A peace that surpasses all understanding….Phil 4:7

A peace that surpasses all understanding….Phil 4:7

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I can smell the aroma of fresh brewed coffee as I anticipate the fade of the percolators pumping sound. Pouring the cold, sweet creamer into the cup then lifting the heavy pot, I fill the cup to the brim with dark, rich coffee. I take a taste and return to the kitchen table where my bible lays open, a vanilla scented candle burns next to the workbook. It is my quiet time. The only sounds of the house are the whirl of the refrigerator. It is my special time with my creator.Time when I can focus on His teachings. I am completely rested and at peace and eager to get to today’s lesson.

Since 1996 I have been involved in small group bible studies and prayer coffees. The impact on my life is extremely recognizable to all who knew me BC….yes, before Christ, they might say I am a different person. And, yes, I am a new creation in Christ.

I thought I had Christ in my life from the time I was a small child. And, He did dwell within me, but He was certainly not the one I gave credit, consulted or loved beyond any human love I now describe. It took the prompting of author Wilma Stanchfield, “Struck by Lightening – Then by Love” who came to speak at a Christian Women’s Club luncheon I attended with a neighbor.

At her prompting after hearing her powerful testimony, I bowed my head and tearfully repeated the prayer of salvation. That day, I drew a line in the sand, I promised to put Jesus Christ in control of my life. A strange feeling of peace washed over me that very moment and has remained with me every moment since.

Early on the women’s club invited me to host a prayer coffee. The ladies gathered at my home for a slice of quiche, some sweet rolls and coffee. We sat in a circle in the living room and some of the ladies asked if we would pray for specific things. When we began one of the ladies opened with a prayer, “We know that when two or more are gathered in your name you are with us Lord…” One lady asked for us to pray for a family member who was facing a difficult surgery, or a daughter expecting a baby after a miscarriage, for salvation for a brother who was on drugs. It was all really remarkable. The prayers from these ladies were the most comforting prayers I had ever heard. The words seemed to drift from their lips like feathers. I felt warm inside and could envision a circle of angels surrounding us and I felt I was truly in God’s presence.

As months passed I joined a bible study group. I didn’t know my way around a bible very well. As Catholics, we never really read the Bible. We would hear the gospel each mass and the priest would give a homily he had prepared surrounding the message. But, I was not familiar with the book itself.
I went to the Christian bookstore and searched the shelves for a bible some of the ladies recommended, a Life Application Study Bible. I also purchased tabs for each book of the bible to make it easier to locate each book and scripture during our study. I would highlight the scriptures we discussed and loved that the notes at the bottom of each page explained what the verses meant in lay terms.

There were some rules that were explained at the beginning of a new six week study. We needed to arrive promptly and let the hostess know if we were unable to attend. We were encouraged to invite others to luncheon so they could learn about our group and hopefully receive the blessing of salvation. We were told never to share anything discussed personally outside of the room. A bond of confidence was critical so everyone would be comfortable sharing life experiences.

We learned first hand that not making each other feel guilty when we couldn’t attend was a huge reason the girls continued to participate. And, that a persons individual religious doctrine was not important so long as we stood on the word of the Lord. As we closed in prayer each week we asked God to place a name of a friend or neighbor on our hearts that He would want to join our group.

We found that everyone had a story about how they came to know the Lord. I realized my story was not so bad after all and that forgiveness begins with ourselves. If God forgives us, we surely need to be able to forgive ourselves too.

It wasn’t long before I was hosting bible study at my home. The group would enjoy my passion for cooking as I prepared a morning meal for the ladies and prepared cappuccinos and tea at their request during the half hour of fellowship before we moved to the living room for discussion of last week homework and a video presentation.

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Word spread throughout our neighborhood and our group began to grow. The ladies I least expected to join us were suddenly at our front door. We grew closer and closer to one another as we shared our life trials and blessings. And, we grew closer and closer to Jesus as we began to understand His promises through studying the stories and the amazing men and women of the bible, people just like us, flawed and human.
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It was a wonderful time of sharing, learning and caring. The diversity of age and religion was a blessing too. We were able to draw from Godly women who had been studying the bible most of their lives. They shared solutions to difficult situations in relationships they had experienced. It was very enlightening and felt good to receive sound counsel.

