Joni Young

Angels Among Us

I can honestly say I had no connection to the Cancer Survivors Park until a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer diagnosis started a journey for me and my family in February 2021. I’ve come to understand the gift this amazing organization, its employees, and volunteers are to our community.

During Covid in 2020, when we all got unexpected vacations, my family and I spent an idyllic month on the harbor at Seabrook Island. Our dear friends, Julie and John Arrowood, were doing the same thing and we made the most of Covid at the coast! It was an amazing hiatus full of memories with AB, the triplets and the Arrowoods. My oldest son, Rhett, graduated from Clemson during this time and we celebrated him too!

While in Seabrook, I noticed I was feeling fatigued and overall, just not normal. I spoke with my rockstar primary care physician, Dr. Jocelyn Renfrow. I knew I’d been lazy and eating poorly, so we decided to check things out and get on a plan when I returned. Once back in Greenville, we discovered I had gallstones. Not interested in surgery, I upped my activity and improved my eating habits. Dr. Renfrow followed me every step of the way!

Early 2021 I was back to feeling poorly again. This time hospitals were overflowing with covid patients and healthcare teams were exhausted. I simply couldn’t bother Dr. Renfrow about “my stomachache.” However, a dear co-worker wouldn’t let me off the hook. I was scheduled for a scan the following week. Unfortunately, the pain was so excruciating and by this time my belly had grown to that of a pregnant woman! A call to Dr. Renfrow’s office sent me to the Emergency Department for a CT scan.

An amazing and compassionate ER Dr. Gaafary shared that my scans showed metastatic cancer.  Cancer was in my ovaries, all 4 quadrants of my abdomen, and my lung. Dr. Gaafary suspected it was ovarian in origin. I received this news alone as covid protocols were in full effect. I was able to call AB and he was by my side within 5 minutes. Still in excruciating pain, I at least wanted to fix the problem while we were there, remove my gallbladder, whatever we needed to do. It was then that I was shocked into the realization that it was not gallstone pain, but ascites that develop in advanced stage cancer. Nothing could be done until the ascites was drained via a procedure called a paracentesis.

We told the kids everything when we got home from the ER that night. We knew they would google stage IV ovarian cancer, and ascites. AB and I wanted to be clear about where the cancer was not! It was not in my brain, liver, or kidneys. So, while it sounded bad, it was not hopeless. Per usual with us, humor was and continues to be our way of tackling situations. When Abby said, “Wow, Mom didn’t get some half assed cancer – go big or go home” I knew we would be just fine!

Cancer is a waiting game, we had to wait until Monday for an appointment with the Gynecological Oncologist. Meanwhile, we reached out to another dear friend in the medical field for advice and direction. Dr. Britt Boleman and his wife Brittany gave us such hope, “while not curable, this disease is treatable.” Their prayers and friendship were so very comforting. Britt recommended we schedule port placement and paracentesis at the same, which is exactly what we did!

The wheels were already turning as our very best friends moved into action. Stacy and Bryant Nixon, along with John and Julie are truly our family. They haven’t left our side through this entire journey. As ascites made sleeping impossible, the ER doctor recommended a recliner until I could get my 1st paracentesis appointment. They swung into action and before we knew it a big ole recliner from Super G (Stacy’s mom) was being loaded into the family room!

Rebecca Gault and Amy Wallace had a meal train started before chemo did! Our friends fed us amazing home cooked meals 3 nights a week for 9 months!! Rebecca drove Caroline to dance every single day! These people are simply amazing. Everyone should have a village like ours!

Our angels were not limited to these wonderful friends. Everyone at PRISMA Cancer Institute were angels in scrubs! Beginning with Anne who checked us in at the front desk, to Felipia making our next appointment as we checked out, every person we encountered treated us with kindness and compassion.

My Gynecological Oncologist, Dr. Jeff Elder, Nurse Practitioner Kari Savage, and their right-hand Nurse Alecia, set us up with a plan for chemo, surgery, then more chemo. They knew what they were doing and we knew we were in the right place.

Cancer care requires so many health care professionals. These people save lives day in and day out. Chemo nurses, pharmacists, phlebotomists, lab techs, patient transporters and the list goes on! They worked tirelessly through covid, under strenuous conditions. I would ask anyone reading this to always take time to thank your own healthcare team, let them know how appreciated and vital they are to the healing process!

I consider myself lucky, even after a Stage IV cancer diagnosis. Lucky, because Rhett, 25, and the triplets who turn 17 November 20, rose to the occasion to ensure our family faced this diagnosis with faith, love, and of course humor. AB was the rock he has always been and continues to be for our family.

My Faith, My People & My Angels are what keep me going. I now start each day asking myself, “How am I going to make the most of my day, create joy, support the people that support me and give back to others?” God’s Angels are among us always. For that I will be forever grateful.

Photo by Patrick Cox
Written by Laura Brasington