Finding Purpose

Adapted from an interview with Jess Reger

Her first round of chemo was called Red Devil. The nurses wore HAZMAT suits to administer it to Jess, the medication so strong that any contact with clothing or skin would cause injury to a person. Red Devil depleted white blood cells, leaving Jess no way to fight infection, and the required shots to replenish her white count caused excruciating pain in her bones.

“I’m 34 years old,” Jess said. “I never thought this would happen to me. I have a family—a husband, and three kids. Xander is 7, Duke is 4, and Delaney is 2. In fact, because I was nursing, I thought the cancer was just a blocked duct. But after I stopped nursing, why was the lump still there?”

Her doctor’s appointment led to an immediate ultrasound and biopsy—and an early-morning call from the doctor. “We got your labs. You have invasive ductal carcinoma with metaplastic features. But don’t worry. We’ve had great research advances in fighting breast cancer.”

“Okay.” Jess nodded, as if the doctor could see her through the phone. She wrote down the doctor’s words. Meta-plastic?

“Jess, you’re going to see your kids grow up.”

“Okay. Yes, of course.” Once off the phone, Jess slowly climbed the stairs. Two of the kids, along with her husband, Chris were home with a stomach bug. A sort of denial took hold, a numbing disbelief. From the doorway, she told Chris in an even tone, “I have cancer.”

His reply was automatic, in a tone much like hers. “If anyone can handle it, it’s you.”

Within two weeks, Jess had her first round of chemo. “I had long hair, but I buzzed it before it fell out. I wore scarves at first, but then I decided not to. And I wasn’t going to wear a wig. I’m fighting a battle. I’m not going to hide.”

As a school guidance counselor, Jess wanted to make sure her students knew she wasn’t deserting them. Most had only a vague understanding of what to expect with someone going through cancer. So she made a video to prepare them for how she would physically change, and to explain the reasons she may be tired.

The video was shown to 880 students. “I began to post regularly on Instagram, about what the journey of having cancer entails. Terminology that people hear, but don’t understand.”

“Through all of this, I keep thinking about my purpose. What is God’s purpose in me having this? Maybe it’s because I work with over 100 women, and they need reminding to get checked for cancer. Maybe it’s to convince a young co-worker who has a family history of cancer to overcome her fear of finding something wrong. Maybe being completely open about the whole process and what it’s like will help others to understand and support each other better. Ask me any question you want. The day I found out I had cancer, I made a promise to be as transparent as possible to help anyone I could.”

Random people come up to Jess when she is out. Sometimes it’s a wordless hug they offer, and sometimes it’s a piece of their own story, understanding and solidarity shining in their eyes.

In keeping with tradition, Jess rang the gold bell when she finished her chemo. The tumor was shrinking. But then that changed, and Jess had to undergo two surgeries, with more to follow. Radiation is next. Her prayer is a simple one: Please just don’t take me from my kids.

That said, Jess would like to speak to the moms. “Please listen. We often put ourselves last. We say, ‘Oh, it’s nothing.’ But please don’t dismiss things. I always had an answer, a reason, a rationale. But don’t wait. Please go get checked. Be vulnerable. Join me in relying on the God who will never leave you. Just talk to him. He is my purpose and he will show me the way. Just as he will show you.”

That is how I will continue to be dangerous—relying on him. Always.