I credit these Godly women with leading me to a personal relationship with Christ, I doubt I would be the person I am today had I not joined that club so many years ago.

Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Matthew 7:7

Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation.The old way of living has disappeared. A new way of living has come into existence. 2 Corinthians 5:17.

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“Trouble, trouble, trouble….Sometimes I swear it feels like this worry is my only friend”

“Trouble, trouble, trouble….Sometimes I swear it feels like this worry is my only friend”
ServPro So Jacksonville and Arlington golf event to benefit Champions for Hope

ServPro So Jacksonville and Arlington golf event to benefit Champions for Hope

Apprehension is building to the date of that dreaded scan.The March and June scans revealed spots on my lungs that my oncologist, Dr. Johnson said the chance of a reoccurrence of my pancreatic cancer could be 3 or 4 on a scale of 1-10.

With my husband out of town our daughter Lindsay and her baby boys joined me the entire day at Mayo in June as I checked off my schedule of appointments. 8AM blood work on the chemotherapy floor, because they know how to access my port without pain. 12:30 drink the contrast liquid down about 1/2 an hour before the 5 minute CT scan. Then afternoon appointments, allowing for the radiology department to read the scans and write their findings then meeting with my oncologist who will review the labs and CT scan report and give us the results. Then another appointment with my Radiology-oncologist for his take on the reports. They attempt to schedule both docs appointments back to back so there is no waiting for that thumbs up from everyone and we can get on with our lives, at least for three more months anyway.

That is how we live our lives in this family, at three month intervals.

According to the doctor those 3 or 4 or more “lit up” nodules grew in size from March to June, but remained under 1cm and too small to go thru the pain of collapsing my lung to biopsy them. I had a case of pneumonia early in spring. Could that have had anything to do with this I asked? My radiology oncologist was more positive than the oncologist. He said it could be lung cancer, which would be better for me than a metastatic pancreatic cancer.

Lindsay quipped on the way home in the car, “Here we are praying it is lung cancer. Something just seems wrong about that.”

Jaguars "Meet me on the 50"  night.

Jaguars “Meet me on the 50” night.

My amazing husband planned fun trips for us during the three months. One week in Cleveland to visit family and catch the Cavs’ Championship ring ceremony. That turned in to game two of the World Series with the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs. What at week. Then we had baby showers and Jacksonville Jags games and of course my work with both foundations. They would keep me as busy as possible so I could not have time to think about the grey cloud that was hovering just above me.

The LAND.....Cleveland ROCKS

The LAND…..Cleveland ROCKS

Purple Stride – Jacksonville Beach….

The D'Errico's turn out in full support of Jude's Dude's Purple Stride 2016

The D’Errico’s turn out in full support of Jude’s Dude’s Purple Stride 2016

Oh, and then hurricane Matthew and an evacuation!

Hurricane Matthew - evacuation to Poppas warehouse. 12 adults and 9 dogs....fun fun fun

Hurricane Matthew – evacuation to Poppas warehouse. 12 adults and 9 dogs….fun fun fun

Not much time to think about possibilities. There is no reason to worry, God is in control. I know that He has much work for me to do. I believe He has given me this time to help others with raising awareness of this lethal cancer that tries to steal life, laughter and love from it’s next target. But, not today PC. Today I am thankful for my cancer. We have a new outlook on everything thanks to this diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Our family has grown closer, we hug friends a little tighter, we look at the world thru our God eyes recognizing His “winks” along the way. And, we see His hand in preparing us for this time going back years to careers, friendships and moves. He had a plan all along. And, we have no idea when that plan will end, not one of us. So, I am grateful for each day, each person in my life and each breath. I hope when I am face to face with Him, I can look directly into those gentle eyes and say, “I did my best.”

Baby Mick

Baby Mick

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May 25th, 2016 God blessed us once more. Mick Francis Garrity came into the world at just 7lbs. 11oz. and 21 inches long. Another miracle and perfect in every way.

It is almost overwhelming when I consider how blessed we are. God just continues to shower us with His love. These little angels give us all purpose and hope for a better tomorrow. Babies bring out the best in everyone.

Mick is smaller than Jude was at birth, but he is doing great. He is filling out now at 2 months old and starting to focus in on us and smile that little grin that melts my heart.

