Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Christmas Jar Story: 'all we could see was change, but inside was a very large roll of bills!'

My name is Kimberly, my husband is Joel and our ten year old daughter is Jadyn. Joel will be 47 years old in a few weeks. We live in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I'd like to give you a little bit of our background for the last two years before I share our Christmas Jar experience with you.

Joel was diagnosed with an uncommon form of melanoma cancer on August 6, 2009 and at that time was only 44 years old. This is a skin cancer, but in rare instances in can just occur inside a body, in a lymph node. This is what happened to Joel. This is an aggressive cancer which spreads rapidly. At this time Joel was diagosed at stage 2 (out of 4 stages, with 4 being terminal).

To make a VERY long story as short as possible, Joel went through several surgeries, one being a "modified radical neck dissection" which was absolutely horrible. The doctors weren't sure what to do after that so Joel was put on an aggressive treatment called Interferon. This is given to HIV patients when there is nothing else to treat them with. It is supposed to help ones immune system "gear up" and fight the cancer itself. It makes a person terribly sick, and the treatment lasts an entire year. We though Joel was going to die many times because he was so ill from this treatment. Unfortunately, five months later the cancer had spread to three places in his brain. The Interferon didn't help. They then gave Joel "full brain radiation" and told us to wait. Joel became more and more ill and began having unexplainable "spells."

We took it upon ourselves to contact the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN and drove up there to see if they could help us at all. Joel's driving priviledges were taken away because of the brain tumors and possiblity of seizures (which he was having minor ones and we didn't realize it at the time). At the Mayo, after many tests, they determined that they could surgically remove two of the three tumors. They would cut his skull in two places, remove the tumors along with as little brain matter as possible, and then sew him up. Then about a week or two later they would perform gamma-knife radiation on the third tumor because it was in an area which could possibly cause permanent damage to Joel if they tried to surgically remove it.

Around 5 pm on a Thursday we were told about the possibility of brain surgery. One of the country's best brain surgeons "happened" to have a cancellation the next morning at 6 am. Joel had to make a decision that night by 7 pm so the arrangements could be made and tests could be done . We prayed about it, felt the Lord's peace that transcends all understanding, and Joel decided to go ahead and have the brain surgery. We had no family with us (except our daughter), no friends in the entire state, we were four states away from home, and yet we were calm and collected. We know that was from God, and that the Lord was with us, we felt Him continuously throughout this time.

We made a total of six trips to the Mayo Clinic within the next twelve months (which was from March/April 2010 to March/April 2010). It was an incredibly difficult and enormously stressful time for the three of us. We not only had the cancer to deal with but insurance "situations," soc sec to deal with, crucial financial difficulties, and more. Joel's cancer continued to spread over the next year. Gamma-knife radiation was performed at the Mayo two additional times. Joel was also put on a chemotherapy "pill" called Temodar which gets into the brain easier than IV chemo does. During that year Joel had times of feeling very well, and other times of feeling very sick. But no matter how he felt, we trusted in Jesus Christ completely and knew that He was in control. During these trying times we wanted to take every opportunity to teach our daughter how to react during trials and tribulations that life brings. How to react according to scripture, so that she will be better able to deal with problems in life more appropriately when she is older. Believe me, the Lord brought us many teachable moments in the last two years.

During the January 2011 and March/April 2011 trips to the Mayo, Joel's cancer began spreading even more rapidly. We continued to trust in the Almighty God and He blessed us tremendously during this time. Because by this time all of our resources were gone (savings, 401K, etc.) we had to trust in the Lord for His constant provision. And He provided for every single one of our needs! He never left us nor forsook us. Joel now had this cancer in about 25 places all over inside his body. Joel was changed to "stage 4 terminal." We continued praying for a miracle.

We were told by the Mayo doctors about a brand new medication that was not even approved by the FDA for use in the USA yet. It was specifically for those with melanoma cancer that had spread to the brain, and it was called Yervoy. It was incredibly expensive and we were not certain if our insurance would cover it. The cost was approximately $125,000.00 for four treatments. Yes, that's only four IV treatments over a twelve week period of time. It was approved for use in the USA on April 11, 2011 and Joel received the first treatment on April 28, 2011. Joel was the first person in Fort Wayne to receive this treatment! We were told he was the first in Indiana to receive it, and definitely among the first in the USA to receive Yervoy! We were on the local news several times and even though it was exciting, it was also overwhelming. We gave God the glory constantly during this time, on the news, during the interviews for the story on the oncology website, etc.

