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A Lesson in Gratitude: Our Story of Easter, Cancer and Rebirth

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My husband Jamie has been cancer-free for 15 years.

He had recently graduated from college and had started his own consulting firm when a lump starting forming on his neck. It disappeared after a week but night-sweats and flu-like symptoms emerged. And then the lump returned.

He tried a few home remedies to no avail and finally sought medical attention. After Jamie described his symptoms, the doctor said, “I think it could be either mono or cancer. And I don’t think it is cancer.”

He was wrong.

Jamie was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, cancer of the lymph nodes. When detected early, the survival rate is 80 percent. Like all cancers, later-stage prognosis is deadly. He was single, without insurance and living in Utah, far away from his family.

His doctor told him to apply for Medicaid. He was initially denied. Miraculously, he was eventually able to get on programs for which he should not have qualified and his medical expenses were covered.

But then came his personal expenses. No longer able to work, Jamie faced a very bleak, daunting future. Amidst all this turmoil, he received a call from Tom Sawyer, an influential local businessman. Tom had risen above a horrific childhood to play football for LSU, become an engineer, work on the Eagle Lander for NASA, and by accident got into politics and landed in the White House as a trusted aide for Presidents Nixon and Reagan.

He is also a cancer survivor.

Jamie had met him only once before as they both assisted their Japanese friend Yodi with becoming an American citizen.

Tom invited Jamie to his office and upon arrival said, “Jamie, let me be straight with you. I hear you need some help. Tell me about your situation.” Jamie reluctantly divulged his circumstances, to which Tom queried, “How much do you need to get through the next month?”

Initially, Jamie refused but then realized this was an answer to prayers and he gave him a number. Tom told him to come by his office the next day and he would give him a check. The next day, Jamie showed up and Tom handed him a check for twice the amount they had discussed. Jamie pointed this out to him and he brusquely said, “Yeah, I know.”

The pattern persisted. Each month, Tom called Jamie to his office. Each conversation ended the same: “Come into my office tomorrow and I will have a check waiting for you.” This lasted the duration of his chemotherapy and radiation treatments and Jamie’s cancer has never returned.

 I recently had moments of serious refection as people very close to me suffered deeply. With immense gratitude, I looked at my life, my marriage, my children, my home. I looked at the path we have taken. It has rarely been smooth or perfect. Times may sometimes be tough but we are fortunate to not be riddled with debt and recognize the miracles we have experienced to bring us where we are today.

This time of year, millions of people celebrate Easter as a time of resurrection and new beginnings.

Today, I am grateful for the man who gave us ours.

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  • comment avatar Tia Juana April 5, 2009

    I think this is my most favorite post you have ever written. I, too, have been feeling very reflective lately, for lots of reasons, but when all is said and done, all the hurt and suffering and devastation in this world would be downright unbearable if it weren’t for the atonement and ressurectionof the Savior.

    Thanks Amber, for a wonderful story just in time for Easter.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 5, 2009

    Thanks Tia Juana. It was one of those get-out-of-bed-in-the-middle-of-the-night promptings to write this post. I haven’t had that in a long time and it felt wonderful!

  • comment avatar Kassie Bunting April 5, 2009

    Thank you for sharing that story with us. I am thankful for people who are willing to sacrifice any part of them for the betterment of others.

  • comment avatar Lori in Denver April 5, 2009

    How inspiring, on the part of Tom, Jamie, and you.

    Two years ago, my sister’s husband became paralyzed. The generosity that poured out of their community was amazing.

    This is what happens when people are aware of our interconnectedness, when we KNOW that helping another is the same as helping ourselves (and, conversely, that hurting another hurts ourselves).

    May Jamie continue to live in good health and among good friends.

  • comment avatar Melissa April 5, 2009

    Wow, what a wonderful story! You gave me goosebumps. :o)

  • comment avatar Jenna Hallock April 5, 2009

    I hope that this post spurs other to remember acts of kindness and to “pay it forward.” THIS story (and stories just like it all over the world) are the reason we can be so sure that good will overcome evil in the end.

    We gain strength through our suffering and come out the other side knowing that we absolutely must share the Truth and Joy that we’ve found.

    I love Easter for the Hope it brings to the world. No other religion in the world allows for this kind of undeserving Love and Forgiveness!