How can I find more room in my heart for another angel to love? Not a problem. I watch him with anticipation marking each day with a new milestone.

Mia is happy, Mia is blessed. Poppa and Mia love you baby Mick, beyond your imagination.

Sarah's shower holding Mick

Champions for Hope

Champions for Hope

Judi and JT graduation copy

On a warm June day as I stood at the UNF Arena podium before approximately twelve hundred mourners, I felt a strange peace come over me. I had prayed I could get through the eulogy of a man who changed my life and the lives of my family. A man I love dearly. A man who had shown me my purpose.

At that time I felt my purpose was to carry on his legacy of fulfilling the mission of a foundation we built together by helping people who had been in his very situation, broken and afraid. On that day I could never imagine how that defining moment would explode into yet another purpose even more personal than this.

Just ten months later my husband and I sat on the sofa of my new doctors office. I had always been very healthy. Recently what I wrote off as advancing age; knees clicking, meniscus tears, indigestion all started creeping up on me. Years of walking, body sculpting classes, treadmills and ellipticals pounding my medium sized frame were starting to reveal a truth…I was aging. Confident the doctor would concur with our diagnosis, we smiled when she entered the room and asked me to take a seat on the examining table. She was pretty, about thirty something, so accomplished for her age. But her demeanor was serious. She began to explain the results of the sonogram she had ordered the day before as she turned to her computer screen she pointed to something in the middle of my torso. “You have a mass in the head of your pancreas.” she said. Tom jumped from the sofa to sit on the table beside me. “Your blood work and symptoms reveal it could be pancreatic cancer.” A tear trickled down her cheek as she stoically shared her findings leading to this conclusion. My immediate response, “Can you live without your pancreas?” I was unaware of what the pancreas did. Tom held me tightly as she explained, “Yes,you can, but you would live on insulin for the rest of your life.” She had made an appointment with a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic for the next day. We left her office in utter shock.

The rest of the week was filled with MRI’s, more blood work, conversations with our surgical team, visits to church and meetings with immediate family. I was on a fast decline. Just 11 days after my initial appointment I was on the operating table for a 9 and 1/2 hour Whipple surgery by one of the best pancreatic cancer surgeons in the world.

My treatment and recovery took more than one year. To this day I am affected by the resection of my entire digestive system. Chemo and radiation have turned my stomach muscles to mush as well as deterioration of my bones. I recently underwent 2 and 1/2 hour surgery to repair hernias that developed where drains and other incisions had been required.

But, I am here 26 months at this writing cancer free from a lethal cancer that has a less than 8% survival rate of five years. I am a miracle.

To endure a day like October 8th, 2004 for JT, the date of his near fatal spinal cord injury and April 29th, 2014, the date of my diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, is something I would not wish upon anyone.
But, a friend told me one day I would look back on this trial as a blessing. And, that has proven to be true.

That blessing is the revelation of purpose. To move forward with each day that God blesses us with. To take that most difficult situation and turn it into good. To show others that through faith you can conquer anything. Be the example, make others see the hope you glean from a relationship with the only one who truly matters, our savior Jesus Christ.

What was hope for JT? That he would walk again? That he would be able to play football again? That he would hold his wife and baby one day. Only JT knows the true answer to that question. But, he never questioned “why me”. He moved forward each day with a smile and purpose to use his life experience to help others.

What is hope for me? That I will survive this death sentence? That cancer will not steal me from the ones I love too soon? Deep in my soul I promise you I am fine with death. But, I am hopeful that others will see my peace and they will reach deep down too and use each and every day to fight to give others hope.

JT and I have a mutual friend, a friend who we love and loves us both right back. The 2005 Players Champion – pro golfer Fred Funk and his wife and children joined forces with my husband, rock and best friend Tommy Zitiello, to create an event that will be like none other. An event to be held on one of the most prestigious golf courses in the country, The Champions for Hope Golf Classic.

The inaugural Champions for Hope golf classic presented by the Funk-Zitiello Foundation, Inc. (501C3 IRS designation applied for) will be held Friday, June 16th,2017, Father’s Day weekend, a gala, concert and auction at the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. Golf will commence on Saturday, June 17th on the famed Stadium course. There will be 25 foursomes and a fifth celebrity. The proceeds from this event will be split equally between two First Coast causes, The JT Townsend Foundation, Inc. and to fund a grant in my name to research pancreatic cancer.

