Cancer’s lessons

Categories: Around the Diocese

In ‘The Chosen One,’ a local author shares what she learned from this unexpected teacher

Jan. 3, 2014, edition
By Jennifer Janikula

Nobody wants cancer, but some victims and their loved ones discover a surprising truth: Cancer can be an amazing teacher.

thechosenoneIt may be a demanding, sadistic, cranky old teacher who won’t retire, but cancer fills its classroom with wisdom.

Cancer asked Jeanne Kremers for gratitude. In the midst of life-threatening illness, Kremers had to say, “Thank you!” She complied by writing a letter of gratitude to God which became the foundation of her recently-released book, “The Chosen One: Facing Cancer with Grace and Ease.”

A member of St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Bowlus, Kremers received her breast cancer diagnosis in 2009. She went through the standard treatments including chemotherapy, radiation, double mastectomy and reconstruction.

She lost her breasts, hair and eyelashes. She became so sensitive to smells that she couldn’t eat. Her treatments caused extreme pain: scalp pain that made even soft pillows uncomfortable, foot pain that forced her to buy bigger shoes and fingers too sore to hold a cup.

Lessons learned

Despite the physical, emotional and financial challenges, Kremers decided to face cancer with grace and ease. Her attitude of gratitude opened her heart and mind to many lessons she shares in her book.

Kremers learned typical life lessons like “Enjoy every moment” and “Don’t wait, because tomorrow may not come,” but it’s how these lessons changed her daily life that makes Kremers’ story interesting.

jeannekremers

Jeanne Kremers compiled her memoir, “The Chosen One,” from journals she kept during her cancer treatments. She says cancer taught her many life lessons, including the beauty of a house made messy by grandchildren. Now, she cherishes her grandchildren’s scribbles and fingerprints on the windows. Photo by Jennifer Janikula

Before cancer, Kremers explained that she used to watch her granddaughter play while worrying about her messy house and little fingerprints all over the windows. Since Kremers’ diagnosis, quality time with her grandchildren has dramatically changed.

“I am in action now,” Kremers said.

“I used to sit in the chair and watch them play. Now I am in the fort with them. I roll in the grass with them. I get in the swimming pool and splash water. I get in the dirt or crawl under the table and hide with them.

“They help me cook and we eat off the spatula. Those fingerprints on my windows are precious and beautiful.”

Kremers approaches her work differently too.

“Now I work because I want to,” said Kremers, a hospital respiratory therapist.

“I want to be there with the patients and connect with them spiritually. So many times, when I sit with the patients during their 15-minute treatment. I hold their hand and they begin to cry.”

Taking vs. receiving

Cancer also taught Kremers how to accept help — a difficult lesson for many martyr-minded souls in the Midwest.

Kremers grew up in a home where you borrowed a hammer from a neighbor and returned it with a homemade pie. Being indebted to someone was uncomfortable. If you took something, you always gave back more.

It was hard for Kremers to accept help, especially when she didn’t have the time, energy or money to repay her supporters. She remembers thinking, “I am so thankful, but I have nothing to give you in return.”

Kremers said cancer showed her the difference between taking and receiving.

“It took a long time to get those words free from each other,” Kremers said. She described taking as a selfish act with no feeling, but defined receiving as accepting help from others with gratitude, joy and an open heart.

In her book, Kremers explained that all cancer patients need a support team:

“There was no need to feel like vulnerability was a weakness, but rather a time to allow those who love you to do what they can to help you. Vulnerability could even be a tool to bring a family closer together,” she wrote.

Don’t fight the journey

Kremers advises cancer patients and their families to share their experience. “Much of the anger and anxiety fades when you invite others into your life,” explained Kremers. “Don’t fight the journey, just let it unfold.”

Four years after treatment, Kremers still copes with side effects but remains cancer-free. She tries to stay positive, but the threat of cancer’s return lingers. “I could do it again myself if I had to, but I don’t want my husband, daughter and son to go through it again,” Kremers said.

In her memoir, “The Chosen One,” Kremers describes cancer from many perspectives. She chronicles her own diagnosis and treatment, as well as her sister Beth’s ongoing battle with cancer and her dad’s terminal cancer.

She hopes the book inspires others find joy in every day, even days with cancer.

Tips for helping out a loved one who is diagnosed with cancer

 Several months before Jeanne Kremers’ diagnosis, her sister Beth began breast cancer treatments.

Kremers remembers bombarding her sister with baskets full of all things pink, the color often used to symbolize the fight against breast cancer.

Beth graciously accepted the gifts, but when Kremers looks back through the lens of her own cancer experience, the pink gifts seem silly and cliché.

Cancer treatments are physically, financially and emotionally exhausting. Most people understand this, but aren’t sure how to help. In addition, many patients, like Kremers, find it difficult to ask for or accept help.

Based on her experience, Kremers encourages supporters to “be bold and just jump in there.”

• Provide rides to doctor appointments
• Clean their house
• Stock their refrigerator and cupboards
• Prepare favorite family meals
• Send gas cards
• Visit during chemo appointments
• Draw cards
• Give gifts from the heart
• Hold hands
• Be present
• Check in frequently via phone, email or in person

To purchase a copy of “The Chosen One,” search by title, “The Chosen One,” by Jeanne Kremers on amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com or email jckremers29@gmail.com