Thought Control: Jenny Stark’s Story Continued

This is the third in a series highlighting 42 year-old Jenny Stark’s story during Breast Cancer Awareness month. Jenny is not only a survivor of breast cancer, but one who still has the same class and faith as she did the first day I interviewed her three years ago. If you are not familiar with Jenny’s story, you will want to read This is Just a Season and Paying it Forward, the first and second installments respectively. The first covers the time period when she first learned of her cancer, what she went through, and how she handled it. The second was how she chose to use her disease to help others.

Previous stories about Jenny have been penned by me based on interviews with her.  However, when I called Jenny for an up-date this year, it became evident to me that a sit-down interview with a list of questions was not needed.  I sensed that Jenny could pen her story straight from her heart.

And so, in her own words that follow, Jenny shares her heart.  No doubt, it is the heart of many who have walked this path.

Jenny’s Words

Will there ever be a day that I’m not thinking about my cancer…

Early diagnosis, seems, as if to, occupy your every thought. You’re constantly making conscience decisions to take that next step.

Sometimes that next step may be to get up when what you want to do is lie in bed all day and have a pity party. So, you say out loud,  “Thank you God for my life.  I’m stepping out on faith today and I’m standing on Your word.”  God will meet you where you are, but it requires action on your part.  So put on your best smile, have a good attitude with plenty of gratitude and get going.

Enthusiasm is the result that others will see.  When they see you and know your circumstances, what a privilege to have that kind of mission field, some that others will never experience.  Your journey is a witness to the fact that in spite of what you’re walking through, there is life.

The key to retraining your thoughts is to stay busy (if possible) and continue doing normal activities, such as working, exercising, cooking or driving.  Yes cooking.  For those of you who like to cook, like I do, you know what I’m talking about.  As you go about your business, you overcome a hurdle in your mind, where you realize by the end of the day, that you didn’t think about your condition as much.  Over time, the more distance you put between your life now and your diagnosis, it will erase those fears and concerns that once stole your joy.

Cancer is like an amputation, you learn to live with it, but you’re never the same.  Eventually you will be done with treatment and surgeries and you will be at a point in life that is summed up best as a “slow fade.”  You will not feel 100% all at one time, but every day is a new day with new possibilities and it, too, is a choice.  A choice to choose, that this uphill climb is behind you, and you are well on your way to the new you.

Your life may take you to another level with different goals, with different people, all for the Glory of God.  What may have seemed important 5 yrs ago may not even be a thought today.  Don’t worry about what may change.  Don’t anticipate…Participate!

Mostly, find yourself in a win-win situation, where no matter what happens, you win.  Those thoughts will cast out all fears and you will see clearly.  In fact, your mind will wonder what it was so anxious about in the first place.  That is God’s peace.

As the words of a song point out:  “Let my life be the proof…The proof of Your Love”  So others will see the proof of Christ’s Love [in you].

So, let Jesus run circles in your mind, so that He touches your every thought.

Fighting Like a Girl, Jenny Stark

Make A Wish

  "What would you want to tell other people who had cancer?", I asked my youngest sister this week..."Hmmm, I would tell them my story and to be brave." So, here it is!

I'll never forget the phone call from my parents New Year's Eve, 2009 telling me the little 7 year old ballerina with sandy blond waves and big brown eyes had been diagnosed with Stage 4 Whilms Tumor Cancer that  had spread to her kidney, abdomen, and lungs. It just didn't fit and it certainly wasn't fair.

(feeding the ducks)

They lived in Portland, OR and I lived in Austin, TX but the night I got that phone call my husband said, "just go!". So the next day I was on a plane. Jolene quickly started her treatment with chemo, radiation, and surgeries to try to romove the largest tumors. She's got some pretty amazing battle scars! 


(walking with the physical therapist post-surgery)

"Having mom and dad and family nearby", is what helped when she was feeling crummy from the medication. Also, weekly visits from the "Thursday hospital cat", having a funny Dr. like Dr. Todd, laughing a lot, watching other people get their heads shaved, and painting fingernails also helped :).

(Joanna, Joel, Jolene, and Mom at the Tulip Gardens)

(Jolene and Joanna - sisters and bff's)

(Thursday cat at the hospital)

(Jolene and Dad, after he shaved his head for St. Baldrick's Day!)

(Jolene and me...making Chicken and Dumplings)

With eight brothers and sisters, parents, grandparents, in-laws, cousins, aunts - uncles, and countless friends there was no shortage of prayers and support during treatment! Jolene received so many sweet cards and gifts just letting her (and the whole  family) know she was loved and not alone. One very special gift was a visit from Make A Wish Foundation!

