Memories and Gratitude

When my dad was on hospice a family member asked, “What’s a favorite memory with your dad that you’ll always remember?” I responded with a half laugh, “That’s a hard question!” My aunt Joni chimed in, “There are just too many great ones, right Jess?” My Aunt Joni is right but I felt badly that I didn’t have a more satisfying answer to give to my other family member.

When my dad passed, I found myself reliving his last days and replaying his last breaths in my head. With such sadness, it was really hard for me to get past the experience of watching someone you love so much, die. I had some genuine concerns that those favorite memories of my dad were getting buried by his last moments here on Earth. Since that day, I have tried my best to recall  my favorite memories with my dad. It’s true that there are too many to count but why not try to remember them all?

My dad’s service was just about a month ago and it was filled with the sharing of so many wonderful memories. On behalf of my entire family, thank you to those who attended. Thank you for crying, laughing and sharing stories alongside us. It was so powerful to see how many of your memories and stories shared the same great characteristics we all know to be true of my dad. Stories that showed his faithful character, loyalty, generosity and warmth. He had a larger than life spirit but one that didn’t take up the whole room. A spirit that sat in the corner and brought out the best in everyone else.

The memories that others shared and continue to share have helped me remember my fondest memories too.

It’s been 6 weeks since my dad passed. I no longer feel the need to dwell on my dad’s death but rather than his life, legacy and our dearest memories. It feels like a good place to be right now.

Our hearts still ache for a big dad hug, or some wise advice and that unforgettable deep laugh. It is daily that I remind myself that I carry my dad in my heart. 

A week already...

Dad’s Obituary

Jerry Lee James of Bellingham, Washington went to his home in Heaven on February 22, 2019 at age 55 after a courageous battle with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.

Jerry was born to Maurice and Virginia James on November 10, 1963 in Kimball, Nebraska. His family relocated to Pinole, California where Jerry spent his youth. He graduated Pinole Valley High School in 1981.

Jerry worked for his father’s catalyst company, James International, then spent time working at the family farm in Potter, Nebraska. Jerry left farming and Nebraska to pursue a career in industrial construction on the West Coast. Most recently Jerry served as Vice President of Matrix Service. He enjoyed the work but more than that, he loved the people he worked alongside.

Jerry met the love of his life, Kathryn Ann McMillen in 1983. They married June 29, 1985 in Sidney, Nebraska and went on to have three children, Jennifer Ann, Jonathon Carter, and Jessica Paige. Family and friends alike remember Jerry as someone who made love a verb and was an encourager by nature. He was most known for his quick-wit and generous spirit.

Jerry joins his mother, Virginia and father, Maurice in Heaven. He is survived by his wife, Katy James; children, Jennifer (Travis) Mowry, Jonathon James, Jessica (Matthew) Dolan; and grandchildren, Ford and Sawyer Mowry. He is also survived by his sister, Joni (Chris) Rippee, brother, Jeff (Helene) James; in-laws, Ken (Nan) McMillen, Nancy (Jim) McDonald, Burl (Dana) McMillen, Doug (Cynthia) McMillen; 12 nieces and nephews and 32 great nieces and nephews.

A memorial service in his honor will be held at Christ the King in Bellingham, Washington on Thursday, March 7th at 10am. His family will be spreading his ashes in his home state of Nebraska this Summer. The family requests that memorial gifts be made in support of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia research at UW Medicine. You may make a gift online at www.AccelerateMed.org/JerryJames

Strong 'til the End

Hi all,

Thank you for the thoughtful messages and letters about who my dad is. We love reading the notes with him. We cry, we laugh, we cry, and then laugh some more. At night, we are enjoying listening to some of my dad’s favorite songs, which we are saving to this playlist.

IMG_7199.JPG

We are working with at-home hospice to help get my dad comfortable which is proving to be more challenging than we anticipated. Constant bloody noses and labored breathing are among the many challenges he faces at every moment. As predicted, my mom has been a champ through it all and my dad continues to show gratitude for those helping him.

IMG_7204.JPG

Each day, he tells me, “God’s grace is sufficient for me, today.” My dad’s prayer is that he stays strong in his faith in God until the very end.

Love, 

Jessica + Family

After a scheduled check-up on Friday, Dad received a call at home on Monday from his doctor.

In short, the doctor shared that leukemia is back in my dad’s blood.

If you remember from last Fall, my dad was accepted into the Car T cell study. This was after exhausting all other treatment options. The result of deep-remission gave us the gift of time.

My dad’s doctor checked back with immunology team at the SCCA and they did not see continued treatment as a viable option (more risk than reward). Essentially, leukemia has begun to outsmart the systems that have been treating my dad’s cancer.

Dad told him and his staff that he was thankful for their work. He had much of his last few years of his life owed to them. Mom got on the phone and thanked them as well.

My dad has decided to seek no other treatment and enjoy his time with family and friends at home.

59687019-D1FA-4843-81DE-5D2103943419.JPG

Matt and I made it up to Bellingham, Wednesday morning and had some time alone with my dad. My dad’s words have always comforted and affirmed me. Wednesday morning was no different.

He shared, “My life is so good, it’s like I’ve stolen it. I’ve lacked nothing. I’ve never gotten what I deserved. God has been so good to me. He has brought me peace. He’ll continue to bring your mom peace too. She’ll realize that it was Him that brought care to her all along, not me.”

I will continue to share updates as necessary. We appreciate messages and will do out best to respond. Mostly, just loving my dad and remembering all the ways he’s been there for us.

