As Christians, our journeys are never easy. God sometimes places us in all types of seasons, both good and bad. He sees fit to mold us into what He wants us to become. As we wrap up Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to briefly share a story of a young woman and how her mother’s battle with breast cancer molded her into the strong woman that she is today. Her mother’s story is one that represents strength and resilience. This young woman only continues that story just by living life, which exemplifies exactly what her mother wanted.
Jonell was a typical little girl. She enjoyed the simple things in life that any girl would love—Barbie dolls, video games, and collecting Beanie Babies. She lived her young life without a care in the world. At the center of that world was her mother Adele. Like any other mother, Adele sacrificed and worked very hard to ensure a happy and normal life for Jonell. She instilled Jonell with the tools needed to navigate this world. As a mother, it was important to provide proper morals and values. Even through her years spent battling cancer, she persisted in making sure that Jonell lived a fun life to the fullest. Their journey began when Jonell was 13 years old. Her mother sat her down and explained to her that she had been diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma, a common type of Breast Cancer. As Jonell recalls that day, there was one comment that stood out most. Her mother broke the news to her stating “I have what some people call cancer. I want you to know that this is not going to stop our life and that nothing is going to change.” Jonell was young during this time. Like most teenagers, she did not understand what was soon to come. She was far too excited to start high school and her mother made sure that she enjoyed those years.
This mother and daughter duo were living a life that most would assume is filled with fear, sadness, or even anger. The emotional wear and tear that occurs during time of illness can oftentimes be overwhelming. There were times where they both felt those emotions as Jonell got older. No matter the circumstance, neither of them refused to let the other one break. As Jonell explains it, her mother pushed all of that aside so that she could reach her ultimate goal. Adele would say consistently that her only goal was to raise her daughter and get her out of the house.
Jonell shared an email with us from her mother dated back in 2008. This email came after Adele’s second diagnosis. This time with a rare type, Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). Statistics show that it is the most aggressive form of Breast Cancer. Adele sent out her own version of a memorandum to her closest female family and friends:
“Ok...Here we go with this Breast Cancer stuff..... AGAIN!
PLEASE SHARE THIS WITH ALL OF THE WOMEN THAT YOU CARE FOR
Make every Mother, Sister, Wife, Daughter, Aunt, Niece, and Friend aware of one type of Breast Cancer that MANY women are unaware of. It is called Inflammatory Breast Cancer (IBC). It is VERY SNEAKY and so hard to fight. What makes it so sneaky is that it cannot be detected by a mammogram. It looks like a simple rash. It kills easily because it first spreads inside of the breast. Eventually, a rash appears. Once they see the rash, they don’t realize what it is. Many times IT IS ALREADY TOO LATE when a diagnosis occurs.
Tell them that you know of a woman fighting this particular type of Breast Cancer. It kicks her butt sometimes, but she gets back up swinging. She is fighting it and will continue to fight it until there is a cure. Oh....and also let them know that SHE LOOKS GREAT, (even if she does say so herself).
Yours Truly, Adele”
With a spirit like that, Jonell had every reason to admire her fearless hero. Even in fear of what this illness had the ability to do, this duo remained a support system for each other. Jonell learned early on the importance of support and positive reinforcement while being directly related to someone with cancer. They were each other’s strength. Cancer did not define the fun they had. As a result, Jonell said, “We did it all. Dance contests, vacations, movie nights, trips to Target, and endless laughter. Overall, we lived.”
The years were filled with ups and downs for the mother and daughter. However, the relationship never wavered. Jonell took on the difficult role of being her mother’s caregiver months leading up to Adele’s transition into heaven in 2014. “You don’t have any real knowledge of it until you go through it,” she spoke of her role. “Once I became a caregiver, I did not do anything to take care of myself. I did not know what I was getting into. I was so wrapped up into making sure that she was okay. It oftentimes caused me to lose sight of who I was.” They adjusted to new schedules, medication regimens, several treatment appointments, new found anxieties, long days, and even longer nights. Jonell managed to return to work soon after taking a short family medical leave to help care for her mother. During this time, anxiety levels were at an all-time high and she got very little sleep. Through this process, Jonell could not lose sight of raising her own young daughter. Adele was able to witness Jonell reach many milestones in her life, this includes the birth of her daughter. “My mom had five full years of being an amazing grandmother. They created memories that still hold steady in my daughter’s life today”, Jonell said proudly. She recalls the immense presence of Adele’s spirit whenever a rainbow appears in the sky. “I am reminded of my Mom every time I see a rainbow. I believe they are her way of saying hello. They will pop up when I least expect it, and that is what continues to keep her so alive in my heart.”
This journey was not an easy one. However, Jonell is constantly reminded of the great life her mom lived. “My mom did not let cancer define who she was. Our friendship was beyond what words could describe. I have no regrets. God allowed us to experience all that we could while she was here. We have a lot of memories” she recalls. Adele ensured the best possible life for her daughter, while also instilling her with the strength and ability to carry out her legacy. Adele’s journey in life only confirmed the type of woman that she was—a fighter. According to Jonell, there was no battle that she was not willing to fight. This is something that Jonell chooses to execute for her everyday life and future. As she puts it, “This journey helped me to find my purpose.”. As she looks back on her life as a caregiver, she strongly encourages all those with that responsibility to be open to self-care. She expresses that “It is okay to communicate what you feel. It is okay to take a break. There is nothing wrong with being open to therapy. We can exhaust ourselves pouring into our loved ones. Do not be afraid to pour into yourself also”.
Jonell now follows her passion personally, educationally, and professionally. “I’m doing this for my mom. I’m working hard to make a name for myself while carrying out her legacy. I will never stop wanting to make her proud.” Jonell is a true advocate by nature, and will never stop being a caregiver by heart. All in the name of Adele.