Sitting in the hospital in 1999 in Orlando Florida after what had been the most tragic day in her life, Jan Hunt, a cancer insurance agent, sat in her hospital bed, repeating to herself over and over, “I win either way”. Before learning of her cancer, she signed up for a cancer policy, naturally, wanting to own the very product that she was trying to sell others. After learning of her colon cancer, the relief she had a policy was great, but the shock that she’d have to actually file a claim for herself was even greater.
Having emergency surgery on her colon, Jan started her treatments of chemo therapy twice a week. During the next few months, the typical medical procedure is to continue checking on the next area of the body that the cancer usually migrates to, the liver. Think “hurricane path”, predictable but capable to go wherever it feels led.
Two years later in 2001 her liver was full of cancer and Jan had another immediate surgery at Johns Hopkins hospital in Baltimore Maryland. She knew her chances of making it through were probably slim, but again back in her hospital bed, she just kept repeating to herself, “ I win either way”. She continued on her chemo-therapy and by this time, she was close to finishing her 100th treatment. Jan’s reaction to the chemo was intense, but never was their a complaint. Cancer patients going through chemotherapy often have burns, or areas of nerves in their body that are burned. Jan’s mouth was full of cold like sores and the palms of her feet and hands had lost most of the feeling. She lost all her hair, and began accepting herself as she was. Even though she was suffering, her faith kept her believing that there must have been a reason. She loved spending her extra time, out of all places, back in the chemotherapy lobby talking to her friends she had made while in treatment. Being in there while they went through their treatments together made it so much more comforting. Mrs. Hunt loved praying and passing out books or cards, because she knew she was going to win either way and had to tell others.
Another two years later, after her sixmonth routine MRI, the doctor called Jan and said they had found cancer in her left lung. Never smoked a cigarette a day in her life, her husband on the other hand, and she has the lung cancer. That same week, a heart surgeon opened her lung in search of the cancer, and realized it had spread through out the entire lung. When she woke up from surgery, the doctor explained to her what he found and the reason for his decision to remove her entire left lung. The doctor them proceeded to ask her is she had ever had an MRI on her brain. Immediately, the thin, stringy haired warrior, with a deep breath in her only lung left answered, “no, I haven’t why would I need that?”. In an instant, fear crept in and the terror of more cancer wasn’t even fathomable to her. All this time, she was a faithful, loving person, was persevering through with no complaint so the idea that there was more suffering was beyond her understand. Frustrated, she began to ask God why, and all she knew was that she had made it this far, there must be some more fight in her. The Doctors were not sure how long she had to live, but as was everyone who met her and knew her story, there was no doubting how strong this fighter was and what she was willing to do to win.
After a few days in recovery, Jan was released from the hospital. That very same day, a few hours after getting home and settled, her cell phone rang. It was the doctor. Too worn out to speak, handed to phone to her husband with hope in her eyes that this was just a check up phone call. But the doctor was calling about something much more serious, more cancer.
“Pack your bags and get down to the radiologist immediately, we have Jan’s MRI results back and she has colon cancer in her brain that have formed two tumors,” the doctor remorsefully explained.
The colon cancer had moved all the way up Jan’s body from her colon to her brain and still, through the fight; she wasn’t quitting because, well, she wins either way.
Their first attempt in conquering these tumors started with 15 treatments of radiation, which is the legal limit for any one patient to have on their head. After the 15 treatment, the two brain tumors had not budged. The second attempt was to use a medicine called the Gamma Knife treatment. A dome like helmet is screwed into the four corners of the patient’s skull, then using gamma rays to basically zap the tumors away. This was 2004 and the tumors were gone.
She won. See, Jan knew that her two results through this trial was either dying or living, and whether she lived to see her grandchildren grow up or died and went to Heaven, she won either way. The thought of dying all those times, lying her hospital bed was never as scary as we all think it’d be, because her peace told her, “you win either way”.
In 2009 a tumor came back in a different lobe of her brain, and Jan was okayed by a board of doctors for a very rare consent to have a second Gamma Knife treatment. Currently Jan is completely free of cancer and finished with all treatments. She has a team of doctors, who are amazed and inspired by her miracle that have been managing a swelling of brain tissue around the treated areas that have caused seizures. Each time she walks into a doctors office, she gets the same similar, humbled, amazed reaction from every surgeon or doctor she sits with. Shocked and amazed, they always mention “I don’t know how you’re still alive”, or “Mrs. Hunt, your story is very extensive, wow.” Her heart is determined to fight, no matter what.
Haley Hunt Castille writes for Birmingham Weekly. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org