(Learning she was selected for Make A Wish)

After tossing around a few ideas she decided on a trip to Austin, TX so the whole family could be together and go to Six Flags and Sea World! We made some incredible memories on that trip!


(The Clan at Six Flags :)

(Sea World)

It's been almost two years now since Jolene was diagnosed and I know my parents would say, "God is faithful!". The last several scans have come back clear and Jolene is doing great! She's back in ballet, her curls are growing back, cooking a ton, quoting "Julie and Julia", and dreaming about becoming a Scientist and traveling to Japan :).

This is her story. Be brave.

(Recital - Jolene is 2nd from the left...cute!)

(Curly day)

Beauty is Brave-Judy, revisited

This time last year, CW introduced you to Judy Kassaye, a thirty-something vibrant woman who had won her battle with breast cancer. After a double mastectomy, with her faith leading the way, Judy did more than survive the diagnosis and months of chemotherapy. The months in and out of doctor's offices and hospitals fueled a fire inside this dark-eyed beauty. Rather than avoid cancer treatment centers like the plague,  she decided to enroll in nursing school with a  dream to become an oncology nurse. Her purpose:  to affect the lives of other women forced on the journey of breast cancer.


Cancer free for one year and eight months, she was accepted to nursing school on April 13, 2011. Two days later, she and her oncologist celebrated the news together. In the same visit her doctor's  fingers  found a small lump.

On April 18th , history repeated itself and Judy was once again, diagnosed with cancer; stage 4 Metastatic Breast Cancer.  Although she had already lived the experience of  diagnosis and scheduling chemo treatments, her initial reaction was to be numb with shock. How could this happen again? Why should this happen again? Ironically,within two days of her diagnosis, she was notified that she was awarded a scholarship to nursing school. Her dream collided with her past and Judy wrestled with her new reality.



On Easter Sunday, with her eyes wide open, Judy's understanding of life became wider and deeper.

I'm a Christian so Heaven is home and it's disease and grief free. I can live on earth with God in my heart or I can live in Heaven with Him. It's win, win. Either way He gets the glory.

All that said she continues with,"I've decided to fight for my life. I believe I have a God-given appointment to finish nursing school so I don’t see myself going to Heaven before then."

Each day Judy inspires her friends, acquaintances and strangers with her optimistic attitude. Speaking engagements are opening up for her to share her story and she  is writing a book. Her goal is to share her life lessons with everyone she meets.

To read the original blog on Judy, go to:

Life’s speed bumps and collisions can leave us with tire tracks on our back from being run over by life or we can let God leave a distinct Fingerprint on our heart. When we yield to His purpose He prepares us to love and empathize with those He sends our way.


What Can you Control?

My friend Linda, who is a strong independent woman, has spent the last 20 years of her life building a career in marketing for a college university. Very goal driven and structured, she worked hard to get ahead while providing a good home for her husband and two daughters. However, her plans and goals were interrupted the day she heard the words “it’s cancer”. At age 43, after discovering a cist in her breast, she was given the news that she may only have one year to live. She was “mortified” and knew this was a situation that she could not control no matter how hard she tried.  After picking herself up and turning to God, she knew she could not control the news that was given to her but there were things that she could control. Her first plan of action was to completely release it to God and become proactive in her treatment. By not accepting the recommendation of the first physician, she became proactive and found a new Doctor who was able to relieve some of her fears of and provide comfort with a treatment plan that worked for her.

After battling her weight for many years and yoyo dieting, she realized that it was time for her to take control of her health. Although Linda had been very successful in other areas of her life, eating healthy and exercise were never something that made it to her priority list. Fast food three times a day, working long hours, and rushing her daughters to dance rehearsals each day was a way of life.  She gave no thought to what she ate and usually used food to deal with her emotions.

When introduced to a healthy weight loss program, she decided to take control of her weight and join.  In the past, her motivation to lose weight was for looks only and tended to last only for a short time. It was different this time.  She wanted to be healthy for herself and be an example to her family.  She realized that her disease and lifestyle, not only affected her, but her friends and family.”

Linda is a success story.  Thankfully, the cancer did not spread to the lymph nodes, a miracle according to her Doctors. With a full mastectomy and successful reconstructive surgery she is cancer free.

Today, ten years later, Linda is gracious to God and believes he saved her for a reason. She knows she was given a second chance and should use it to the very best of her abilities. Her purpose is to live a healthy lifestyle and to set an example to others. She believes that life is a journey with twists, turns and bumps in the road and how she takes them are up to her and will make a difference in her success or failure.

In her journey to healthy eating and overcoming her emotional triggers, she has come to understand a piece of chocolate cake is comforting until 30 minutes later when her sugars are out of control, she’s hungry again and has little energy to exercise! She chooses to eat healthy and exercise so that she can feel better, stronger and more powerful.

