Every Get Your Rear in Gear race is built on stories. Attend a race and you truly appreciate the stories surrounding you. You see the stories come alive in the teams wearing matching t-shirts walking in honor or in memory of a colon cancer patient. They show themselves in the “memory” and “honor” bibs family and friends wear. They are manifested in the camaraderie found when people who have been through the same hardships come together in support of one another.
At the Kansas City event in July one of these stories caught the attention of Get Your Rear in Gear event manager Christie Lockhart when two young girls presented their donation to the Get Your Rear in Gear team. Team Jo Jo was walking in memory of Joanna Chance, wife, sister and mother of three young girls and one small boy. Her two oldest girls, Adeline (now 9) and Emma (7), presented their life savings, a princess vitamin jar filled with $63.11, to help ensure that other kids wouldn’t have to lose a parent like they had. Their mother, Joanna, had lost an 18 month battle with colon cancer in October 2010 at the age of 29.
Joanna’s husband, Terry, was kind enough to share the story behind Team Jo Jo. Read it below in his own words. Thank you, Terry, for sharing your story.
Remembering Joanna Chance
September 7, 1981 – October 15, 2010
This story was generously shared by her husband, Terry Chance
I moved from Des Moines, IA to Kansas City, MO in the late spring of 1999 to work with children at Northland Cathedral. While there I met this wonderful woman who liked to work with kids as well. I finally got up enough nerve to ask her out and we started dating in August of 1999. All things worked out and we were married April 28, 2001, her grandfather’s birthday.
Our first child, Adeline, was born on August 10, 2002. She was our bundle of joy. She was not a fan of her mom after 9 weeks or so. She wanted daddy and a bottle. Joanna was glad when I came home to entertain her. On March 18, 2004, our second bundle, Emma, came. This started a new trend because she only wanted her mom till she was about three. We had our third daughter, Isabelle, on May 3, 2006. Isabelle gave us a run for our money because she went through a phase of holding her breath till she went blue and passed out and it would take both of us to get her to come back to breathing. Then we had one more… this was a surprise to the whole family… on January 17, 2008, we had a baby boy, Owen.
We finally had our family and in September of 2008 took the entire family to Disney World. Talk about a trip that made memories that will last a lifetime. The following November, because of the economy, I lost my job, which in turn meant we lost our health insurance. Luckily in March 2009 I started a new job and began receiving health insurance as of April 1, 2009.
On April 7, Joanna was at home with the kids and began having abdominal pains and called her sister to take her to hospital. I left work and met her there. They started running tests to find out what was wrong they first thought she had diverticulitis, but they wanted to keep her overnight and do a colonoscopy in the morning. The next day I went back to work because I just started this job and all they were going to do is run tests. About midday Joanna called me crying because the result of the colonoscopy was a diagnosis of cancer.
Our first thought was she is too young for this and it happens in older people. Joanna kept positive and was determined that this will not keep her down. She had surgery on the 10th of April. They removed part of her colon and rectum plus her right ovary and right fallopian tube. She did well through out the surgery and spent a couple weeks in the hospital. Twelve rounds of chemo started mid-May of 2009 ending in December. The chemo took a lot longer then expected but she had problems with white blood counts, fevers and nausea. Most of these problems were caused from the chemo.
On December 22, results of blood work and a body scan came back a big thumbs-up, there was no sign of cancer in her body. Talk about an early Christmas present. She was excited because she was ready to put this all behind her (literally).
In April of 2010 she had a follow-up colonoscopy. The results were good, even to the point that she sent the picture to friends and family. We had a “Kicked Cancer in the Butt” party. She was on cloud nine. A couple of things that got her through it were the love she had for her kids, and a song by Kutless “What Faith Can Do”.
By May during a follow up visit, her doctors noticed her blood count was elevated. A CT scan revealed a baseball size tumor around her pelvis. They decided that they wanted to get more scans to see the mass and see if they could see if it has spread anywhere else in her body. Her doctors started to get a team together because of the location and not sure what the tumor had attached to.
The morning of June 21, she doubled over in pain and couldn’t walk, so we called for an ambulance. We also live about 30 miles from the hospital. They got here right in and reviewed her file. To our amazement they declared she had a bad case of gas. We did not accept that as the problem and requested that they contact her doctors. Her oncologist had her admitted, but they failed to contact her surgeon as well. By midday the next day her stomach was so swollen she looked as though she was pregnant. That evening the surgeon made it in to see her. He informed us that he would do the surgery on June 24 or 25.
