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updated: 4/24/2013 11:27 AM

Voices of Hope: Downers Grove cancer survivor Jennifer Jones finds her voice

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  • Jennifer Jones, diagnosed last year with breast cancer, has felt too self-conscious to sing with her church choir but finds comfort -- and her voice -- in singing with the Voices of Hope chorus.

       Jennifer Jones, diagnosed last year with breast cancer, has felt too self-conscious to sing with her church choir but finds comfort -- and her voice -- in singing with the Voices of Hope chorus.
    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

Jennifer Jones, Downers Grove

"You have breast cancer." With one sentence I lost my health. I was only 42 years old. I was a busy working mother. My husband traveled frequently for his job.

My kids were young and involved in band and orchestra and karate and football. I was healthy. I got a checkup and a mammogram every year. Last year's mammogram was normal.

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"Stage 3." The diagnosis came gradually, test after test. It was determined to be a rapidly growing type of cancer. In a short time it had spread to my lymph nodes. I began treatment immediately.

"Chemotherapy, lumpectomy, radiation." The treatment was brutal. It stripped me of my ability to function. It was painful. I had no appetite, no hair, no strength, no singing voice. I had to stop working at the job I love. I couldn't take care of myself or my family. I couldn't drive. I could barely walk with a cane.

Because of the chemotherapy, I was vulnerable to infection, so I couldn't see anyone or go anywhere. My husband and my three sons became my caregivers. My world shrank down to the couch, the bed, the doctors.

God never left me. He inspired an entire community of church, school, neighbors, friends and family from across the country. They all came together to provide care for me and my family: meals, cards, gifts, prayers, carpools, support. I wrote so many notes: "Thank you. Thank God for you."

That was last year. This year, I'm stronger. I'm working, going to my kids' football games and school concerts. I'm taking over some of the household chores from my husband. I'm driving in the carpool. I can walk around the block and through the grocery store. I can attend church again, but I'm too self-conscious to get up and sing.

Thanks to this choir, I can sing again, surrounded by the voices of people who understand that my struggle is not over. There is no evidence of cancer, but I am not yet healthy. My eyes water constantly. My shoulder gets stiff and sore. I have shortness of breath and fatigue. I will forever be at risk for lymphedema.

My strength is returning slowly. So slowly. My hair, well, it's growing back. My perspective -- on life, on gratitude, on grace, on community, on God -- is forever changed. Within the context of this choir, I can stand up with confidence, not only as someone who survived cancer, but as someone who now has a voice. A voice of hope.

"He comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."

-- 2 Corinthians 1:4

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