We intend for this event to grow annually, to give hope to the families of those affected by both of these causes and in years to come other worthy causes.

To find out how you can become a champion for hope send your inquiry to info@championsforhopegolf.com.

God bless everyone, individuals and sponsors who have stepped up to join our team of champions for hope to help benefit these two deserving causes.

Champions for HOpe logo copy

“Mia”

“Mia”

It happened organically. My daughter-in-law and daughter always asked me what I wanted to be called when the grand-babies came. I never had an issue with being called “GrandMa” like many of my friends did. I told them whatever the kids called me was fine with me. But, I didn’t like “Grand-MAW” though. I like “Grammie” just fine. They called me “Grandma” and that was fine with me too.

But, one day something amazing happened. Around the age of 18 months Jude began to talk. He started showing an interest in family photos. Lindsay would drill him on who was in the photo hanging on the wall. Samantha, Lindsay’s longtime friend created a small book where each page was a family member. Jude quickly caught on. One day, he called me “Mia”. We all loved it.

His other Grandmother is “Mimi”, so maybe “Mia” is a shortened version of that. We don’t know, but it sure is fitting.

The other Grandchildren were not sure if they wanted to change my name. But, soon everyone was calling me Mia.

The other day when Jude was reluctant to take his afternoon nap he called from his crib…”Momma”…”Mia”….”Momma”…”Mia”. Lindsay and I just laughed. This was the perfect thing for a one quarter Italian baby to call out.

Today our angel turns 2! God blessed us with this little carrot to make it through the tough times.  We thank God for him every day.

Today our angel turns 2! God blessed us with this little carrot to make it through the tough times.
We thank God for him every day.

A battle and a blessing

A battle and a blessing
Mayo Clinic Jacksonville - March 28th, 2016 Hernia repair Surgery Dr. Asbun

Mayo Clinic Jacksonville – March 28th, 2016 Hernia repair Surgery Dr. Asbun

Am I battling for my life? Is the enemy surrounding me and do I have weapons that I raise to fight?

This week I read an article written by Kate Granger who has cancer who claimed cancer is not a fight. She said, in her view “the cancer seems to revolve around wartime rhetoric: battle, fight, warrior, beat.” She found these words uncomfortable and frustrating to hear.

“I would like to be remembered for the positive impact I have made on the world, for fun times and for my relationships with others, not as a loser. When I do die, I will have defied the prognosis for my type of cancer and achieved a great deal with my life. I do not want to feel a failure about something beyond my control. I refuse to believe my death will be because I didn’t battle hard enough.”, she wrote.

Please don’t think I challenge her personal opinion. In fact, I found it to be an interesting point of view. It got me to do some serious thinking about my perspective. Would I be offended if someone uttered “she lost her brave fight” once that I have passed on?

Not at all.

Another writer, Rebecca Hamilton wrote she felt “like someone who has wintered over at the South Pole and is now peeking from behind doors at the newcomers who’ve arrived with the sun….I been fighting for my life, just as surely as any gladiator in an arena, any soldier in battle. I have been, like they are, on strange soil, someone else’s territory, guarding my back as well as my front as I sought purchase on the shaky ground under my feet, as I fought to find the way out of the nightmare.”

Rebecca resented the word “survivor” at first. “After all, no one “survives” cancer, at least not with surety. It can come back at any time and when it does, chances are that it will come back meaner and more advanced than the last time we saw it.”

Now she understands the word survivor differently.”I feel like a survivor, but of a decidedly unheroic, uncertain and battered sort. I am not the heroine, striding over the top of a hill to claim my victory crown. I am rather a shipwreck victim, washed up on a beach, half conscious and too exhausted to lift her face out of the sand.”

I felt that was a perfect analogy. I could relate to that person lying weak on the sandy beach after washing ashore. Fighting to stay atop the water, treading till I feared I would give up. That is what it feels like to endure surgery, infections, drains, chemotherapy and radiation. Yet, I made it to shore. I didn’t give up. I didn’t succumb to the waves or the cold or the uncertainty of my fate.

