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 paid to two First Coast causes, The JT Townsend Foundation, Inc. and to fund a grant 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.