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Cancer survivor beats the odds in Antigonish

From the left are Emmett, Jimmy, Jessa and Ellis Carr. 
HILARY HENDSBEE
From the left are Emmett, Jimmy, Jessa and Ellis Carr. HILARY HENDSBEE

Emmett Carr’s wish to Santa Claus came true. His mom, Jessa Carr, did get better.

It appears four-year-old Emmett, who they say has a heart as big as his mother’s, arrived at the Christmas parade in Antigonish last year determined to get Santa’s attention.

One thing’s for sure, Emmett wasn’t happy that he and his little brother Ellis weren’t with their doting mother. She was home, too sick to get out of bed.

So standing on Church Street, Emmett readied himself as the float carrying Santa drew closer.

With Santa in sight, the boy was up against a mass of hysterical youngsters.

What ensued is captured

on video. Jessa made sure her mother recorded the parade as it unfolded.

“Santa!” Emmett screamed. He shouted again and again, until finally he had the ear of St. Nick.

“Santa, my mom is home. Can you make her belly better?” he yelled.

Jessa’s belly did get better. In fact, last Friday the 35-year-old Antigonish resident celebrated one full year of living cancer-free.

Consider that she was diagnosed in January 2016 with stage 4 colon cancer, with an 11 per cent chance of survival. Also, consider that in that short time she’s endured 10 rounds of chemotherapy, two invasive surgeries that removed cancerous tumours from her colon, liver and ovaries, as well as bits and pieces of those and other organs.

Her two children willed her forward each day.

“For me, my inspiration is my 

kids,” said Carr, who also teaches visually impaired students within the Strait Regional School Board. “I wanted to be there for them the whole way through. I can’t imagine them growing up without having a mother.”

The ordeal has served as a lesson in the finer points of humanity. Local residents have dropped off so much food at the Carr residence, especially in the early days of her ordeal, that they were forced to buy a new deepfreeze to store the surplus. Over two years a mountain of letters containing gift cards, prayers and get-well wishes have arrived at their home.

A group of close-knit friends has been with her every step of the way. Her husband, Jimmy, has been her rock. Soon after her diagnoses, he quit his scaffolding job out West to be home with his wife. Since then, the pair have harnessed their Christmas tree farm in Guysborough Intervale into something of a family sanctuary.

“He has a way of convincing me that everything is going to be OK. Every time I would feel reallylow he would let me have my time to feel down and then he’d always make sure . . . He wouldn’t let me forget that I was still me, still Jessa, the mother of our children. He made sure that life went on, that we’re not

giving into this cancer.”

Her ordeal has also reminded her of the important things in life: health, family and friendships.

Looking back, she regrets not pushing to get a colonoscopy earlier. Largely because of her age, doctors dismissed her early symptoms. Meanwhile, they got worse. She noticed more blood in her stool. Results of an early CAT scan showed no signs of cancer. A second scan completed after she waited four months for a colonoscopy revealed she was in the most severe stages of the disease, with the cancer spreading to her liver.

“People say it’s amazing that it only took me four months to get a colonoscopy. It’s not amazing, because in four months I went from stage potentially 1, to Stage 4, prognosis 90 per cent survival to 10 per cent survival.

“I was living too busy of a life and not paying attention to my own health. It was just a wake-up call.

“I want people to advocate for their health, pay attention to your body and what’s going on in your body. If you don’t feel right and you feel like your doctor isn’t quite understanding you, go back until he/she does.”

Her best friend Sheena Berthiaume, who celebrated Carr’s big day with her

on Friday, summed up Carr’s character in three words: willpower, strength and inspiration. Carr’s anniversary also coincided with Berthiaume’s birthday. So Carr treated her childhood friend and neighbour to a surprise ugly sweater birthday party.

“She knew that she had to be around for those boys,” said Berthiaume. “She had to do whatever the hell she had to do to make that happen.

“She’s done everything to beat this. I’m so proud of her. I can’t tell you what it means to me, to all of us, to see her be her bubbly self again. Now we’re starting to see her seeing the future, enjoying the moment.”

Carr is not out of the woods. She never will be. Any day the cancer could come back. Each month she submits to blood work that shows if the cancer remains in remission. That fear she must live with for the rest of her life. But she refuses to submit to it.

“One of my role models is a woman also living with stage 4 colon cancer. She said, ‘Don’t ever think of yourself as dying of cancer. You’re living with cancer.’ I’m feeling good right now and I’m thankful for being able to overcome my doubts. I lived through it.”

 

 

-Andrew Rankin

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