©Judy Bruce and Hey Joood, 2021. Duplication is prohibited.

Courage. Janet, a younger sister. Brain cancer. A death sentence. Most resources will tell you that a person with brain cancer has six months to five years to live. When I asked her what kind of brain cancer she had, she said she wouldn’t tell me. That told me. I knew she wouldn’t live to make 50 years; I didn’t know she wouldn’t make it through the year. She knew. Four inoperable, aggressive tumors that radiation and chemotherapy never held in check meant months of pain and severe nausea. Still, her faith in God endured.

Janet, Jan, to her husband and her Jefferson, Iowa friends, was diagnosed in January of 2008. By November, her cognitive and motor skills began to deteriorate rapidly. In a message of October 13, 2008, she stated: “First of all I just want to say God is in control and I am not!” She knew she was worsening rapidly. Yet she kept her faith and her courage–courage despite the months of pain, sickening treatment, and the knowledge that nothing would stop her plummet into death; courage despite the decisions for the future of her family; courage despite the endless questions and concerns of her two brothers and two sisters; courage despite being attacked by a force so virulent, it would kill her long before she could reach 47 years; and courage despite the knowledge that she would leave behind her her friends, her world, her husband of 24 years, Kelly, and her teenage children: Kristin, Kate, and Jake.

Where did she get such courage? From God, of course. God gives us many goods things–in mundane moments and in life-shattering, family-altering, gut-wrenching times. She could have rejected bravery and instead vented her anger and her fear and the obvious unfairness of her fate. God gives us free will, the opportunity to act as we choose. We can go on a killing spree at an Omaha shopping mall or we can work at the food bank on the next holiday. God offered Janet courage and she took it. “Faith, family, and friends” was her motto and she lived it.

And, yes, it was unfair. Many vile people live long lives, but my little sister (okay, I’m not that big–none of the three of us sisters topped 5’2′) was a funny (her stories got better each time she told them!), compassionate, Christian woman who taught Sunday school and second grade kids for 23 years. The world was a better place with her in it. Do I sound upset? Well, I am. We’ve reached the second anniversary of her death. It still hurts. I’m not mad at God–I never was. That is too easy an excuse for heartache. No, I’m content with the knowledge that my puny, mortal brain cannot comprehend why bad things happen to good people and why my sister died. I’m no saint. It often annoys me that breast cancer gets so much attention. Even macho NFL players wear pink for the month of October. Then again, brain cancer is so pernicious, the color would be black not pink, and sufferers and their families wouldn’t get an entire month, they’d only get a few days because the horrific disease kills so fast. (Actually, the official color is gray.) And what’s with Ted Kennedy getting the same disease two months later? The wuss only had one tumor and his was operable. Okay, I do sympathize with people struck by breast cancer (who knows, maybe I’ll get it), and I certainly never wished that great American statesman any ill will. Meanwhile, I’ll continue thinking my sister’s death was unfair. But I’ve accepted it.

Janet on far right

I do think my sister and my brothers will feel the void for a long time. I tried to fill it with chocolate, but that didn’t work. Janet’s been taken from our present and our future, but that evil disease cannot take away our past. We’ll always have thick-haired Janet, who hated spiders and loved card games; and as a young girl she created words like “basketti” for spaghetti and “big mootus” for Fig Newtons. I can picture her in her softball uniform and in her church clothes as we sisters whispered back and forth during the sermon, attempting to quell the giggles that only grew worse when we tried to subdue them. As kids, the three of us formed our own girl group called the “Turpentines” (yeah, really); we wisely kept our singing and giggling confined to the bedroom the three of us shared. And I remember riding our bikes to the Dairy Queen for foot-long hot dogs, and throwing water balloons at each other on the street in front of our house under a canopy of silver maples. Nothing can take away the memory of hot summer evenings, just past twilight, when we crept through the weeds of the field at the end of our street searching for the dreaded Pumpkin Head Man. We always found him and the subsequent shrieks of laughter as we ran back down the hill toward home. We’d bound into the house sweating and laughing, dirt forming a perfect semi-circle at the tops of our tennies. Never will I forget the urgent body clutch we gave each other when we watched the line go straight on the monitor next to our mother’s bed, or our tear-soaked disappointment that our father had died just before we could return to the hospital.

Janet’s last months combined sleepiness with seizures and a frustrated attempt to communicate. My sister Jeanne told me God had been preparing Janet for leaving for a long time; God was easing her out of her life and into life with Him. My “littlest” sister was right. But I do think Janet’s calm passing was made easier with the knowledge that she was leaving her children with Kelly, a rock, if one ever existed. Though Janet slipped away from us peacefully, a number of us believe she fought at the end to survive Christmas Day with her family about her, her hospice room decorated for the season. She let go the very next day.

Janet inspired many people. I hope to live and die with such courage. May God help me.

Many of you have asked for more details or at least an update. I don’t intend to provide more details–some things are meant only for the family. I will say that the family is coping well.

***Please consider a donation to cancer research. Thank you.***

Check out another personal story on my Danny post.

©Judy Bruce and Hey Joood 2023. Duplication of this site’s material is strictly prohibited. Photos may not be copied.

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