When I first started writing for My Edmonds News, I was on my death bed. It was an opportunity for me to share who I was on my way out. I wanted the world to see me. I wanted you to know me. And possibly even have a place my little 2-year-old could come to get to know her mommy. Something that was forever here for her if I couldn’t be. My mom passed away of this very same genetically mutated cancer and I have nowhere to go when I want to know more of her. This is the place little Ahzi (my daughter) could come and spend time with me. Through my articles she would get to know my love for writing, my love for people and my love for this beautiful city on the water that we get to call home. Edmonds, how I love you. How we love you. Thank you for having me, still.
What started out a love letter to life and a plea for you all to see me has become a reason I’m still alive. And so today I want to share with you where we are on this journey. No filter except grammatical editing. Thank you My Edmonds News for this space you’ve given me to bare my soul. Thank you readers for letting me know I haven’t been alone.
As this year is coming to a close, a flash of intense colors flood the gates of my soul. You see, in one year I went from death to life. This isn’t a cute writer’s way to describe all my soul has encountered. I have literally gone from death to life. Many of you have been on this journey with me. To quote another writer and new friend of mine, “None of us got here on our own.” I haven’t written here in so long. I’ve searched myself as to why. Especially when I have news to share with you that many of you have been hoping for. A miracle some of you have been asking the heavens for. So here goes…
I wasn’t healed because I so badly wanted it. There are a lot of things I’ve wanted that I haven’t been given. Like my mom’s battle with this very same disease, 20 years ago. I didn’t want her to go. I so badly wanted her to stay here with me.
I’ve sat with this. I’ve thought about it. I’ve cried out to the heavens in complete wonderment and I’ve sat completely quiet meditating in peace. And the truth is, I can’t share the facts of the results without sharing the evidence of a miracle too. And this is why it’s taken me this long to share. Because I never want to offend anyone. We all deal with life differently. And we have different beliefs. And that’s beautiful. It’s necessary. But I also know that unselfishly bearing the scars of my soul’s battle cry may just be the invitation over victory in someone else’s life.
Thank you so very much for your patience with me as I’ve search the depths of my soul to share with you. Thank you, My Edmonds News editor and publisher Teresa Wippel for your grace in the time it takes between each article and my submissions. Cancer is heavy. Disease is heavy. Life is heavy. And I am trying my best to give this part of me to all of you. Because, I believe this is beyond a medical report for my life. It is the measurable report of God’s mercy on me.
Every day, I wondered if it would be the right day to share. If I finally had the “right” words. I wanted to share with a sincere sensitivity to my friends who are currently suffering. Friends who are no longer with us. I was just there. And I know how quickly the tide can turn where I may physically find myself there again. I so badly wanted to get it “right”in my sharing. But then a revelation came over me. And although I’m clear this miracle is so much bigger than me, I also know the exact turning point that gave room for it to begin to move.
I saw sick Jenn. A friend called me after seeing a Facebook post of mine where I was asking all of you for prayer. She also emailed and texted me too — trying every way she could to reach me. It was exactly one year ago this month. On my birthday actually. I was in the ER. Dying. Kev at home taking care of Ahzi. Did I want to die? Of course not. Yet I lay there believing the very short timeline I had been given by the doctors. My expiration date. I couldn’t see past the moment I was in.
My friend called me and very lovingly and matter of factly said to me, “Jennifer, you’re choosing death.” I had people praying for me all over this country. (I still do, and I thank you so very much). Standing in the gaps I couldn’t. I felt so alone. Not knowing how I got there but starting to understand that I needed to start trusting in something way bigger than this disease. It was a matter of life and death. I started by laying Ahzi and Kevin down. They weren’t mine — as much as I felt they were. They are God’s creation. They belong to Him. I started to let go of my baba (dad) and my brother. My dearest of friends. My beautiful home. The book I thought I’d write. My bike. The beach. The sunset. The sand in between my toes. I let go of the crippling grip I had on all the things that I love so very much. I let go of what I was scared to death to let go of and instead grabbed onto my heavenly Father for dear life. A leap of faith.
It’s because I began to walk in faith that I was now able to receive what God had for me. What He’s always had for me and for what He has for me far beyond today. “You were never meant to die of cancer. You had to die unto yourself.” I heard it so loud and clear. One of the first times I’ve heard God speak.