On the morning of June 24 they ordered another CT scan and determined that it has grown in size and wanted to remove it now. The tumor was actually her left ovary that swelled to the size of a cantaloupe. It had ruptured and was leaking fluid. This is what caused the pain on the 21st, and the subsequent swelling in her abdomen. The doctors drained 3 liters of fluid from her at the start of surgery. They did a hysterectomy and oophorectomy. Cancer was found on her left ureter, so they removed part of that and had to cut and stretch her bladder to reconnect the ureter to the bladder. The surgeon also inserted a temporary stint in left ureter to keep it open. They found cancer on the colon and small intestine and removed sections of those. They found gallstones in her gallbladder and removed the gallbladder. The entire surgery took 5½ hours. She received two units of blood post-surgery. When she got back to the room she looked a pale as a ghost.
This was the beginning of a very long summer. She spent most of the rest of the summer in and out of the hospital. She never really ever gained an appetite since the surgery she would just pick at food. It seemed she could make it home for a few days and needed to go back because she would have pains or become sick. Had several different types of infections. Buy the end of July they started giving her TPN.
Her doctors continued changing her meds to help with pain and infections. They had her on so many different medications that at times she would hallucinate and have major body twitches. Most of the time the kids were able to come for a visit, but when this would happen we asked Joanna’s sisters to not bring them because they didn’t need to see their mom this way.
During all this her pain level kept increasing, and continually had pain in her legs. Finally after additional scans they decided to try chemo and radiation. Through out both stays in the hospital I would be with her the entire time and left only on a few occasions but would return after a couple of hours. The day they started chemo I was gone for a couple of hours during which she had a reaction to one drug made her heart spike to about 260 bpm and her blood pressure to drop. She went into anaphylactic shock. As she was going into shock she could hear the nurses use words indicating how critical she was. When she finally awoke, there was no one in the room, so she thought she was dead (no joke).
After this incident they adjusted her chemo and scheduled her for radiation on her legs to see if this would help with the pain. She did that treatment with no effect on the pain. At this point I tried talking with her doctors to understand why she did not seem to improve. He would tell everything was looking good, because he did not want her to give up. He also knew that she was a strong woman who had faith in God to heal her.
August for us was an amazing month. Joanna and I had helped the children ministry at two different churches. Some friends decided to do a benefit for us and with that they raised over $15,000 dollars to help us. At the gym where Adeline is on the gymnastics team, some friends and coaches did a week long bake sale to help us out with tuition and fees for gymnastics.
At the beginning of August we were able to finally pin down her doctor and ask with all that is going on and her pain is increasing what we are looking at. They told us that after the first round of chemo and one round of radiation there had been little change and stated that if all went well she would live for about a year and if they go bad, 3-4 months.
This news was hard for both of us to grasp. We struggled with how to tell the family and made a decision that we did not want the kids to find out until we felt the time was right. Imaging receiving this news and the only thing on your mind is your kids… It started a prominent statement “I am not giving up”…
Joanna finally came home with the help of home health. They would come every other day or as needed, but while it seemed good to have her home, we would always end up back at the hospital. Joanna went through the second round of chemo, after which the doctors determined it had done nothing and there was not much more they could do except adjust pain meds to make her comfortable. In early October they broke the news that Joanna had 3-6 weeks to live.
As you can imagine this was hard news, we finally went home with hospice to help us through the last days. On Thursday, October 14, a little after 9 a.m., I called the two oldest kids to our bedroom to tell them that there mom was not going to be around much longer (the two younger kids had been staying with their aunt since June). This was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do.
Around 2 a.m. on October 15, 2010, Joanna finally, after 18 months of fighting cancer, received her healing. That next morning I had to tell the youngest two about their mom.
Because of the benefit we had the money we needed for the funeral and other expenses.
We decided to participate in the Get Your Rear in Gear in Kansas City because before all the bad news Joanna wanted to do this walk just because she liked the name. We are a family of jokers and pranksters. So it caught our eye after one of her sisters saw something about it. Now this is one thing we can do to keep her memory alive.