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Testimony: Jennifer Rowell: " I'm Still Here..."

by: Carmen Fletcher

"If I don't survive this it's no one's fault.  I don't blame anyone. Everyone did what they were supposed to do. They did all they could do and I did all I could do. I just trust God and his plan."
...Powerful words spoken in a spirit of peace by Jennifer Rowell. Jennifer 'Jenni' as she is affectionately known, underwent surgery on April 8th, 2013 to remove Mucoepidermoid carcinoma cancer, in which she has lost a throat muscle, upper part of her right jaw, the right base of her skull, and a facial nerve that has caused partial facial paralysis. Mucoepidermoid carcinoma is a rare form cancer that affects salivary glands and can spread to other organs as well; which usually occurs when people are heavy smokers, of which Jenni is not. 

According to statistics this cancer affects 3 in 100,000 people therefore there is not a lot of research on it for alternative treatment options. She was initially diagnosed at age 28 in 2008 while owning and operating her coffee shop Brew Awakenings. After her diagnosis, chemo treatments, and surgery  she was forced to close down her coffee shop due to medical expenses. While she started a new job and new beginning she was informed that the cancer had returned and she would need more chemo therapy and surgery to remove it. Shocked by this unfortunate diagnosis she was inspired to do a documentary about her journey entitled Some People Are Just (Un)Lucky which will debut later this year to raise awareness about this rare cancer. The title was inspired by what a nurse said to her during one of her doctor visits and while it seemed offensive, she used those words to be an inspiration for others.  
"I just had a feeling leading up to it [diagnosis] that it was cancer...I was tired all of the time and had really immense pain. I just knew it was more than a tumor. I also felt like I had been told. I know it sounds strange but I felt like God did in some way [tell] me this is what it is, be prepared-there is no way to not be scared. But I guess so I had some sort of peace of mind going in and it wasn't a complete shock when the diagnosis came and it was cancer. I had already had some warning there was no surprise. So I probably took it well, better than most- the treatments were the hardest part. Hearing the actual words was not the hardest part." -Jennifer Rowell, Some People Are Just (Un)Lucky
      After her diagnosis Jenni was confronted by a wave of ignorant comments and complete betrayal by people she thought were in her corner. She was approached by many with questions and comments like: Do you have cancer because you're fat? You probably haven't been eating right, if you change your diet it may go away. Are you praying at all? God may be punishing you for something. Jenni took the words with a grain of salt and charged it to people's ignorance and not their hearts. To add further insult members of an adjacent church that frequented her coffee shop for meetings and more, stopped coming abruptly upon her diagnosis. There was no offer for prayer or other outreach actions that one would expect from a faithful Christian, or as a basic human response to help someone in need. Nevertheless, her coffee shop brought incredible friends in to her life that remain today and have supported her through her journey. When asked about how she was able to accept the ignorant cruelty of others she said:
"God did not do this to me. Nothing bad that has happened to me was God. God is not evil, people are evil. They are the ones with the capacity to do something bad to someone else. I don't blame God for any of it."  

One week before her surgery Jenni was told that the store where she worked would be closing one week after her medical leave ended; thus releasing her from insurance. This became yet another challenge that she had to face, but true to form Jenni laughed it off and focused on a solution . She went to her pre-op appointment, hosted a  Goodbye Cancer party with friends , and went to church on Sunday. She purposefully surrounded herself with joy in order to get through the procedure and went in with confidence that the cancer would be gone. Despite the removal of  bones and muscle the cancer is gone! When she awoke from her surgery and looked in the mirror she was greeted with an unfamiliar face and new reality. Because of the removal of part of her jaw, skull, throat, and facial nerve her face now caves in slightly and she is unable to close her right eye all the way. She also experienced some nerve damage during the surgery that affected the mobility of her hands.

 As part of her recovery she will need physical therapy and speech therapy to repair the range of motion in her jaw, hands, and lips. As well as getting a weight in her eye to allow her to close it.   A normal person would fall into a deep depression upon experiencing such a transformation and lifestyle change. Not Jenni. She embraced her new look and beginning by posting a photo on her Facebook page three days after her surgery with the caption: I Am Alive! 

"This is the new me. I can't hide it," Jenni said as she explained why she posted the photo, " I'm swelled up a little bit which makes my face fill out. But once the swelling goes down the deformity will be very visible. If people look at me and think ugh that's their problem. They have no idea what I've been through.  This is the new me now. I have to accept it and others will have to as well."

Since she was laid off from her job she enrolled in COBRA for her insurance; which is a supplemental insurance policy that provides temporary health insurance to eligible workers between jobs. The cost per month is $600 ($3600 for six months) due to the pre-existing condition clause. While the insurance will help cover her hospital stay, surgery, medications, future doctor appointments, and medical testing the total cost will come to an estimated $100,000. In the continuous spirit of hope, Jenni has begun a crowdfunding page on Go Fund Me in addition to her friend Takako Warner opening up her photography studio  for the fundraising campaign  Smiles For Jenni. With both efforts the hope is to raise the initial $3600 for the insurance and eventually $100,000. Upon debuting her documentary Some People Are Just (Un)Lucky that too will be used for awareness and further fundraising for medical bills.

      At 31-years-old with a cancer free body and new face Jenni is ready to start the next phase in her life. Jenni enjoys making life an adventure whether she is hiking up mountains, cooking incredible food, or fighting and beating cancer. She does not know the exact path she will take in her new beginning. Yet she is confident in the love of her friends, family and God which fuels her to live her life. Even when you are lost, broken down, unsure, or frightened take pride and confidence in knowing that you are still here.

" It's just good to keep in mind, what you love and enjoy, do more of it, do more living...As opposed to just looking at everyone else's Facebook wall and thinking I should be doing those things...  

I want to make more memories."

-Jennifer Rowell

Some People Are Just (Un)Lucky

** Please visit Jenni's Go Fund Me page to contribute to her cause and/or contact Photographer Takako Warner to participate in the Smiles for Jenni fundraising campaign.**


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