I went home. Bedridden yet hopeful. I traded in the research a few fellow patients urged me to conduct, delving deep into the statistics of my disease for Google searches that read like this, “miracles,” “stage four cancer survivors,” “brain tumors healed,” “lung cancer healed.” Information is power, yes. But the statistics didn’t house the answers I was looking for. I was on the hunt for tangible measures of miracles. The proof of life beyond statistics. Desperate. I needed my reality to intersect with the truth. And if I could find just one cancer story encapsulated in hope — one cancer story with a miracle attached to it — just one (although I searched many), then I’d know that miracles do happen. Still. Not in lands far far away. Not in times of ancient past. But today. In the now. And for people just like me.
And so I lay it all down and now share this with you because I know that one of you may be desperate for more like I was. In search of hope and I totally get it. I understand. Cancer isn’t contagious. Hope is. So is joy. So is kindness.
Some of you will ask, what happens next? The answer,I don’t know. The current cancer medication I’m on has a shelf life of months. Maybe a year. But I’m not going to worry about that. I’m not going to worry about the daily chemo pill. The weekly vitamin infusions. The scheduled brain MRIs and CT scans. The shots. The supplements. The medical bills. And any of the very real parts of this journey. Do I think about them? Yes. Do they need to be addressed? Yes. Many are a daily battle. But because I know this is about the actual ride, I’m going to keep going.
And just like when I was a little girl on Christmas morning and my parents surprised me with a gift beyond my wildest dreams — that sparkly and shiny beautiful new red bike — I am going to accept this healing with resounding joy!
And just like I couldn’t wait to share that new bike with all of my friends, I share this news with you. I didn’t worry about what would happen to my bike down the road. Whether it would work or not. I didn’t let that stop me from completely appreciating it or expressing my joy for it. I also didn’t get stuck in the hard truth that not everyone got a bike that Christmas. I simply reveled in this gift that was there for me. The gift of today.
I had a very dear friend who didn’t get a bike that year. She was so very upset. And truthfully, I was sad for her too. But I didn’t let that stop me from riding. Instead, I would pedal as fast as I could to get to her. Enthusiastically nudging her to hop on top of my shiny new handlebars. She’d jump on and we’d cruise that portion of the journey we were meant to together. Other moments were meant for just me. And my bike. I was so very thankful for my it and rode it everywhere I could spreading the pure joy I felt. Up and down my neighborhood I’d go with my warm heart and my teeth cold from my permanent smile that met the wind at every single turn.
Just as I didn’t renounce that magnificent gift I received as a little girl on Christmas day. I’m going to revel in this gift. Today. I’m going to sleep with it right next to me in my room — like I did my new bike. I just don’t have to ask permission this time. I’m going to eat, sleep and breath it in. And so far, I wake up every morning super early, groggy yet bright eyed and bushy tailed (it’s so good to have hair again!) and the first thing I grab for, is my life. This gift of life I’ve been given. And with a heart totally overwhelmed that I get to share my life with you, I thank you so very much for being here to see me hop on my bike again.
I don’t have all the answers. I’m still very much learning. I pray to always be learning. Let me be in awe of the things my mind can not comprehend but my spirit knows without a shadow of a doubt to be true. Like this miracle I’ve been given. Thank you that I get to unwrap each day like my most favorite gift Christmas morning. Like my very first bike my parents so graciously gave to me. I ride off into the sunset. Fabulously fitted with streamers, training wheels and a funny sounding horn. If you hear me beeping in joy, that’s the signal. An invitation for you to join me in this joy ride. What a ride it’s been. And it’s not over friends. It’s not over.
I’ve been healed. Much deeper than my physical being. My soul is being restored. Life springing from my bones. I prayed that I’d dance no matter the results and no matter how I felt. That I’d continue to walk in a path of faith and that I’d have a peace and even a joy that surpassed all human understanding.
Two years ago — November, 2016: Stage IV Lung Cancer diagnosis. A genetic mutated lung cancer. The same my mother passed away from. Pleural effusion (fluid in and around my lungs). I needed it drained (that wasn’t fun). Upon testing the drained fluid, we were told I had the genetic mutation of the same cancer my mom had (she never smoked). Stage IV diagnosis because it had already traveled to my brain (all over), my liver and the bones in my hips. I couldn’t walk at the time and we didn’t think I’d make it. I had brain radiation/gamma knife immediately and just over a year later, had chemotherapy for my lungs and and entire body. That was eight months ago.
