Jenifer Sisco, a teacher and mother of three from Midland, Michigan, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in May 2011. Then came Jenifer’s first surgery after the diagnosis.
“The news we got was worse than we expected,” said Michael, Jenifer’s husband.
The surgery and further testing showed cancer had spread to Jenifer’s bones.
“It was complete shock because of how young I am and the fact I have young children,” Jenifer said.
The Siscos told their kids – ages 12, 8, and 6 – that their mother had cancer and would begin visiting doctors more often. Friends stepped up to help, and Jenifer only stopped working for a few weeks. The soccer games and dance recitals continued, but the Siscos said the news quickly affected everyday life.
“You think about it all the time, and you maybe do things differently than you would have done before,” Michael said.
Jenifer underwent a whirlwind of different treatments in the year and a half since her diagnosis, including oral chemotherapy and hormone treatments. Her monthly blood counts first showed her tumor records dropping, then rising.
Some days Jenifer says she can work all through the day and feel fine, others she comes home early and goes straight to bed.
“It is a roller coaster,” Jenifer said. “You don’t get mad when the kids spill ketchup on the living room floor anymore.”
A family friend nominated the Siscos for an Inheritance of Hope Legacy Retreat®, and Jenifer said Inheritance of Hope was flexible in coordinating the family’s trip to New York City for the retreat weekend around her health. The Siscos had never taken a big vacation as a family, and Inheritance of Hope provided a worry-free environment with volunteers who were enthusiastic about serving the families in attendance. Family members didn’t even have to carry their own luggage, Jenifer said.
The retreat brought together other people who shared the Sisco family’s experiences with terminal illness. Jenifer said the Legacy Retreat® was the first time she met other ill parents with young children, and Inheritance of Hope allowed the Sisco children to have fun and share with peers.
“You’re thinking you’re on your own and thinking the worst, but then you meet people who are doing well and see how they deal with the stress,” Michael said.
Jenifer also said during the retreat she learned ways to leave a legacy for her children. She recorded a Legacy Video for her kids and now looks for gifts that can serve as reminders of their time together. Michael said the retreat gave his family a new perspective to enjoy every day, and the Siscos have since gone to Disney World and the Bahamas and are planning more fun trips.
A year after their Legacy Retreat®, the Siscos said they keep the families they met at the retreat in mind. Jenifer checks the Inheritance of Hope website and talks with retreat friends on social media. The kids talk about the retreat and the friends they made there, and they are now more willing to ask questions and talk about their mother’s illness. The Siscos said they are often reminded of their Thanksgiving spent in New York City.
“It wasn’t just a retreat that was three or four days long,” Jenifer said. “It’s a lifetime. Once you go you’re part of their family.”