“‘Oh God no. Please no…’
I whispered that late night in 2007, my legs numb from sitting motionless for far too long. I stared straight into the eyes of the young doctor as I replayed the events which had unraveled over the past few hours, trying to digest the news I had just heard. Earlier that evening I had arrived at my Dad’s house for a short visit, and within five seconds of pulling into the driveway, I received a frantic call from my husband, Jason.
‘Jess, call 911’ he gasped before the phone went dead.
I arrived home to discover my husband laid out on a stretcher, moaning in inexplicable agony, grasping his head, and forcing his palms deep into his skull as if to push the invisible pain out somehow. One of the paramedics pulled me aside to inform me that Jason must have known a seizure was about to occur because just prior to losing all bodily control, he had secured the baby in her bouncy seat, put a movie on for the boys, called me, and then seized until passing out.
And now I was here, wanting to be anywhere but in this uncomfortable hospital chair watching the doctor’s lips form words I didn’t want to hear or accept as uncontrollable tears leaked from the corners of my eyes. ‘No, no, no,’ the only coherent thought I was able to form.
‘Your husband has a brain tumor. We need to operate immediately.’
Why was God allowing this to happen to our family? Jason, myself and our three young children: Caleb a five-year-old; Lucas three years old, with severe special needs; and Mabel, our six-month-old baby, and we had a life to live. I had students to teach and babies to raise. Jason had a gym to manage and clients to train. It wasn’t fair that God left most people our age alone to raise their beautiful, healthy families, in their pretty houses, lining the manicured developments and nicely landscaped lawns. And then there was us. Somehow, in the luck of the draw, we had a severely handicapped son, which we had made peace with three years earlier.
And now this? Now Jason? Diagnosed with a brain tumor? Why?
What had I done? Had I sinned somehow? Why did my faith need to be tested? Christian singer Natalie Grant’s hit song, ‘I Will Not Be Moved,’ came to mind as I wallowed in the pain and stark realization of what was to come…’My life had [definitely] been like broken glass, and I [had] kept the score.’
My story really began at a routine twenty-week, prenatal checkup where I sat rigidly still as the specialist informed me that my unborn child had most likely suffered a stroke which had caused an extreme case of hydrocephalus. She continued explaining that I should begin preparing for a spontaneous abortion or at worst, a child who would live only hours after birth. That unexpected prognosis brought forth an unrelenting faith and determination as I battled continuously in fervent prayer for my unborn child’s life. On August 12, 2004, a little boy was carefully lifted out of my womb, and as he screamed a hearty cry of life, I wept, thanking God for his faithfulness. Today Lucas is a thriving, joyful thirteen-year-old who is surpassing every expectation ever made about his future.
And here I was again, in the same hospital, sitting in a similar chair, as another specialist proceeded to inform me of how bleak the situation was with my husband’s health. He outlined how the next few hours and days were going to look for our family. At that time, I felt like a brain tumor diagnosis meant certain death, and so I began to brainstorm, trying to figure out how I was going to manage three young children and a husband who needed brain surgery, chemo, radiation, treatments, and ultimately, funeral arrangements.
The surgery to remove the baseball sized tumor was a success and We were surprised to learn that one of our options was to do nothing. The pathology report determined that it was a grade II tumor which gave us the option to watch and wait with quarterly MRIs to determine whether or not the tumor had returned. But this option came with the admonishment to be prepared because when these tumors return, and they almost always do, they return with a vengeance. We laughed off this word of warning. Our faith was strong, God would take care of us. God surely wouldn’t test our faith anymore. Right? He could move on to someone else at this point.
Early that spring, in the midst of our joy and elation over Jason’s continued health, we found ourselves unexpectedly pregnant. We were excited and a little bit nervous to learn that we would be welcoming our fourth child to the Crisman family in September 2009.
And then the call from Jason one afternoon, ‘Jess, the tumor’s back. I have to check myself into ER immediately.’
His voice was racked with annoyance that summer morning in 2009 as he relayed the results of the morning’s quarterly MRI. The watch and wait option had bought us a little over a year before we had to re-address the elephant in the room. Jason had rebounded almost immediately post-surgery in 2007, feeling like a new man with the tumor removed, returning to work and play with a new lease on life.
We considered this MRI update just a bump in the road, but I did begin to purposefully update the medical blog, started earlier, to keep our family and friends in the loop about our options. We were convinced that surgery would remove the tumor once again and we would return to our new normal as a brand-new family of six.
Jason underwent another successful surgery with almost all visible tumor being removed. We were now in familiar territory as we waited for the biopsy results. We were fairly certain they wouldn’t show anything too unexpected, after all, he had been feeling great and full of energy leading up to the results of the MRI.
He quietly lay in the hospital bed recuperating. I sat in a chair next to his mom, Holly, slightly uncomfortable and extremely exhausted, being six months pregnant. I hadn’t slept much in the past few tumultuous days while staying with Jason in the hospital during the day and then returning home at night to check on the children. The neurologist arrived and hesitantly walked towards us.
‘The biopsy results arrived. I’m sorry, but it’s a glioblastoma.’
The worst kind of brain cancer. The kind with a life expectancy of 14 months. ‘
I slumped forward in my chair, head between my hands, unborn child between my legs, and bitterly wept.
For the next 14 months Jason fought with every ounce of strength in his body. And I blogged; about his progress, the birth of our little Joshua, our prayer needs, our successes, and well, I just kept blogging through all of it.
Jason ultimately took up his permanent residence in Heaven on August 24, 2010. On the day we buried him the bagpipes belted out ‘Amazing Grace,’ his children threw yellow roses into the grave, and I promised him that I would tell our story. I promised I would not wallow in self-pity, and our four beautiful children would not lose two parents – one to brain cancer, the other to unrelenting grief. And I promised him I would put one foot in front of the other and continue to live, continue to find joy, and continue to move forward into the future.
Three lonely months later I received a message from a complete stranger on my blog where I had so diligently updated the masses on Jason’s journey with cancer, even after his passing.
‘You don’t know me so; I have no right to do this except I just feel compelled to ask you to go to a website called The Ronnes. He is a young widower going through what you are/have and is struggling, and I just thought you might be in a unique position to offer some help. You are an amazingly strong woman, a complete inspiration to me, and I wish you all the best. Praying for your continued strength.’
That was the start of God revealing to me, in a real way, his faithfulness. It was also the beginning of a beautiful love affair with a man named Ryan from Oklahoma and his three children, Tate, Mya, and Jada.
Ryan would become my husband the following year, and we would officially become mom and dad to seven children in 2012 with the finalization of all the adoptions. In 2013 we followed our hearts to rural Tennessee where we continue to live simply, love deeply, and find joy in the small, everyday occurrences. Numerous occurrences and moments with our eight children – yes, we added one more, little Annabelle, to the brood in 2015 – and we always strive to live in simple joy and, of course, to ‘just keep livin!’”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Jessica Ronne. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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