The results today: The most recent PET scan showed the cancer activity in my body went from 8.1 to 2.6, which means baseline and that the cancer is undetectable in my body. My body responded to the chemotherapy.
Lung CT scan: Same nodules showing up. One smaller than before and the other same size. Both stable. No new suspicious nodules or masses. No pleural effusion. At this point those nodules could even be scar tissue.
Brain MRI: No evidence of active disease or new metastasis. There isn’t even a lesion detectable.
As I danced for joy and jumped up and down in my very reserved Chinese doctor’s office, he got up too.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah!” Dr. Chen surprisingly said as a joyful smile hugged his kind face. Proclaiming the findings of the report as he started waving his polished suit jacket arms in the air.
“YESSSS!!!!!! Dr. Chennnnnnn!!!,” I yelled out!
We were then jumping up and down in unison as I grabbed his hands in mine. We were celebrating this victory together in Room 3. Just sweet Dr. Chen and I. The same room we were in a year and a half ago, the very first time we met.
Then, I was bent over, unable to walk without assistance hanging onto my baba and Kevin too. Flanked on each side of me, they held me up. Holding me in one hand, and in the other holding onto any shred of hope we had left. I remember peering my head as high as I could lift it so that I could look into Dr. Chen’s eyes. As the tears fell hard and fast, smacking their way onto the ground and as my voice softly trembled, I asked, “The other doctor wanted to help me die. I don’t want to die. Will you help me live? That’s all I need to know. Will you try and help me live?”
He understood. And with eyes welled up with compassion, responded. “Yes I will. I have hope. I have hope for you.”
And what was once a death diagnoses has become my life sentence. And quite possibly the title of the first book I am working on. Yes, I am now dreaming and working toward an actual book. I would love nothing more than to continue to spread the word of hope. Just like KING-5 TV did recently when they came out and conducted a follow-up story on me and my family. A story about a Christmas miracle. A story that Eric Wilkinson (reporter and now friend) said is one he doesn’t normally get to do. Because there isn’t usually a happy ending.
This time, there was one. There is one. And as history has shown, the closing of one chapter is the the beginning of another. A new one. I couldn’t go on with my day today without coming here and sharing with you. It is time. Today is the day. I don’t know all of your faces out there but I do know how much this means to me. How much you mean to me. That you would take the time to read my words. My Edmonds News and the sharing of my soul with you has helped keep me alive. It’s what I held onto when I couldn’t leave my bed. I thought it was my last chance to tell you my story. It was actually my invitation to more life. The vessel, hope.
So I share this with you at the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019. A new year. This new year I enter completely humbled by hope. The hope you had for me when I couldn’t for myself. The hope I want for us all. Because where there is hope, there is freedom. This isn’t about cancer. This is about life. We all have our own battles. And we all need each other. Hope isn’t something that happens alone in a bedroom. I was never alone. You were with me this entire time.
I will be transitioning my column, “Life, Thank you for Having Me,” into a new story. A new chapter. Not yet sure what the title will be. But certain, it will still be about my life and what happens as I shine my light on kindness. I think we could all use more of it in 2019. And I’d like to put a spotlight on the kindness that’s happening all around us. The kindness I’ve been shown. Because like hope, kindness is also something we don’t experience alone. It’s what happens when we are together. From the people around us. People like you. People like me.
My journey isn’t over. I still battle this disease. I still want to share my soul with you. I still want to ride my bike up and down the streets of Edmonds with my 4-year-old and my husband. I still want to see adventure! I still want to be seen. I am still here. I am STILL here! And I hope you will join me in this gift we share called life.
Happy New Year, friends. Here’s to hope in 2019.
— By Jennifer Sabounchi
Edmonds resident Jennifer Sabounchi has served as a special events manager for The Ritz-Carlton in New York, a private chef to families in and around Seattle, and founder of an allergy-friendly food company. Recently diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Jenn’s new column — “Life, Thank You for Having Me” — provides an intimate portrait of her fight for her life. She also invites readers to get to know her and her family by visiting her Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/jennifer.sabounchi