My Promise To Jillian

Wow, where do I begin? This has been one of the most difficult years of my life; losing my best friend Jillian Scalfani to cervical cancer.  I will never forget the day she came home from the hospital in Boston and told me she had cancer. This thought had not even crossed any of our minds. She thought at max, the news would be that she would have to have a hysterectomy and would be fine.  Her youngest was 2-years old at the time and she was not planning on more children. This was the start of her three year battle with cervical cancer.

During this difficult time, radiation, chemo and several clinical trials had failed her.  She would often get emotional talking about her children.  She was fighting the fight for them and boy did she.  She knew that her youngest Joseph (Jojo) would be okay because his father Big Joe, Jayden and her all lived together.  He would take good care of Jojo.  Her fear was what about Jayden?  Jayden’s father has never been a part of his life and who was going to take care of him? After a conversation with Big Joe while Jill was getting a Chemo treatment, I realized he had no intentions of raising Jayden.  He thought it would be too much having to raise two boys.  Jill’s wish was to keep her two boys together but that was suddenly fading.  We had many conversations about where Jayden would go and who could care for him.  Her family is small and she didn’t have anyone to take this role on.  Being her best friend, single, no children of my own, I offered to raise him.  I wanted Jill to be able to focus on treatment and not have to worry about this issue.  Thanks to another family friend, we were able to meet with a lawyer and get affairs in place.  She questioned whether or not I was ready for this, and I reassured her I was.  I often wondered if maybe this was why I did not have children of my own, I was meant to raise Jayden.

The 2017 school year began and Jill was in hospice. I went to the house and got Jayden off to school on the first day, took pictures so she could rest.  This was his big day…officially a Haverhill High student.  I reached out to the school Day 1 to inform them of Jayden’s situation.  A couple days later Jayden moved in with me.  It was time.  Jillian was now at the Hospice House and unable to care for him.  I assured her that I would try my very best to raise him as my own and take care of him.  It is challenging at times working two nights a week but thanks to Kelly Mac we make it work.  She has been my rock during this whole process, A true best friend to Jillian and me. Kelly and Jill grew up together and now their kids are best friends growing up together, as well. Jayden chose to be by his mothers’ side during her last breaths.  Kelly’s son and his best friend, Hector helped him get through this difficult time.

Jillian had a memorial mass in her honor a couple weeks after her passing.  Her grandmother, “Nana Big Hair” and I delivered the bread and wine to the priest in honor of her.  An older woman sitting in the front row saw me crying and handed me a note.  It read,“Tears are God’s way of melting a heart frozen in grief”.  I will never forget this woman and her kind soul.  She has no idea how much her words meant to me.

Jayden started playing football for HHS and had practice every night until 7pm.  This truly kept him going.  Keeping him busy was a big part of this process.  Now that football season is over, we will be checking out the Haverhill Boxing Club.  He has a minor set back with a knee injury.  He is basically growing too fast for his body and in physical therapy 2x a week.  I was super excited to spend Christmas with Jayden. However, it was a very sad day without his mother, but I did everything in my power to make it special for him. I surprised him with a trip to Disney World, where we will be joining Kelly Mac in March on vacation. The other surprise — a special gift in memory of Jill.  I know she is shining down and watching over us.  We love and miss you, Jillian!

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year! God Bless. Heather

Read Jillian’s touching letter to Heather here

 

This Doesn’t Have To Keep Happening To Women!

It was just a few months ago when I first heard about Joey Feek of Joey and Rory.  It wasn’t because of her angelic voice, her natural beauty, or her kind and happy spirit; she popped up in my newsfeed due to her battle with cervical cancer.  As an advocate, the cervical cancer piece hooked me; all the other wonderful things about her and her family drew me in, and I’ve followed them closely for the last few months via media and her husband’s blog This Life I Live.

The more I read about Joey, the more I realized the similarities we shared, and I found myself somewhat reliving my cancer journey along with her.  Joey was born and raised in central Indiana; so was I.  We were both born in the fall of 1975, less than a month apart.  Both of our lives have been touched by people with special needs; her daughter, my brother and my profession.  I was diagnosed with cervical cancer shortly after giving birth; so was Joey.  We also endured the same initial treatment plan during the beginning phases of our cervical cancer diagnoses, and we both have a strong faith. Following her story has brought back the physical pain of enduring treatments aFB_IMG_1457148363327nd side effects as well as the emotional pain of losing my fertility and the fear of potentially dying as a young mother and wife.   

Sadly, Joey passed away last week, and there’s one thing I can’t get out of my mind:

This doesn’t have to keep happening to women!

The advances in medicine and options available today have the capability to eradicate cervical cancer and to protect not only ourselves, but the women in our lives: our mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and even our favorite public figures.  While not every woman has easy access to these advances and options, many of us do!  Some women recognize this and take advantage of these opportunities; however, not enough of us are!  Here’s a short list of some opportunities you shouldn’t be missing:

  • Get a well-woman exam EVERY year.
  • Ask for and HPV test (in addition to a Pap test) – not all physicians will automatically do one.
  • Have your daughters AND sons vaccinated for HPV as early as possible at (or as soon after) the recommended ages of 11 or 12.
  • If you’re under 26 and haven’t been vaccinated yet – do so.

Please make sure you’re taking advantage of these opportunities to keep yourself and/or the women in your life from having to go through what myself, Joey Feek, and many other women have had to!  

Cervical cancer is preventable now, and we all have a part to play in eradicating this disease.  What will be your next step?

-Cervivor Ambassador Heather Banks