The Blevinses are made of tough stuff.
Jeff, 40, moved from central Indiana to Nashville 20 years ago to start a music career and builds his own radios, and 37-year-old Deana came from Kentucky to work at Vanderbilt University. Hours away from the nearest family member, they get by with a can-do attitude, placing expectations on themselves and each other.
“One of the things I think a lot of people, even our family members, don’t understand about our family is there’s a tenacity about us,” Jeff said. “We don’t quit, we don’t give up.”
That resilience has served the Blevins family since November 2007, when Deana learned she has stage IV Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Deana and Jeff wanted to be strong for their kids, Levi and Caroline, who were 2 and 8 years old at the time of the diagnosis.
“We refused to let this have control over us,” Jeff said. “We agreed to give each other one day to emotionally deal with it, fall apart, but at the end of the one day that was it.”
Deana says the kids have never seen her cry. She continued working after her diagnosis and was private about her illness. However, a stem cell transplant in 2008 forced her to become a stay-at-home mom, and she underwent a second transplant in 2010.
Deana’s doctor delivered what she calls “the six to nine month speech” in April 2011 and advised the Blevinses to take any family vacations they had been planning. They visited Disney World for a busy week the following June. The Blevinses had never participated in a group therapy program like Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreats, but Deana enrolled her family for the November retreat in New York City. However, Jeff’s work schedule prevented the family from attending, and their Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat was delayed until February.
Perhaps it was fate. Deana had her first heart attack the day after Thanksgiving, resulting in a quadruple bypass operation on the right side of her heart. Her second heart attack came shortly after Christmas.
Despite the traumatic holiday season, Deana was in shape for the Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat in February 2012. Deana and Jeff wanted to attend the retreat for the benefit of their children, but the service exceeded their expectations from the moment they stepped off the plane in Florida.
“It was almost intimidating to an extent when people come to take your luggage,” said the independent Jeff, who said he wanted to thank the staff for allowing his family to relax and have fun.
IoH volunteers took care of common vacation concerns, from childcare to food. They provided support as Levi and Caroline got the rare opportunity to discuss terminal illnesses with their peers, while Deana and Jeff shared experiences with other families. And the volunteers took pictures, lots of them.
“It was the first time we had been on a vacation where we never used a camera the entire trip,” Jeff said. “Every time we turned around someone was taking our photo. It was beautiful.”
“It was so relaxed, and we were able to enjoy each other and not feel like we were running from one end of the park to the other,” Deana said.
That relaxation allowed the Blevinses to focus on their legacy, their spirituality, and meeting new people. They formed friendships that have continued after the retreat, and Deana recorded a Legacy Video with messages for her children. By the end of the weekend, a ripple effect had extended to hotel staff, who were hugging and taking pictures with Legacy Retreat attendees.
“Legacy. If I had to take one word from the trip, that would be it,” Deana said. “It helped me answer some questions that I may have been afraid to admit to myself.
The Blevinses haven’t slowed down since the Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat. Deana and Jeff go on hikes and bike rides, and Caroline has expressed interest in volunteering with IoH in the future. Deana said doctors have given her troubling diagnoses, but she is more concerned with enjoying time with her family and creating memories. She recently got a tattoo.
“It’s kind of my theme right now,” she said.
The tattoo reads, “The will to live will always outweigh the ability to die.”