Joels last Yervoy treatment was on June 30, 2011. He had a full body PET scan on July 28, 2011 to see if it had shrunk any of the tumors inside his body. We hoped and prayed that at least some of them would be gone, or smaller at least. On August 4, 2011 (exactly two years to the date from his first surgery to remove the inital lump that we found) we were given the results of this PET scan. The oncologist could find NO CANCER anywhere in Joel's body!! None!! Joel was in remission! This was totally unexpected by anybody, even the medical professionals!! We praise the Lord for this miracle! We truly believe this is a miracle from Above! This is the miracle we prayed for! And even though the doctors say Joel is still considered "stage 4 terminal" and that will not change. They tell us the cancer returned in 2 or 3 months during the clinical trials and was even more aggressive.

We were on such an emotional roller-coaster ride during the past two years and so many things happened that it's impossible to mention them all in this email. Good things were brought to us from Jesus, like our church family. They helped and provided for us (and continue to do so) like we've never seen before! The "church body" is truly alive and well in Fort Wayne, Indiana! Other negative things happened also, really stressful things. One example is that our health insurance was terminated FOUR times in this calendar year, and never once due to our error. Every time was due to errors by the insurance company. They reinstated us every time, but oh, the problems that were caused. Especially when Joel had difficulty getting his seizure medications filled.

So, now on with our Christmas Jar experience. One thing we were very worried about was Christmas last year. We had no money left. We didn't know where we'd get money for our bills or groceries, etc. Joel was on Soc Sec Disability Income and I had to quit my job to care for him and for Jadyn. We depended on Christ daily for all things: food, mortgage payments, gasoline, etc. And we still depend on Him for all things. We trusted that He would provide something for Christmas for our daughter Jadyn. Joel and I haven't exchanged Christmas gifts much at all since Jadyn was born. So we weren't worried about us, just about her having some gifts to open on Christmas morning. We've always taught Jadyn the real meaning of Christmas, about Christ's birth, and yet we wanted her to have gifts also. We have family and friends in the area and had faith that God would provide, through them, for Jadyn.

About a week before Christmas Joel got a phone call to look outside our front door. It was cold and the ground was covered in quite a bit of snow. On the doorstep was a package. Inside was a Christmas Jar and the book. We were astonished because we had not heard of this before (later on I realized that I had heard of this years ago). Being the normal humans that we are, we first counted the money in the jar. At first all we could see was the change, but inside was a very large rolls of bills! There was over $700 in that quart sized jar! Yes, there was!! We were stunned! We cried and got on our knees thanking our Heavenly Father above for this tremendous blessing! Later on both Joel and I read the book. I cried, of course. What an endearing story, what a fantastic thing that was done for us! And what a wonderful thing we can do for others in the future.

It seemed so unreal, we remained in shock for awhile! That someone would do this for us was mind-boggling! We have not to this day, discovered who gave us this Christmas Jar. We don't want to know either. It's such a wonderful thing to do for others. We did buy some Christmas gifts, but didn't want to "squander" any of the money the Lord provided for us. We wanted to be good stewards. We saved some, but we also anonymously provided some Christmas gifts to two single mom's at our church (and their kids). We paid some smaller medical bills with some of it, too! We anonymously helped another family, also. It felt SO GOOD to be helping others for once, to be on the giving end and not the receiving end!! God is so incredible! He has blessed us enormously in so many ways during this difficult time, and the Christmas Jar was so HUGE! It touched our hearts so deeply. We were very humbled knowing that someone (probably a group of people) went to this much effort for us, the little ol' Saunders family!

After the holidays we then began saving our change in the Christmas Jar so that we could "pass it forward" to someone else this year. We've had to turn the change into bills a few times, and the jar is again almost filled to the top. We have encouraged Jadyn to put her extra change into the jar whenever possible. We have been praying for God to let us know who He would like us to anonymously deliver this Christmas jar to. We have someone in particular in mind!

Jason, we humbly thank you for the story of the Christmas Jars. Thank you, Heavenly Father, for loving us so much! Thank you also for listening to our story. Again, we give God all the glory for all good things!

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