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Calm during the storm
Woman stays positive during battle with cancer
Jennifer Bradshaw, shown above with her husband, Michael, learned Dec. 18 that she had stage IV liver and colon cancer. Despite that, the Bradshaws remain positive. “I’m going to live until I’m 92,” Jennifer Bradshaw said. “I’ve already claimed it.” (Bulletin photo by Mike Wray)
Jennifer Bradshaw is walking proof of the power of positive thinking.
On Dec. 18, Bradshaw, 38, went to the doctor for some routine tests and was told that she had stage IV colon and liver cancer.
Since then, she’s gone through numerous medical procedures and six rounds of chemotherapy (round seven will start Tuesday).
In spite of that, she and her husband, Michael Bradshaw, are staying positive. In fact, if a person didn’t know beforehand the battle the family is fighting, he wouldn’t guess it looking at them.
Jennifer Bradshaw looks perfectly healthy. She laughs easily. And she’s confident that she’s going to be around for a long, long time.
“I’m going to live until I’m 92,” Bradshaw said, laughing. “I’ve already claimed it. It’s going to be good.”
Bradshaw, who lives in Horsepasture, also is pursuing a degree as a family nurse practitioner through Maryville University’s online program, and doing clinicals at Dr. Mark Mahoney’s local medical practice.
She fits all that in between her round of chemo every other week.
“They told us from the get-go to live your life as normal,” Michael Bradshaw said.
“The oncologist has been adamant about that,” Jennifer Bradshaw agreed. “She said, ‘As long as you think you can do it, do it. Just keep going until something tells you that you can’t.’ So I’ve been having at it.”
One of the reasons Jennifer Bradshaw has stuck with her nursing program, she said, is that she was told that if she delayed her clinicals, she would have to drop the program and start from scratch.
“I’m so close to it being over,” she said. “I’ll graduate in the early part of December. It would crush me if I thought I had to quit. ... I just couldn’t fathom that idea.”
Fortunately, she said, while she has to work a set number of clinical hours during every 16-week semester, she can schedule those hours however she wants.
“That part’s been helpful,” she said, “because on my weeks that I’m getting chemo, I pretty much don’t do anything. So I’m doing clinicals every other week when I feel pretty decent.”
Some days, of course, are more difficult than others.
“There’s a lot of those days, honestly,” she said. “Especially when you don’t sleep well and the mornings are really tough. But after I get up and go, it’s all right. When I get there, I think it’s more therapeutic for me because you’re surrounded by other people and you get to see patients and help them. It takes your mind off of what’s happening with you. I probably get more out of it than they do.”
The Bradshaw family’s attempt to maintain a sense of normalcy has extended to their children, Jennifer Bradshaw said. Valery Harter, 14, and Emma Harter, 11, are handling the situation “like troopers,” and if they have any questions, Jennifer and Michael Bradshaw are happy to provide them with answers.
“We’re very open about every aspect of it,” she said. “If they have questions, we all discuss it together. We tell them whatever we know, and if we don’t know, we talk to the doctors about it and then we tell them what we find out. They’ve been to a lot of our appointments. They’re right there with us. They have a lot of good, close friends that are helping them, too.”
Her experience with cancer has been an emotional and physical roller coaster, Jennifer Bradshaw said. However, “even with the negative and the bad stuff that comes with this nasty C-word, we’ve gotten so much more positive from it.”
One of the biggest positives, she said, is a sense of clarity.
“That’s the only word I know to use for it,” she said. “You see everything differently. I’ve always been a very grateful person, I’ve always tried to not take things for granted ... but you notice the simplest of things, because you wonder if you’re going to get to notice it later. You want to soak it all in.”
Another positive, she said, is the community support, which has left both Jennifer and Michael Bradshaw at a loss for words.
“I wish I knew how to explain it to people,” she said. “Both of us have been here our whole lives. I never would have imagined that this community could pull together like they are. And it’s for me. I’m not anybody important. I don’t hold any titles. I’m not significant in any way. And people just keep showing up for us. It brings tears to your eyes, but it sure does warm your heart.”
In the earliest stages of her illness, Jennifer Bradshaw said, the family decided that Facebook likely would be the best way to keep friends and family up to date on her progress.
Their Facebook page, Team Bradshaw, currently has over 3,300 members.
“It reaches far past Martinsville and Henry County,” Jennifer Bradshaw said. “We’ve got people from so many different states, some that we know but a lot that we don’t know, that will say, ‘You’re on our prayer list and we’re walking this journey with you. We’re here and we’re supporting you.’ It’s mind-blowing.”
The Bradshaws also have been supported with several fundraisers, including a recent spaghetti dinner and a “Picture a Cure for Cancer” photography event that took place Saturday at the Fieldale ball park.
The support, both agreed, has been overwhelming.
“This is it; this area is where we’re going to be for life,” Jennifer Bradshaw said. “In the past, we would joke about, ‘Oh, when school’s over, we’ll move to wherever.’ Nope. This is where we’re supposed to be.”