She makes a conscious effort each day to take control of her health.

“I know”, says Linda , “there are things I can do”.

  • “I can choose to eat when I am hungry, not emotional”
  • “I can make the right food choices”
  • “I can choose to be more active”
  • “I can choose to make a lifestyle change”

Linda is an inspiration and example of how to stay strong when hit with things that are out of your control even being faced with health issues. She has shown how to be proactive and take charge of your health.  She is a reminder to stop focusing on what you can’t change and have courage to take control of what you can change.




When Beauty Conquered the Beast

On December 4, 2008, Judy  answered a phone call at 12:34p.m and heard the words "breast cancer." Anyone that knows Judy Kassaye can affirm that she understands the meaning of friendship in a unique way. She probes her pals to find out what they need and want in friendship so she can love them in ways that are specific to their needs. Like striking oil, the diagnosis caused what she knew of friendship to bubble its way from the depths of her being.

I imagined myself fighting for my best friend’s life, knowing that “she” (really me) is important to God, and the world. There are things that “she” is supposed to do and people’s lives that are to be affected by her (my story).

In Beauty and the Beast, Belle was the beautiful girl that looked past the surface to find her prince hidden inside a beast's body. Judy, a modern-day Belle,  foraged for meaning in the loss of her breasts and six months of chemotherapy.In the midst of scar tissue and a port that transported medication directly to the monster that ate away at her body, she found a refreshed clarity for her future and increased strength to live each day.

Surviving cancer means more than living through the diagnosis and treatment. It means finding the strength to live my best life and fulfill the purpose for my future. To fight for life means you can't let IT control your mind and emotions. I choose to dream of my future.

This beautiful woman lives each day guarding the  entrance  to  her mind and soul and wants to empower others to do the same. Judy's years in human resources are a part of her past. Last year, she started school all over again. She's pursuing a degree in nursing and it can't be a surprise that she plans to work in oncology.

I want to work "hands on" with patients. I want to encourage  and inspire them that they can live. I want to motivate other women to fight the Beast.

The Beast comes in all kinds of disguises, loss of health or the sudden end of a relationship  or job. It might attack your body, your mind or your reputation, but Judy's words apply to every woman fighting for her best life.

"I choose to dream of my future."

G.I. Jane

Last week my sister and I watched G.I. Jane with Demi Moore.  I had seen parts of the movie before, but had never really sat down and watched the entire thing.  The part of the movie that I liked the most was seeing her training.  She had to physically train more to be a Navy Seal in order to keep up with the men who were in training for the same thing.  The part of the movie that I didn’t like was that she wanted to be treated like a man.  She didn’t want any special treatment because she was a woman.  As a woman, I want special treatment: doors opened for me and being spoken to with kindness.  I don’t want to be overlooked for career opportunities that would better myself and those around me because I am a woman. This past weekend I was part of an amazing conference for youth and young adults, Elevate 10 at Shoreline Church.  I had the honor and opportunity to see lives transformed through worship, messages, and most importantly the presence of God.  My role was to direct the conference and lead the tworship (technical + worship = tworship) team, which included all men except me.  A woman leading men can work.  Why does it work?  We are all working toward the same vision: to create an environment to make the name of Jesus famous and to create an atmosphere where lives are transformed.  We have respect for one another’s roles, gifts, and talents.  We treat each other w/respect by the way we speak to one another.  Each of us own our roles and take responsibility for them.  We want everything to be done with excellence.  We have established relationships so we trust one another.  I had a blast and our team worked great together.

I had women all around me at the conference, most of them younger than me.  It was incredibly refreshing to see women praying for one another, encouraging one another, serving one another, leading one another, and being one another’s best cheerleaders.  It is a high value for me to be supported, believed in, encouraged, and given ownership of things.  From the lobby, to the café, to the breakout sessions, to the main sessions, I was able to see women in roles leading, serving, owning, and being believed in to make the conference happen.  You could see the joy on their faces as they were serving and knowing they were making a difference.

The “Single Ladies” breakout session with Heather Frierson and Tamra Cobbins gave great perspective on dating, singleness, and marriage.  The question every woman wants answered is, “Am I beautiful?”  When you truly believe that Jesus made you unique and beautiful, you have confidence and completeness in Him.  Then your heart is more open to what Jesus has for you and it’s easier to attract a complete man as well.  That’s a bonus.

Women are special.  They are servants.  They are leaders.  They are daughters of Jesus.  I am going to serve and lead, but most of all I am going to enjoy being the daughter of The King.

Stacy McVane