I won that battle. I am victorious. But it is only temporary.

I lift my mug each morning and take a sip of my creamy hot joe watching the sun rise. Assessing how I am feeling, I think to myself as Rebecca thinks….”Today I feel good….Today is not the day I am going to die.” I have TODAY.

Surviving with strong faith has been my victory. Will I win the battle over cancer? Statistically not. Regardless of where the cancer moves next my death certificate will read…”Cause of Death…Pancreatic Cancer.” But, I will fight a good fight. I will battle forward.

Everyday I am blessed to live I will pray for God to grace me with time to see my children and my grandchildren thrive.

” The same cancer ordeal that has ravaged your body can put you in a place so close to God that you can feel His presence every moment….You can feel the everlasting arms around you and know that you are loved, cherished and protected there forever.” says Rebecca. (Oh is she ever right about that.) “You don’t have to do anything except trust. Just let God love you through this and you will wash up on that shore, battered and ravaged physically, but stronger than you have ever been spiritually.”

I pray people will remember how they saw Jesus thru me. He surely lives in me. I am so thankful for the faith that brings me through this battle. There are so many that do not believe and I cannot imagine how they must suffer. I might not win the battle with cancer….but I have deepened my faith and the faith of my family and those close to me. For that I am thankful.

Cancer is a battle but more importantly it has turned out to be a blessing.

Meet Jack Fisher Genre

Meet Jack Fisher Genre
Looking into his Mommy's eyes for the very first time.

Looking into his Mommy’s eyes for the very first time.

You have no idea how much we have prayed and waited for you to be here with us little Jack. We are amazed by God’s grace and His greatest gift of life showered on Stephanie and John. You will be loved and cared for by two parents who will put you above all else except their God.

As for your Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, Cousins and Great Grandparents, Great Aunts and Uncles, you will be loved beyond words. We promise to encourage you, to watch over you, to share in your life experiences like your first word, your first steps and your ball games.

We continue to pray for you through all of these things and beyond.

You are loved.

Great- Aunt Judi introduces Jack to his doggie sister Ellie

Great- Aunt Judi introduces Jack to his doggie sister Ellie

"It was a rough couple of days....I think I'll take a little snooze."

“It was a rough couple of days….I think I’ll take a little snooze.”

Will I be here for……

Will I be here for……
Jude's Main Dude

Jude’s Main Dude

The local greeting card store was not busy as I entered. It was time to buy some cards for the late fall birthdays approaching. The owner, recognizing me as a frequent customer, smiled at me and said “hello”. I nodded and kept walking toward the birthday section.

Should I buy just one card for my daughter and my son? Or, should I buy several, sign them and put them away? I could tell them what I would want them to know, some tidbit of wisdom I had gathered from years of experience fitting for that time of life. This seemed like a great idea…until I started to read the cards.

After choosing a beautiful card for my daughter, I began to read the text, my eyes filled up with tears. This was going to be far more difficult than I had expected. The idea was loosing its appeal.

Suddenly, the store manager was approaching asking if she could help me find what I was looking for. She noticed my tears and sweetly asked if I was okay.

I had been strong for so long in front of my family and friends about this cancer thing. Suddenly the flood gates had opened and this poor lady stood before me.

One of the reasons I loved this store was because the owner and most of the sales ladies were Christians. They were so loving and kind and always sure to say “have a blessed day” as you left.

I figured the owner deserved some sort of explanation. I certainly couldn’t lie. So, out it came. “I am battling pancreatic cancer and I am not sure how long I will be around, so I was thinking of buying cards, signing them and putting them away.” Like and angel sent from God, she wrapped her arms around me and cried softly with me.

Then she began to pray over me. It was so comforting. We stood there in the birthday aisle for several minutes, until I had collected myself. I told her this might not be the right time to do this. She agreed. “Give it some more thought and you will know when you are ready.”

18 months have passed since my diagnosis, surgery, treatment, and 4 clear CT scans. I am currently cancer free. The PC statistics are not in my favor, but, I am feeling great and positive about the near future.

One thing I do know for certain, I am thankful I trust a God who loves me and protects me and sends His angels to hold me up when I need it, even a clerk in the greeting card store.

