Jennifer’s sense of hope in the midst of unexpected challenge is inspiring. So often we can think “It will never happen to me”, we assume life will go a certain way and then it doesn’t. What do we do when it doesn’t? What do we do when we find ourselves standing in the middle of a storm? The sky is dark and the rain isn’t ceasing. For Jennifer, she looked in the mirror and she saw a different reflection of the teenage girl that once stared back at her. Her storm had changed her. But it didn't lessen her. She is stronger. Her eyes wide open to seeing the world in a different light. Jennifer found her sun. She is learning how to dance in the rain and it is a beautiful dance. I’ll let you get to it!
For Jennifer her faith was a big part of how she processed what was happening to her. It was her help and her comfort. You may not have a religious belief or background and that’s okay. The world is a beautifully diverse place and we want to feature that diversity as much as possible. We are all better when we share our stories with one another and when we can unite around common themes of hope and victory. We are confident that you’ll be inspired by Jennifer’s story no matter your belief system. We encourage you too, to tell your story. You never know who needs to hear it.
- Kathleen (director)
1. Introduce yourself to everyone!
J: Hi there! My name is Jennifer Larocque (but you can call me Jen or Jenny!), I am 18 years old and have been living in Ottawa for my whole life.
2. Alright now tell us some fun facts about yourself.
J: Some of my favourite things to do are skiing, cooking and baking, going for walks with friends on boardwalks and nature trails, and travelling. I love all things art, whether it's painting with acrylics or watercolour, or playing the piano and ukulele, or even taking photos of nature. One random fact about me is that I don't like coffee. I know what you're thinking, most young adults LIVE off coffee, but I just don't have a taste for it.
3. Your world dramatically changed recently. Can you tell us about that particular day?
J: My unexpected storm entered my world on June 16th, 2017. It was a normal Friday afternoon, my friends and I had walked home early since exams were the next week, and our youth group was holding a night to honour the high school grads of 2017. I had been expecting results from a biopsy I had had three weeks earlier, done on the painless lump (an enlarged node) in my left collar bone, so when I had heard that my results had been given to someone at home (I had called the doctor's office to see if they were in), I immediately asked my sister for them when I got home.
Little did I know that she had received my diagnosis all by herself and had carried the weight of telling my parents that afternoon. She wouldn't tell me, and so flash forward to later that evening, my mom and dad get home at the same time from work. I should have caught on that something was wrong, but it wasn't until we were all on the couch and my mom was taking her time to get to the diagnosis did I realize all was not well.
That was the moment when I finally received the life changing news that I had Hogkin's Lymphoma. I crumbled. Immediately, the questions I had sworn I'd never ask in sorrow rushed out of me: "Why me?" "Why now?" "Why cancer?" In the days, weeks, and months to come I would find out that it is barely stage two cancer, I’d get my PICC line in (a permanent IV type thing for chemo meds), start receiving chemotherapy every other Thursday, lose a lot of my hair, and experience a range of pits and valleys in my emotions and understanding of everything I once believed to be true. I found myself at times so depressed that I came pretty close to doubting especially my faith, but somehow, hope stayed. It didn’t come easy, as these four months as you can imagine, have been the toughest I have ever experienced.
4. What would you say the three areas of your life were that underwent the greatest impact?
1. My sense and understanding of beauty.
This is something I am currently walking through and sorting out, but when your hair and physical appearance is highly compromised due to hair loss, toxic chemical drugs, and lots of bed rest, your understanding of beauty starts to become pretty muddled. Growing up in our society, I realized in these past few months just how exclusive and ever changing the world's definition of beauty is. It excludes so many body types, skin types, and hair lengths...instead of everyone being perceived as beautiful, only a select few are seen as "#goals". I noticed my need to break off the blinders that stopped me from seeing myself, as I am, as beautiful. I have been realizing that my beauty isn't even truly about the superficial parts of me anyways! There is a lot of freedom that comes into your life when you can let your mind really grasp that.
2. My belief and faith.
I have been raised in a Christian home and really came to develop my own understanding of faith halfway through high school. This journey I’ve been on has shown me a lot about my understanding of that faith, the world, and where there are gaps. I can honestly say that despite the doubts and questions, I’ve always felt loved. I’ve felt like my questions and my doubts can be handled. That has allowed me to feel, and to ask, and to process.
3. My ability to love and empathize.
How I treat people in sorrow has drastically changed. I realized just how much I didn't know about how to best care for people in pain. I have had both awesome experiences and crumby experiences with people trying to help me through this journey and I have been able to learn from both what works and what doesn't. Quick tip: practical help is awesome and saying less while listening is always a good idea.
5. Can you share a few additional lessons you’ve learned along the way so far?
J: I have learned a ton over these past few months and I’m sure that I’m not done yet. I have learned that giving thanks brings joy! And there is a lot to give thanks for, I just have to keep my eyes open for it. I've learned that boundaries are important, but that community is as well. Oh, and laughter is truly medicinal!
I said it before and i'll say it again. Community is vital. I haven’t walked this thing alone. Thoughts and prayers weren’t just “well meaning words” people in my life actually followed through. Friends and family have lifted me up on my lowest days and I have seen how much it has helped me in my healing.
One other thing that helped me throughout these past few months was art. Whether I was painting in bed or playing random chords on the piano, art has been and will continue to be an outlet and form of therapy for me. When I didn't have any words, I painted. When I got the news that my mid-way PET scan looked great, I celebrated that news by playing the piano.
6. What words would you leave for someone who may read your story and be facing a storm of their own?
J: If you are walking through this storm, or have to face it at some point (I pray that is not the case), know this: I love you and am rooting for you. You, my friend, are a fighter and more than a conqueror! When you are too tired, too angry, or too sad to speak life and truth into yourself, get a friend to. Listen to hope soaked music, and (when you have the energy) have some epic dance parties. Don't run from the pain, allow it to be felt. Fully felt. And though you may not feel too warm towards Jesus right now, know that He is here to lift burdens and bring the deepest comfort. Lovely one, keep your hope up, for you are going to make it. And your future is as bright as the sun!
* Thank you to Jennifer for being so open and honest about her story. We love introducing you to girls/women who are setting an awesome example of how bravery and strength can be present in the face of fear of the unknown. If you know someone who you think should be featured in our 'meet her' section of our blog, please write in and let us know.*