  • comment avatar Momma, The Casual Perfectionist April 5, 2009

    What a great post!

  • comment avatar scatteredmom April 5, 2009

    What a beautiful story!

    My husband is a cancer survivor as well, Amber. It’s been 17 years since his last fight (he’s had it twice).

    It’s people like Tom who quietly help others, with no thought of recognition or what they’d get in return, who are the real difference makers in this world.

  • comment avatar Kagey April 5, 2009

    A good reminder — we probably all have stories of how others, in small and big ways, have made our lives happier, and in this case, simply survivable. Here’s to remembering to give thanks, for acknowledging when we can’t do it on our own.

    May you and Jamie have a blessed Easter!

  • comment avatar banteringblonde April 5, 2009

    I have been reflective lately, this is a wonderful post, thank you for sharing.

  • comment avatar Jennifer April 5, 2009

    What an inspiring post!
    I am so glad that their are true Angels among us.

    Thank you for the wonderful post.

  • comment avatar Fabiola April 5, 2009

    Such a wonderful post. I always say that there are angels that God send to us in times of turbulence.
    I know what Jamie went trough and his family as well. My yonger brother had NON Hodgkin Lynphoma and our family went to hell and came back. He is cancer free for 10 year now.

    Until today, I thank God for his health every day.


  • comment avatar Awesome Mom April 5, 2009

    It is refreshing to read about good things that happen in the world rather than the horrible and bad things. I am so glad that Jamie has been blessed with continued good health.

  • comment avatar Patti Jo Medina April 5, 2009

    You probably don’t know, but last year I went through my own battle with Hodgkins. At the same time Abraham had a major depressive episode, was diagnosed as being bipolar, and was unable to keep a job. We were blessed to be covered by Medicade. I’ve been in remission a year this month.

    Anyway, that’s not the most important part. This is: That most troubling, scary year and half of our lives was the most blessed, sacred, faith building time. I would not trade the blessings recieved for anything. I wish that I could share with others just a fraction of the peace and love I have felt from the Lord. He nevers leaves us, even in our darkest moments. And when the comforts that others give fail His never do.

    With great tribulation comes great blessings.

  • comment avatar Tonya April 5, 2009

    Thank you so much for sharing this story. I just love how our Heavenly Father is so aware of us and our needs and this is a great example.

  • comment avatar Amber Johnson April 5, 2009

    Wow, thank you everyone for your wonderful comments. Patti–I cannot believe what you’ve been through and I am so glad you pulled through it. And poor Abraham. Hugs and prayers are with you both to receive the treatment he needs.

  • comment avatar Beth Partin April 5, 2009

    I loved this post. It’s nice to know there are people in the world like the man who helped Jamie.

  • comment avatar Melissa Taylor April 5, 2009
    I was so inspired that Tom loved you in such a practical way. What an amazing and inspiring human being. His depth of character to give so generously to someone else makes me want to do the same. Thanks for sharing that story and Happy Easter!!

  • comment avatar Carolee April 5, 2009

    Thank you for sharing that. My husband was diagnosed with cancer 2 years ago this month and thankfully he is doing well. When I read this I was reminded of the many tender mercies Heavenly Father poured on our family during that time.

  • comment avatar Suzanne B (Crunchy green Mom) April 6, 2009

    Wow Amber…. I’m sitting at my desk today with tears in my eyes.

    Having finally gotten the chance to put a face to Jamie not too long ago, it pulls at my heart strings to know what he went through, and that he met such a loving man in a time of need.

    There is so much good in this world and so much blessing that I forget many times about the happiness we all have to look at.

    I love how you wrote this, you are such a wonderful person, I am truly blessed to have met you.

    Hugs to you and Jamie!

  • comment avatar yvonne April 6, 2009

    What a fantastic message, amber. Thank you so much for sharing. I’m reminded of the quote by President Kimball about how God answers our prayers through other people. So grateful for those people who listen and then do.

  • comment avatar superpaige April 6, 2009

    Thank you for sharing. It is so wonderful when people share.

  • comment avatar Cheri April 6, 2009

    What an inspiring story! Last October I was diagnosed with breast cancer and had surgery immediately. With one Dr. recommending chemo and others saying it was not necessary, it was a very confusing time for us. Our community was hugely supportive and I am lucky to have insurance, financial means, etc. I just heard about one of our contract employees who has cancer and no insurance. We are going to do everything we can to help her family, as she has three small children, but I worry it is not enough.

