The year was 1988. The place was a hospital in Alabama. And the department in which I worked was called Patient Representatives. My boss Trisha, probably the best Patient Rep to ever walk the face of the earth, had just concluded an interview with a candidate for a part time position, and she was glowing. She raved about this person’s experience, competence, and vivacious personality. She was convinced this highly qualified woman would be perfect for our department and she wanted to bring her on board. After interviewing her myself, I agreed.
This person’s name was, you guessed it, Jan.
From the moment I met her, I too, felt her all-encompassing presence. An enormous bow held back her glossy dark hair, her lipstick was always perfect, her eyes twinkled with mischief. And did I mention her personality? She didn’t enter a room, she filled it; she didn’t talk, she influenced; she didn’t just do her job, she made a difference. She was an extrovert among extroverts whose big, warm presence made you glad you were alive.
In addition to all these wonderful traits, she was loads of fun to be around. I especially remember Christmas time at the hospital when our volunteers would bring the most delicious cookies and candy to our office. Who could say no to a tin of homemade goodies? I’ll never forget Jan’s tiny voice floating into my quiet office from next door. “I just ate my third piece of chocolate.” Or sometimes it would be a voice message on my phone, “My fourth piece of chocolate!”
Although Jan was a little older than me and a lot wiser, as fate would have it, I became her boss. I knew exactly how backward that scenario was, and I’m sure she did too, but nonetheless, she did her job without complaint, always cheerful and pleasant to be around, always respectful.
So that was Jan, nearly thirty years ago: fun, fabulous, and full of life.
And this is Jan now.
Jan is sick. Jan is struggling. But Jan has hope.
Let me explain.
About a year ago, not long after I’d reconnected with her on social media, and right around her sixtieth birthday, Jan shared that she’d been diagnosed with cancer. And it was not just any old cancer, it was stage four liver cancer. Whoa. I’m no doctor, but even I knew that wasn’t good. In fact, it sounded quite bleak. Stage four of any type of cancer is not the news you want to hear, ever. But that was the news she’d received, and with the help of her husband, a physician himself, and the support of her children, extended family, and many, many friends, she began her medical plan of action: a plan for healing and hope and faith. A plan for her future.
One of the most endearing things I recall from my short time working with Jan was her openness. She was one of those people that appeared to have it all together, but at the same time, she didn’t pretend that everything was perfect. She knew how to laugh at herself while living a full life, focused on loving her Jesus and everyone around her.
This last statement brings me to my purpose in writing this post. Like most people, I struggle with the quandary of why terrible things happen to wonderful people. Ah, that age old dilemma that draws some people closer to God, while pushing others away. I won’t try to answer an unanswerable question, but like I’ve always told my children, if you choose to believe in God, then wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge that He is on a higher level than us, intellectually and emotionally, and that as a result, we won’t always understand why He allows certain things to happen? And wouldn’t it also make sense that everything He allows to happen, good or bad, might be intended to bring us closer to Him? But I’ll admit that although I understand that God’s plans are often too complex for my comprehension, it still disgusts me to think about pain and suffering and illness, especially cancer. And clearly this stage four liver cancer is a very bad thing happening to a good person. But somehow, Jan’s open and honest fight against this horrid disease sheds light on the way God provides strength when we are at our weakest.
The best way to explain what I’m talking about is to follow Jan through her past year. She’s articulated the highs and lows in her own words, her hoping, fighting, believing words. It’s sad and funny and conflicted. It’s raw. It’s at its core, a Christian wrestling with her beloved Christ.
Take a look for yourself. If you’re like me, you’ll be enlightened.
The following excerpts are taken with Jan’s permission from: https://www.caringbridge.org/visit/jancarter2/journal
June 2016 Life can change in an instant…I have stage four adenocarcinoma of the liver. It has taken my breath away, my family and friends’ breath away as well…In all of this darkness, can I just tell you what an incredibly amazing God I have? He loves me, He is my light, He is holding me and my family.
