Brain Cancer Spawns Gratitude

Posted on April 22, 2013

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By David Ettinger

In a sense, First Orlando member Craig Wojcik is living under a death sentence. Just 36 years old, Craig has already been told that his brain cancer will kill him. In fact, doctors have told him and his wife Jenny that Craig should no longer be with us. “We have planned his funeral,” Jenny said. “That’s how far along his cancer is.”

Caption: Jenny and Craig Wojcik.

What makes the situation even more gut wrenching is that Craig and Jenny have three children, ages 11, 8 and 3. Despite all this, Jenny said, she has learned lessons about God from her husband’s illness that she never could have learned in a lifetime had this never happened. “If Craig dies, I know that God will take care of my children,” she said. “I also know that He will bring them closer to Him if their father is gone.”

But Jenny was not expressing such reassurance when Craig’s troubles began in November of 2005. “It started with just headaches and what he thought were sinus infections,” she recalled. “It took from November to almost February [2006] to find out what it was.”

And what it was, at the time, was a tumor located very close to the sinus cavity. “Back then,” Jenny said, “it was only identified as a tumor and not cancer. But still, we were both devastated. We were 32 with two young children and in the process of adopting one [from Guatemala]. We had no idea if his situation was terminal or what chemotherapy would be like.”

And with the uncertainty came questioning God’s will. “I said, ‘This is not part of my plans,’” she said. “We are both strong Christians, but I have been a Christian longer than Craig. He was very angry. But because I had a deeper relationship with God, I was able to bite hard and just swallow the shock.”

By May of 2006, the chemotherapy was beginning to take a frightful toll on Craig. Things were made even worse by the fact that Craig, who was in communications, had an extremely demanding job. “Basically, the doctor said to him, ‘You can either live, or you can work. It’s your choice,’” Jenny said.

That choice was obvious as Craig had no option but to stop working. Further complicating matters was that the Wojciks had just spent their life savings on the adoption. This meant that Jenny, a teacher who had been a stay-at-home mom, had to return to the classroom as part of the Orange County School District. But the family still had no disability insurance, so Craig and Jenny’s families began helping with the mounting bills, which would eventually reach about $250,000.

In the meantime, Craig’s treatments continued. “It took almost a year for him to go into remission,” Jenny said. “In February of 2007, we found out that the tumor was gone. Though brain cancer is never considered to be fully in remission, we were thrilled.”

Calling the latest diagnosis a “miracle,” Craig and Jenny were ready to resume life where they left off before the dark times began. In fact, Craig got himself a new job and was working again. “We were on cloud nine, life was getting better and things were going real well,” Jenny said.

Then came July of 2007. “Craig would have to consistently go to the hospital for follow-ups [CAT scans],” Jenny explained. “This one time, the doctors found something and determined that it was full-blown cancer. In fact, the tumor was back and larger than it had ever been. This is when we knew things were really bad.”

Caption: Jenny and Craig with their three children.

Again, Craig and Jenny were devastated. “We were celebrating and thinking that a miracle had happened,” Jenny said. “This was a complete setback.”

But still, Jenny was learning. “When we were going through the worst part of this, I had gotten so close to God because of our dependence on Him that I could feel His heartbeat,” she said. “One of my greatest fears was that I would forget how that felt.”

Craig’s recurrence assured her that she wouldn’t. As the new school year began, Craig began chemo and more doctors were added to his team. And with the new diagnosis came new fears. One was that if the cancer were to mutate [the process by which the cancer changes its composition so it becomes resistant to treatments], it would almost guarantee Craig’s death. Another fear was that he could suffer a stroke at almost any time. “I couldn’t believe it,” Jenny said. “He was only 34 years old.”

Then, by December of 2007, one of Jenny’s fears was realized: the cancer was mutating. Also, Craig’s liver and kidney were barely functioning, which meant that chemotherapy was not an option. What was an option, though, was brain surgery, but the prospects of success were bleak. “Doctors told us that Craig would have just a five percent chance of surviving the surgery,” Jenny said. “Of that five percent, he had a 40 percent chance of even having a life.”

In fact, the outlook was so bleak that the Wojciks began planning for the worst. “We got together with [First Orlando’s Pastoral Care Pastor] Greg Brooks and began to make Craig’s funeral plans,” Jenny said. “When you’re 34 and have to plan your own funeral, that will do something to you.”

It did do something to the Wojciks — something pretty extraordinary, in fact. “We became acutely aware that other people were watching us go through this process,” Jenny said. “We believed that we were called to another mission, to show that God still loved us very, very much. We were to show others that we were broken but not forgotten.”

For Jenny, it almost became a personal crusade. “No one wants to bury her husband. No one wants to be a single mom. No one wants to be bankrupt and go into foreclosure. No one wants to choose food over treatment. But when you’re in the midst of these things, your witness is so much more powerful than after you’ve gone through it. I knew that I had to start ministering to other people while the worst was going on.”

As a result, the Wojciks have been able to talk with many people about their experience and bring them hope. “I don’t tell people that I haven’t cried and said to God, ‘You’re totally wrong about this!’” Jenny said. “But, in the process, God has become totally real to us.”

And because of that, Jenny reached another spiritual milestone. “I got to the point where I was no longer praying for a cure,” she said. “When you hit that mark, you know you trust God.”

So, where does Craig stand now? For one thing, the chemo treatments had to stop because of his failing kidneys and liver. Radiation and brain surgery are off the table. The Wojcik’s have revisited their funeral plans, this time firming up the details, such as the actual songs that will be sung. Also, back in May of 2008, doctors told Craig that he would not make it past the summer. “Because of that,” Jenny said, “we had the best summer we’ve ever had. We really spent it being a family.”

And they still are a family as Craig has, so far, beaten the odds. “He is basically a dying man,” Jenny said. “He now gets radiation treatments, which make him violently ill. There was a time when I had to wake up every hour to make sure he was still breathing. All we can do is live day by day.”

And go on trusting God to meet every single financial, emotional and spiritual need. “We’ve come to a place of joy,” Jenny said. “We have learned to stop second-guessing God and learned to just say ‘thank you.’ I would not say that my life is happy, but is joy-filled. If this year Craig is not here for Christmas, that won’t ruin Christmas. God gave me children and a husband I love. Why would Christmas be ruined if my husband is with God? That’s joy, and it comes from the realization that God already has all of this figured out.”

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