  • comment avatar Julie P April 6, 2009

    Alright, you’ve got me in tears. At least I have no make up on yet. That man is an angel.

  • comment avatar Laura aka LaLaGirl April 6, 2009

    Great post, Amber. I had no idea about any of that! It was touching to read about the generosity of your friend. And a great reminder to keep paying it forward, y’know?

  • comment avatar [email protected] April 6, 2009

    Awesome post, Amber. Thanks for the reminder. Since, it’s sometimes hard to remember how to be thankful.

  • comment avatar Gretchen White April 6, 2009

    Beautiful, Amber…

    Thank you for sharing this story.

  • comment avatar Lisa April 6, 2009

    Love this post!

  • comment avatar Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts April 6, 2009

    Wow! What a wonderful story!!!

  • comment avatar Tee aka The Diva's Thoughts April 6, 2009

    Wow! What a wonderful post!

  • comment avatar Stephanie April 6, 2009

    What a perfect Easter post. I had no idea Jamie had gone through that. What a terrific man Tom is.

  • comment avatar Amanda D April 6, 2009

    Great post. Beautifully written.

  • comment avatar Melissa D April 6, 2009

    Amber, I still have goosebumps. I have stalked (er, read) your posts for forever now and that was truly inspired.

    I wish you and your beautiful family a very happy Easter.

    Hugs from Up Yonder, Girl!!

  • comment avatar Rhonda April 7, 2009

    What a beautiful reminder to be grateful for all of the gifts we have. Four years ago my husband was given only years to live. We prayed and prayed for a miracle; telling God it didn’t matter what we lost as long as Rob was with us. Unfortunately, we did not have a Tom to help us financially and we did lose almost everything. But, my husband is still alive and his prognosis has changed so he should be with us for a long long time. In the end, all we lost were material goods….what really mattered is with us still.

    Happy Easter! And many continued blessings for you and your family.

  • comment avatar diana/sunshine April 7, 2009

    thank you amber for such an inspirational post. some times we need to be reminded of all the blessings in our lives. it also restores our hope in mankind; that there are people out there that care and have a desire to help others in their time of need. thanks for sharing.

  • comment avatar Damselfly April 7, 2009

    Aw. I don’t want to sound sappy, but that’s so touching. There is really so much to be grateful for.

  • comment avatar quiskaeya April 7, 2009

    Wow Amber! To see you write from this perspective is truly touching. Cancer is real. It’s a journey. It’s a battle. Praise God this is a battle won. Thank you for sharing this story. It gives so much hope and courage. My sister has cancer and it’s been so tough to see her deal with it.

  • comment avatar Bonnie April 8, 2009

    Amber, I’ve been reading your blog for a little while but I never knew about this.

    My husband was diagnosed with non-hodgkins Lymphoma 5 yrs ago. I had a 3 yr old and a 5 yr old in Kindergarten. It was a very stressful time for us. He too went through the chemo and radiaion. 2 yrs later he developed another tumor and had radiation.

    We had people come out of the wood work to help and encourage us. It was amazing. Sometimes we don’t realize how blessed we are or who will really be there in our time of need. I’m glad your husband had someone as special as he did to help him through it.

  • comment avatar Lauren in GA April 8, 2009

    I couldn’t get the second half of this post to come up before. I am so glad it is here now…

    What a generous and giving man Tom is. That is really amazing and wonderful.

  • comment avatar chellie April 8, 2009

    I loved that Amber! I always love everything you write, but there’s something about that that touched me. A wonderful story…

  • comment avatar guinevere meadow April 9, 2009

    Wow. I had no idea that your family had been through that!

    Our God is indeed an awesome God!

  • comment avatar FFG April 10, 2009

    You are such a wonderful writer and what an amzing story to share. Thanks!

  • comment avatar Nini April 13, 2009

    Such a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing!

  • comment avatar Stela April 15, 2014

    What an inspirational post! Thank you for sharing Amber! I lost my mum to cancer when I was 14 and I am always inspired to hear about people who have had the chance to win this battle! Also, I needed a good reminder of how lucky I am to be where I am now and to stop complaining but start appreciating more what I have!