July 2016 God knows in my heart, He made me to give life and hope to others. You gain life…when you give your life away.
Don’t miss the blessings He has for you…I will never be the same and I desperately want this for all of you.
What the devil intended for evil, God will use for His glory.
IN MY WEAKNESS HE IS STRONG. I can’t lose, it’s a win-win for me and for you if you are a believer.
The answer to my situation and yours is the same. It’s JESUS.
August 2016 Having cancer will shake the very core of your being.
Faith is believing when there is not one thing that makes sense.
I’ve gone into unexplored areas of itching and it’s making me do weird stuff.
I feel I’m in the crucible and He’s taking me to another level in my walk with him.
September 2016 I fully believe what Satan has meant to crush me, God will use for His glory.
I’ve just finished my new children’s book God is Near*. I wrote it to honor my mother…but I know now, it wasn’t just for Mom, it was for me.
The long chemo this week knocked me for a loop…nausea, pain and fatigue like I’ve never experienced before. Even the itching has returned.
I just finished praying for each of you, and it warmed my heart.
October 2016 I have had nothing, and I have had everything…I don’t know what’s ahead and I don’t have to know.
I may respond well to a phase three drug that doesn’t have a name yet, only designated as AG-120.
The large tumor appears to be dying from the inside out, and the smaller ones are melting away.
Jan is a stage 2B.
November 2016 What God requires of His people, He always provides.
Tis the season to be stressed, Thanksgiving and Christmas…but some things that mattered so much to me just don’t matter anymore.
I’m sporting my new, fine wig.
December 2016 The cancer has not spread and the tumors have not changed in size.
It’s the eve of my 60th birthday.
God will make a way when there seems to be no way.
…six long months.
January 2017 I was looking at today with dread. Chemo wipes me out, makes me tired and hurt.
So, the plan now is chemo is every third week, and then we WAIT…for the AG 120 pill.
I can’t say that I’ve ever been in a harder place…I’m not sure I can do this cancer thing.
February 2017 I was approved and enrolled in the AG-120 trial. I need this pill soon.
We are getting good at beating on the doors of heaven.
Victrix Patientia Duris: You will have victory if you have patience during crisis.
THE CANCER HAS NOT SPREAD!!!!!!
I’m going wig shopping again.
I look pregnant and have a tight tummy. I NEED THE PILL.
I’ve lost 40 pounds…thank God for my fat ass! May end up saving my life!
I NEED to NOT receive the placebo.
March 2017 I’ve never been more tired, felt totally out of control of my body, a very bloated stomach…rash and itching back and thrush down my tongue making eating not a desire.
I wanna jump ship but I can’t.
The long awaited PILL is now in my body.
April 2017 My fluid buildup is now the size of twins, maybe triplets. I get the WORST ATTITUDE AWARD.
They drained four liters of fluid off my tummy. But low and behold…I now have a weenie hanging off my side! My boobies and bottom are no more, but I couldn’t care less. My HEART is bursting with so much LOVE.
What a difficult week. It hurts and it sucks, sorry.
I can’t go this alone and I’m so glad God has my “special army” interceding to the Father for me.
May 2017 The cancer has not spread!
Satan knows how much I love Jesus.
June 2017 I had a breast reduction three years ago, now to only see pancakes on my chest.
He’s not finished yet with me.
And Jan’s most recent entry: Don’t stop praying. Because of you, and a mighty God, I’m still here!
I will leave you with a final thought about this special person that has touched so many lives, in sickness and in health. In Hebrew, the name Jan means “Gift from God.” I don’t know much at all, but I do know that Jan Carter is a true gift from our God, to me, to her friends and family, and to so many others. Thank you, Jan, for sharing yourself with the rest of us, and may God bless you, your family, and your oh-so-precious life.
*This is Jan’s children’s story/coloring book entitled God is Near. It is available for purchase on Amazon.
In loving memory,
Jan Jenkins Carter.
March 27, 2019.