A daughter of the king
Two decades in Owatonna have provided Marcy Jo Fenske and her family with some precious memories. Along with those came some stiff challenges. None more intimidating than the most recent in which they had to come face to face with a giant who is notorious for creating funeral processions.
Cancer. A monster that plays no favorites in who it attacks, and due to its reputation, most won’t even speak its name for fear of summoning it. There is one common statement that ultimately occurs each time the disease comes out of nowhere and rears its ugly head.
“You don’t think it’s ever going to be you,” Fenske said, “My dad died of cancer and I have friends that have, but you don’t think it’s going to be you that has it. But I will say that I have a strong faith and I’ve told people that I’m a woman of faith and a daughter of the King who promises me to walk with me through this whole thing.”
This “whole thing” began in July 2016. Also enlisted to walk with her through the ordeal was her family. Faith and family are the foundations of the Fenskes. Both were to be tested beyond measure.
Fenske’s husband, John was in Alaska to visit their middle son, Peter (23) who resides in Kenai. The other two boys, Jacob (24) and Sam (21) were about to fly north to join them for a week of fishing. A few days before she had to drive the boys to the airport, she detected a lump in her breast.
Although she hadn’t received any confirmation as to the seriousness of its presence, she was quietly concerned. After she took care of her family, kissed them goodbye and sent them off so they could enjoy a week of fishing, it was then that she called the doctor and scheduled an appointment.
Classic Marcy Jo Fenske. Concerned with making sure her family was taken care of before she had to take care of business. Not wanting to alarm them or taint the father/son bonding that was taking place. Little did they know; it was a bonding that was needed for the boys to recharge their batteries as the lights back home were just about to go dark.
“I went to Rochester right away to get a mammogram and an ultrasound,” she said. “They actually took a biopsy at the same time. I waited four days for the results and after work I went to get a pedicure to take my mind off things and it was there that I got a call from the local doctor. I found out that what indeed they biopsied was cancer.”
They knew nothing else at the time.
The boys were fishing. For four days she waited and hoped and prayed. Something inside was preparing her during that time alone with the Lord. Making her ready to face the biggest challenge of her life in that it concerned her very life.
After the doctor had hung up, there was an awareness that the battle was already raging inside. Not wanting to call her family and take away their time together, she felt that there had to be a better timing to tell them.
“I called a very dear friend on my way home,” she said with tears, knowing that there were times to face things alone, but this was not one of those times. “She came over to my house because I crying and wasn’t able to talk. She came in and I told her. She prayed with me and stayed with me the next five hours.”
Following the news, there were more tests and the official diagnosis that she had stage three Invasive Ductal Carcinoma and had spread to the lymph nodes and was heading toward the collar bone.
“I felt that my whole life was just at a standstill,” she said. “I know that I put my trust in Him (God) and He takes me through this and at times He’s had to carry me through. It’s the faith community and the prayers that have for not just me, but our whole family gotten us through.”
Though she had prayer and she knew that God was with her, she admitted that her mind wanted to go to the worst-case scenario. Her faith caused her to embrace her spirituality even though her mind wanted her to embrace her humanity. On our best days in the battle, the enemy still can appear larger than life.
The task at hand and the time came when she had to find that right moment to tell her family. John was first.
“I was pretty surprised,” he said. “My first thought when she first said that we had to talk was, ‘Are you leaving me?’ I thought that maybe she had enough of me, and then she said, no it’s not that, and I need you.”
A numbness set into his heart and his body as an anesthetic to try to calm the brutality of the moment. He says that he just didn’t know how to process it on the heels of a long trip mixed with the serious nature of the battle itself. This trip had been the longest that the couple had ever been apart.
“We prayed together,” he said. And then he admitted that he had so many questions and didn’t have a definite path going forward. She stepped into his answer and said with a smile on her face, “I had a plan how we needed to proceed.”
Crisis always brings change. Change of heart, change of perspective, change of plans. And through the changes, things grow in all of us. This biggest change, perhaps is the respect for the days given and the time allotted.
“I don’t take a day for granted,” she said. “Every day I get up, I thank God that I have air in my lungs and I say, ‘Thank you God for giving me another day.’ None of us is promised tomorrow.”
And so the Fenske family is learning to live in the moment of today.
The surgery came rather quickly for the family and while the daughter of the King was under the knife, the men of faith took over and prayed and spoke life into her ravaged body. Before it was all said and done, she had undergone a bilateral mastectomy and they also took 23 lymph nodes.
An interesting and most likely miraculous fact about the nodes was that, when they examined them, there was an evidence that cancer “was” there at one time, but had been eradicated, leaving only a shell of evidence that it once existed. At times God leaves footprints of where He’s been and fingerprints of what He’s done
2017 is a year when this family will pray her through reconstruction surgery. There is now, the normal recurring three-month check for any reoccurring cancer, but at this point, the giant has fallen and although the battle was fierce and the sacrifice was great, she has been declared cancer free.
“Our community, people we know and people we don’t know,” she said “It’s overwhelming, the support and we need to pay if forward now too. I’ve been a part of From the Heart from the beginning, on the other side of the table, handing out bags as a volunteer. They are very supportive and although honored, we never felt worthy.”
Going forward, the family looks to continue to make a difference in the Owatonna community and most likely you will see Marcy Jo Fenske again next year returning to the other side of the table where she will again take the role of a volunteer and cheering on next year’s honorees who at this moment may be entering into their battle.
A family of faith, hope and love. The emphasis being on the greatest of these.