NEW CASTLE —
Through it all, 51-year-old Harold, an assistant football coach at his Shenango High alma mater for the past 27 years, was a rock for his wife — with one exception.
“I guess I never thought that the news would be bad,” the soft-spoken Harold said. “It never entered my mind. I was calm as anything in the waiting room, in fact I almost dozed off.
“Our pastor and his wife (Bill and Sherry Whisel of New Hope Family Worship Center in Union Township) were there with me and when I was told that the doctor wanted to talk to me after the surgery was over, they asked if I wanted them to go in with me and I said, ‘no, I’ll be fine, I’m not worried.’
“I walked in, sat down and Dr. Richard immediately dropped the cancer word on me,” Harold said. “And I pretty much lost my mind.”
As soon as the initial shock wore off for Harold, he went into proactive mode.
“OK, she has cancer,” Harold remembers telling the doctor after gathering himself. “What do we do to now? I’m ready to fight.”
If Harold was calm, Jackie was even calmer.
“I put it in God’s hands,” she said. “I had such a peace about me, it is hard to describe. I know that Stage 4 cancer of any kind is often considered a death sentence, but even in my worst moments, I somehow felt that everything was going to be OK in the end.”
Jackie was sent home to heal and on May 18, Harold and Jackie got the full diagnosis in a follow-up visit.
Chemotherapy might slow the process, but at best, Jackie was told she had a life expectancy of about six years. Jackie faced six rounds of chemotherapy — three weeks apart, 6 to 8 hours per treatment — and was warned the experience would not be a pleasant one.
Although they had limited the information with their children — Ethan, 15, and Isaiah, 14, ninth- and eighth-graders, respectively, in the Shenango school district — Harold and Jackie knew the time had come to level with them.
“I was scared,” Isaiah admitted as he cuddled with Jackie on a living room couch. “I didn’t want to lose my mom.”
Jackie was able to undergo her chemotherapy at UPMC CancerCenter in New Castle, overseen by oncologist Dr. William Spielvogle. She was told before beginning her treatments on June 4 that she would lose her full head of curly hair and likely develop neuropathy, leading to permanent nerve damage.
Although the outlook was relatively grim, Jackie said she felt she had a leg up on cancer.
“First off, I knew I had a great support system,” she said. “I had my church, my family, my friends and my neighbors. So I knew I didn’t have to make this journey alone.”
Jackie said her incredible faith was the source of her greatest comfort.
“God gives you the faith of a mustard seed and you have to cultivate that,” she said. “I had always wanted to embrace my faith even more and this was my chance. I knew that God had his hand on my shoulder.”