Purple Stride – 2015

Purple Stride – 2015
Delivering my speech before Purple Stride race begins.

Delivering my speech before Purple Stride race begins.

In June, 2010 I went to cooking school in the foothills of the Appenines just south of Florence, Italy with a good foodie friend, Kelly who is here today. We prepared our meals in a 300 year-old stone barn that had been renovated into a rustic kitchen. I learned to prepare tasty meals with limited organic ingredients. I fell in love with Italy, Italian cuisine and my teacher Chef Laura. So much so that I returned with 4 more of my friends in 2012.

In April 2014, when I lost my inspiration to cook, my appetite and my yearning for a great full-bodied cabernet, I knew something wasn’t right.

Mayo Clinic Docs found a mass in my pancreas and surgery was scheduled two weeks later.

Our sixth grandchild was presented by our only daughter and her husband a week before my surgery. They named him “Jude”. This was the single most important honor that has ever been given me.

I underwent 9 and ½ hour Whipple surgery by my hero Dr. Horcio Asbun. The human I credit with saving my life.

Many of you here today know first hand what that surgery entails. I lived thru the recovery, a serious infection, the chemo and the radio chemotherapy taking my final treatment Christmas Eve.

I stand here today 16 months cancer free.

What I do want to share with you is what my husband, my family and friends learned from our trial.

Tom, whom I now call Joseph, who led our family thru this dessert- and I leaned that God is in control .We agreed to say “Yes” to anyone who offered help. People want to help. They don’t know what to say or what to do or how they can help…but …if you answer “yes’ you will see the love of God thru them. They are His hands helping you and loving you. You are blessed and they will be too by making a meal, changing your bed, rubbing cream on your feet and hands. I felt God’s love in every action and our family did too.

When I was at my weakest point, Joseph, (Tom) asked me what I wanted to do in my life, what I dreamed of. I told him it was to take our family to Italy. He said “DONE”.
In July we flew 13 family members, our children and grandchildren to Milan. We took them on a tour of the Vatican and Rome. We rented a house on Lake Como and threw a wedding for our son and his bride in a small Catholic Church on that beautiful lake.

God winked at me that week. While I was walking 60 meters from the boat ramp to our rental home on a stretch of narrow road, my Chef Laura from cooking school saw me as she was driving from Milan to Billagio at that very moment. She stopped, came to our home, met my family and shared an hour with us.

Quite frankly, I never dreamed I would see Laura again. I believe God made that happen.

Laura Giusti, my Chef and my friend.

Laura Giusti, my Chef and my friend.

This disease is a beast. We all have an expiration date. Those with PC realize that date could be sooner than later. The vulnerability permeates to your family and friends. It shows them that each family member is a treasure, friend is a blessing, each moment of every day is a gift.

If you or your loved one has PC, remember this. God is in control. He loves every one of us. Put your faith in Him and give your worries and your fears up to Him. He will lift that burden from your shoulders and show you His love.

Todays walk will raise awareness of this dreadful cancer and increase research funding so that early detection stops the growth of this disease and doesn’t let it gain status of becoming the #1 cancer killer within the next five years.

NEGU and give your fear and your family up to God. He will bless you beyond your belief.

Thank you for being here today to walk by our side in this battle.

The walk was exhausting for little baby Jude

The walk was exhausting for little baby Jude

Aunt Sherie’s Chocolate Cherry Cake

Aunt Sherie’s Chocolate Cherry Cake
Sherie, Judi and Kathy

Sherie, Judi and Kathy

1 Package Chocolate Fudge Cake Mix
1 Can Cherry Pie Filling
3 Eggs
1 Tsp. Almond Extract

Preheat oven 350 degrees
Prepare two 8″ cake tins. Grease with shortening and dust with cake mix.
Combine all ingredients and pour evenly into prepared tins.
Bake 35 – 40 minutes, testing to be sure a toothpick comes out clean.
Cool completely

Frosting (Amazing)

1 cup Sugar
5 tablespoons Butter softened
1/2 cup Milk
1 pkg (12oz) Chocolate Chips

In small sauce pan bring to a boil the first three ingredients, stirring constantly.
Cook one minute and remove from heat. Stir in chocolate chips until melted and cool.

Frost the cooled cake and enjoy.