a First UMC family, actually–that I realized how blessed I was. When that young man–who had fought valiantly and with amazing grace–passed away from his cancer, I was angry with God that I had lived and he hadn’t. God’s response was as clear as my anger: the plan for that young man’s life continued even though he had passed (and it has!) and God had a plan for me too.
From that moment my life changed dramatically. It began a journey that eventually led me into public service and then into ministry. And, wouldn’t you know it, that young man’s mom and dad were present on my very first Sunday as a pastor. Little did they know that they would feature prominently in my testimony that day. Little did I know as an 8 year old boy that cancer was part of my call to ministry.
Our family story with cancer didn’t end with Jeff as I heard the dreaded “c” word again about 25 years later when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Through Jeff’s surgery and tests, we kept everything very private, but, in the process, we also kept others from being able to pray for us, walk alongside us, and help us through. In the intervening years, though, I had learned an important lesson: the strength, peace and comfort resulting from the prayers of the faithful knows no limits. And God hears each and every one. So, I went very public with my diagnosis and treatment AND with what sustained me: I was grounded in faith and surrounded by the love and prayers of others. I knew firsthand that God would use my situation for good, no matter what the outcome was to be.
God did use my situation for good and continues to this day. I am no hero: my cancer was early stage and I had no issues with post-surgery treatment. But many have told me that my willingness to share what was happening and the source of my strength was an inspiration to them. Some have themselves been diagnosed with cancer and other diseases; some have just had difficult life situations to deal with. But they all know that the peace and strength that know no bounds are from Him, and, if you let Him, He will use all things–even cancer–to His purpose.
Connie is wife to Scott, mom to Jeff, mother-in-law to Adriane, and “Nene” to Ben and Will. She lived in Tulsa for over 30 year before moving to her heart home of St. Kitts, West Indies, but comes back to visit Tulsa often.
Rev. Jeff Jaynes is now 30 years cancer free! He worked in government at the local and national levels before entering ministry full-time. He is married to an amazing woman, is dad to two boys, and is the Executive Director at Restore Hope Ministries, a United Methodist outreach to families in need.