Waiting on a Miracle Young Mother Remains Hopeful Through Battle WIth Chondrosarcoma
by MARY TOOTHMAN
Cliche or no, the truth is that the lovely Jessica Burton had it all — a loving husband who’s a partner in every sense of the word, work she loved as a registered nurse, and two little girls who fill her heart with joy every day.
She attended a church she’s dedicated to, went shopping with her girlfriends, dreamed with husband Jacob about future family plans.
But about three and a half years ago, her world changed forever.
She was at her orthopedist’s office for a regular checkup for an ongoing bone disease she’s had since childhood. Called Multiple Hereditary Exostosis, it causes extra growths made of bone and cartilage to form.
This checkup visit did not turn out to be regular at all.
“I was diagnosed with a large chondrosarcoma (cancer) on my right lower pelvis,” she says. “And here I was at my orthopedist office alone.” She was blindsided.
“At first I felt nothing but shock. I immediately called my husband and drove myself home.”
Within two weeks, she had an appointment at Moffitt Cancer Center. There, she learned that this type of cancer usually only responds to surgical removal.
Jessica and Jacob kept their young daughters as informed as was appropriate for their ages. They knew family secrets are not a good idea. Her oldest daughter scribbles notes of encouragement on a white board in her room — so her mother can find them during the day.
Burton certainly never allowed her illness to show on the outside. Perfect makeup, stylish clothing and beautifully coiffed hair is her go-to look. Asked how she keeps that going while ill, she has a ready answer.
“You know that advice about dressing for the job you want? Well, I dress the way I want to feel.”
An attractive young couple with cute little girls, theirs are not the faces of a young couple tormented by the horrors of cancer. Especially not while they’re out and about — attending civic events and working for good causes.
When you learn what they really have been going through, it is hard to imagine how they stay so poised, grateful, gracious, and well-groomed.
- On March 23, 2016, Burton had a 12-hour surgery called a hemipelvectomy to remove a tumor. The bottom portion of her right pelvis was removed. She lost some function of the muscles in her right leg. After four months of physical therapy, she could walk and stand for short time periods without a cane. She went back to work on part-time basis with restricted function.
- Burton had an X-ray, MRI, CT, and follow-up every three months. By the six-month mark, the cancer was back; this time on her bladder.
- In January 2017, she had another major surgery. That time, she lost her bladder. Surgeons also found a tumor on her right, upper pelvis and removed it.
- After being discharged and going home, she fractured her pelvis and was extremely limited physically.
- By Feb 14, 2017, she was back at Moffitt. Her urostomy, or new bladder, was failing. Tubes were placed in both kidneys and had to stay in place for seven months.
- Her cancer was back by April 2017. There were three tumors in her right thigh.
“I was exhausted at this point, and so was my family,” she says. “But we kept fighting. The worst part of this process was being away from my husband and two young daughters five days a week for six and a half weeks. This was extremely difficult emotionally for all of us. But we survived.”
Then there was more. Tumors removed. Then muscle flap surgery. She was homebound for a year. “Slowly yet surely, I found my new normal, and embraced it,” she says.
But like many types of cancer, hers is relentless. By November 2017, she was very ill and hospitalized. The holidays were not what she dreamed of.
By November 2017, she was extremely sick and hospitalized for infection. By October of 2018, her cancer had returned for the fourth time in three years. “I was absolutely devastated, angry, sad, and ready to give up,” she says.
But she’s no quitter. She kept up with Moffitt, prayed, and carried on with her life the best she could. She emphatically states that she’s waiting for her miracle.
In the past few months, she completed a non-conventional form of treatment and kept Moffitt in the loop.
Many cancer patients prefer to keep their medical troubles to themselves. But Burton has a reason she’s so forthcoming about her cancer ordeal.
Especially when she works so hard to appear as if she has it all together.
“I feel like the world of social media paints an unrealistic picture of what our lives actually are,” she said. “Often times I hear the phrase ‘You look great; I would never know you have cancer.’
“I wanted people to see that just because someone’s life looks put-together, it doesn’t mean they aren’t battling something. We can pray for, encourage, and support one another through the tough times.
“It may be physical, mental or emotional sickness, but whatever it is I feel like sharing honestly about, it has been therapeutic for me. I have had strangers reach out and share their stories with me, and it has allowed me to encourage and be encouraged.