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After cancer diagnosis, co-workers help family
Michael Bradshaw is seen recently outside his home in Ridgeway. Members of the Martinsville Fire Department, where Bradshaw works, decorated his home for Christmas so that when he brought his wife, Jennifer, home from the hospital on Christmas Day, the first thing she saw was her home decked out for the holiday. Jennifer Bradshaw recently was diagnosed with colon cancer. (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
This holiday season has not been an easy one for the Bradshaw family, but an outpouring of support from loved ones has helped them stay positive during a trying time.
On Dec. 18, Jennifer Bradshaw, 38, went to the doctor for a few routine tests. She thought she might have irritable bowel syndrome, or maybe ulcerative colitis.
“They did what’s called an EGD, a scope down to your stomach, and then they did a colonoscopy as well, and that’s when they found the colon cancer,” Bradshaw said.
That night, she added, the doctors performed a CT scan and discovered that the cancer had spread to her liver.
The following day, Dr. Marie Sharkey at Lewis Gale Medical Center sent Bradshaw to Dr. Gregory Waters, a colorectal cancer surgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.
“They tried to do something immediate so that I could start chemo for the liver,” Bradshaw said.
The Bradshaw family — which includes Jennifer, husband Michael Bradshaw, and children Valery Harter, 14, and Emma Harter, 11 — spent about a week at Wake Forest Baptist while Jennifer Bradshaw recuperated from bowel diversion surgery. When they returned to their Ridgeway home on Christmas Day, there was a surprise waiting for them, courtesy of Michael’s co-workers at the Martinsville Fire and EMS Department.
“The guys from my shift at the fire department came Christmas Eve,” Michael Bradshaw said. “They got together that morning and decorated the house. They strung lights up and put decorations up out front to try and make it more welcoming.”
Tony Beal, one of the firefighters who helped decorate, said that another firefighter, John Kaczor, came up with the idea to decorate the Bradshaw home, though the ever-modest Kaczor denied spearheading the plan.
“The term that was used was, ‘We’ll Griswold the house right up,’” Beal said, referring to the family from the film “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”
Nearly all the members of the shift gathered lights and Christmas decorations from their homes, Beal said, and spent about 21?2 hours decorating the Bradshaw home.
“Everybody in the fire department… it’s a brotherhood,” Beal said. “We spend as much time with them as our family. We watch their kids grow up. There are very few secrets in the fire service as far as family is concerned. That’s our second family.”
Michael Bradshaw said he stopped by the fire department Christmas Day to thank everyone. While they all sat around talking, Bradshaw mentioned in passing that he needed to rake some leaves in his yard so it would look more presentable when people came to visit them.
On Friday afternoon, several of Bradshaw’s co-workers, along with their friends and family members, showed up at his home with leaf blowers and lawn mowers and spent the whole afternoon tidying up the yard.
“Everybody’s been opening up, and it means a lot to us,” Michael Bradshaw said. “We never dreamed of being on this side of it. We never dreamed of being on the receiving side. We don’t know how to thank everybody.”
Michael and Jennifer Bradshaw said that in addition to the support from the fire department, they have received flowers and cards from friends all over the country, a letter and a check from someone in Roanoke whom they don’t even know, generosity from their church, CrossPoint Church, along with other area churches, and even a gas card from Valery’s teachers at Magna Vista’s Warrior Tech Academy, along with a bracelet for Valery.
“It’s very humbling,” Jennifer Bradshaw said. “We just can’t believe how people have stepped up. We want to thank everybody, including our employers.”
Jennifer Bradshaw is a registered nurse at Dr. Judith Szulecki’s dermatology practice in Martinsville. She said the entire office has been understanding and helpful, and Michael Bradshaw said several of his co-workers at the fire department have volunteered to pick up his shifts if he runs out of sick time.
In the meantime, the Bradshaws are planning the next steps in Jennifer’s healing process. This week, they will return to Wake Forest Baptist for a post-surgery follow-up exam, and they will see an oncologist shortly thereafter who will plot out Jennifer’s treatment plan.
“We don’t know exactly what kind of chemo or how long it will last,” Jennifer Bradshaw said. “They just told us it would be aggressive. We’re just ready to start chemo and get this thing going.”
“I don’t know how many people ever say they want to start chemo,” she added with a chuckle.
The cancer in her colon and liver is at stage IV, Bradshaw said, but thankfully, tests have shown that it hasn’t spread.
There’s another reason Bradshaw wants to get well as soon as she can: She’s in a nurse practitioner program. She joked with Dr. Waters that he needs to get her fixed in three weeks, because classes resume Jan. 13.
“You have to finish it,” she said. “You can’t come this far and quit.”
While at the hospital, she said, she wouldn’t allow any tears in her room. She’s interested only in positive thoughts.
“It’s going to be a long and hard road, but it’ll be OK,” Jennifer Bradshaw said. “I honestly have an incredible amount of peace about it. (Valery and Emma) struggle, understandably so. We have our moments. But we just keep praising and praying and keep going. It’s going to work out. We’re just thrown for a little bit of a loop.”