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Hubby crafts a bright holiday surprise for breast cancer survivor
Jeff Ray surprised his wife, Jennifer, with an early Christmas present this year: A 6-foot-tall sparkling hot-pink ribbon.
Jennifer is a breast cancer survivor and is nearing the end of her chemotherapy treatment for the cancer she was diagnosed with last December. The ribbon is the international symbol of breast cancer.
Jeff's rendition — made of plywood, painted pink and lit with Christmas lights — symbolizes his wife's strength and the positive outlook on life she has held throughout her ordeal. The ribbon, among the family's other Christmas decorations, hangs on the front of the Ray's home, 4625 S.W. 333rd Court.
"I just feel so proud that my husband did that," Jennifer said. "It's very symbolic."
Jeff is a handy man and knowing he could not hide a 6-foot-tall, 3-foot-wide project, he told his wife what he was working on. But she was unprepared for the final product. He interrupted her one night to ask her to accompany him out of the room. Waiting near the front door was Jennifer's gift.
"Down the hallway was this crazy pink hue," she said. "We just cried."
Jennifer went to the doctor last December. She had not noticed a lump in her breast, but had some concerns. At age 39, she was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. This stage indicates the tumor is larger than five centimeters and has either spread to the lymph nodes or the cancerous lymph nodes are attaching themselves to one another, according to www.webmd.com. Stage four is the final stage and indicates the disease has spread to vital organs, bones or lymph nodes not in close proximity to the breast.
On Dec. 22, 2007, Jennifer had life-saving surgery. She underwent chemotherapy and in the process lost her hair. The Rays' two children, Jacob, 6, and Kaitlyn, 4, were aware their mother was sick, but the couple chose not to tell the youngsters Jennifer may not live through her illness.
"We didn't talk about cancer," Jennifer said. "We didn't know if I was going to live or die. We just said mommy has an owie."
Kaitlyn, accustomed to playing with her mom's hair, questioned why it fell out. After being told the medicine caused Jennifer to lose her hair, Kaitlyn assured her mom she could make her hairless head pretty with a little purple glitter. The kids are not fully aware of the meaning of the pink ribbon, but they understand its significance at an elementary level. When Jacob is asked what the large ribbon means, he replies "It means we don't want anybody else's mommy to get an owie and lose their hair and get sick," Jennifer said.
The past year has been a challenging one. But it has made the Ray family grateful for what they have. Jennifer's hair is growing back. She will complete chemotherapy in March. In 2009, she will receive three more surgeries. By 2010, she is expected to be well enough to participate in breast cancer awareness walks. She has kept a journal documenting her experience thus far: www.caringbridge.org/visit/jenniferray.
"I'm like, ‘Who can I help. What can I do,’" Jennifer said.
This Christmas, the family will celebrate the life of Jesus Christ as well as Jennifer. The ribbon is hard not to notice and has attracted interest from neighbors. The Rays won a neighborhood Christmas lighting competition for the pink masterpiece Dec. 14.
It is hoped her husband's handcrafted gift, which her two children helped to paint, will encourage more women to become knowledgeable about breast cancer and get a mammogram, Jennifer said. Though she is not completely in the clear, as breast cancer recurrence is a threat all survivors must be wary of five years past the day they were diagnosed as cancer-free, she has survived her first year.