If we keep up with the metaphor, my dad can retire his running shoes. His legs are weak, body is sore and his spirit is high. He has much to feel accomplished about.

As mentioned in my last post, my dad had an appointment on Thursday, September 27th to review the various tests ran to detect Leukemia cells in his bone marrow, blood, and spinal fluid. We are humbled by the results of zero detectable leukemia cells in my dad’s body. Did you catch that?! Zero.

We are celebrating and singing praises to God! We are grateful to the doctors and nurses, He appointed to my dad and to all of you who have not wavered on our journey!

The doctors, Dr Cassaday and Dr Turtle are calling this a deep remission! Has it hit you yet? I know it hasn’t fully hit us yet!

My dad’s most recent treatment was a study and they don’t know what to expect down the road but we (doctors and our family) are all feeling very optimistic. Dr Cassaday who has been dad’s doctor since arriving to UW Medical Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance in April of 2017, said “If I was a jumping up and down, hooting and hollering kind of guy I would be doing that! This is very good news!”

Last Thursday Mom and Dad packed up and moved back to Bellingham!  They are looking forward to a few trips but most of all just moving on and enjoying day to day life.  Dad is getting stronger each day and has no lingering issues from the cytokine storms or neurotoxicity. 

His immune system is needing some extra help getting blood counts back up and recovering his bone marrow. This may take several months and require blood transfusion, g-shots and Immune Globin Transfusions. These treatments will require weekly visits to the SCCA in Seattle which seems like a breeze in comparison!

It’s been nearly a year and half since I started writing here to share information with you about my dad’s health and fight against Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. During those first days of being diagnosed and spending evenings after work in the hospital with him, he shared with me this tidbit on life that I will always hold close to my heart:

"You're going to be born. You will be surrounded by people that love you. You’re going to realize you can’t do it yourself. You find a soulmate, You love her. You have kids, you love them too. There’s more, you find faith. And you’re going to realize that’s what will help you get through.

The same things that were true yesterday are true today. I have a past that is forgiven, a purpose for living, and a home in heaven."

We don’t deserve any of this great life. We are grateful for these days.

It’s been kind of a crazy week!

Dad got his T cells on the August 28th and as predicted on the 7th day, he began to experience the side affects associated with the T cells. Things began with a fever, turned into a cytokine storm and persisted in the form of neurotoxity. Consequently, my mom and dad have been at the hospital for the past week.

Tomorrow marks 14 days since the beginning of his car T cell therapy and it seems as though we are turning a corner. Dad is no longer regressing mentally and has regained his memory.

Dad keeps showing up (whether he remembers or not!). Around September 28th, they will do all of the tests and blood work to determine the success of the t-cell therapy.

I hate to keep saying thank you for your prayers but we really mean it! 

It's been awhile since I posted but that's not to say dad hasn't been fighting cancer all the while.

Like I had mentioned in the last post, Matt and I got married on August 4th. It was Matt and I's new favorite day and we are so thrilled Dad got to be there celebrating alongside us and feeling great as well. Allow me to indulge myself by sharing just a couple photos!

Photo by  Michele Equitz .

Photo by Michele Equitz.

On August 6th, Dad began his participation in the Car T Cell study. Dad is the tenth participant in this study, where they will use human DNA instead of mouse DNA for the Car T Cell.

On August 9th, Dad's T cells were harvested and they were sent to the lab to be modified. 

The last couple of weeks, dad has been going to appointments to ensure all of his organs are prepared for therapy. Everything came back clear and he is a go! To prepare his body for the modified cells, Dad received chemo this past Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

On Tuesday, he will receive the Car T Cells. We have been prepared for the chance that Dad will experience more cytokine storms and some neurotoxicity, which could land him in the hospital. Ultimately, we are praying this process will put dad into a long term remission with no lasting side effects.

I recently asked my dad how he was a feeling. He said, "Nervous. But then I remember how many good things God has done for me." If we could all be a little more like Dad. Remembering the good things God has done for us amidst nerves, or sadness or struggle.

God's grace is always apparent throughout this trial and we know he will continue to be with us. He will give dad strength to keep showing up! I know my dad appreciates each one of you (as does our entire family!). If you have been reading since the beginning, you know that I once referred to cancer as a marathon. I think this marathon is turning into a super marathon and we love that each of you are running beside us!

Photo by  Michele Equitz .

Photo by Michele Equitz.

Looking Forward

Hi all,

Popping in today to give you a quick update on dad's most recent test results. Dad has continued with lumbar punctures (procedure that removes spinal fluid and replaces fluid with chemo).

Results show that the ratio of Leukemia in dad's cerebral spinal fluid has retreated from 57 to 3. This is very positive news! These results allow my dad to forego the Ommaya Reservoir procedure. This positive result also means that dad's double vision has subsided.

Next steps:

Today, dad received his last lumbar puncture for awhile. He was accepted into the the CAR T-Cell Therapy Trial, Phase 1 starting Monday, August 6th. Dad's T-cells will be harvested on the 9th, followed by various tests, chemo, and the modification of his own T-cells. He will receive his own, modified T-cells back on the 28th of August. Mom and Dad will be required to live in Seattle for 4-6 weeks following the infusion. Everything is done outpatient at the SCCA, unless my dad were to have complications/get a fever during his treatment.

I can selfishly say that I am so thrilled to have my dad walk me down the aisle this Saturday and dance with me to What a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. To share these moments together is something I have always dreamed and extra special in this season in both of our lives!

Love, 

Jessica (+ The James/Mowry Family)

FullSizeRender.jpg

Dad focused on the blog and wedding details ($$$).