April 20, 2011 (LifeSiteNews.com) – In August of last year Jessica Council – a beautiful, 30-year-old mother of one – noticed that she had a sore throat. At around the same time, she also began to suspect that she was pregnant.
When after two weeks the sore throat had not gone away, Jessica decided to have it checked out. Her doctor told her that it was probably a thyroid goiter, and ultimately nothing to be too concerned about. Just to be sure, however, he had a test done, which he said confirmed his initial suspicions. Everything would be ok, he said.
But everything was not ok. The doctor had misread the test.
Around November 15th, Jessica began having trouble breathing. On November 21st she landed in the emergency room. Then, on November 22nd, her throat closed up so tightly that she could not breathe, at which point doctors managed to insert a tube down her throat, and put her on a ventilator.
The following day, November 23rd, Jessica was informed that she had cancer. By then, she also knew for certain that she was with child.
Thus began a journey that would put the faith and pro-life convictions of Jessica and her husband, Clint, to the ultimate test.
“It was worth every day”
Jessica and Clint met at Greenville College School. In a lengthy interview with LifeSiteNews.com, Clint said that he had spotted the gorgeous redhead sitting one day in the university dining hall, and asked if he could join her. She refused. But Clint didn’t give up.
In fact, it took Clint a year and a half of pestering before Jessica agreed to go on a date; the couple married two and a half years after that. “I guess when you know you know,” he said. “I had to work really hard for her, but it was worth every day.”
The pair moved to Traveler’s Rest, South Carolina, where they had a son and worked at a Christian charity as youth mentors. Life was good: they were young, in love, healthy, and enjoying life.
Clint points out that his wife always took meticulous care of herself. “She’s always been extremely, extremely healthy,” he said. “Watched what she ate very carefully. Tried to honor God with her body. Exercised regularly.”
For this reason, the last thing either of them expected was the cancer that struck last August.
No more options
Clint describes his wife’s reaction to the news of the cancer in her throat as “a mixture of fear and surprise.” As for himself, he says he felt “just every emotion you can think of … except for joy. I was a basket case.”
But, of course, Jessica wasn’t the only one threatened by the cancer: she was pregnant, and any treatments she underwent would almost certainly harm, and possibly even kill her unborn child.
On November 25th, the hospital’s OB/GYN offered the couple an abortion. Clint says Jessica never hesitated. “That was never an option,” he said. “That is black and white.”
But what was less black and white was whether or not to accept treatments: while the oncologist said chemotherapy would likely kill the baby, the OB/GYN disagreed, saying the baby would probably survive, but suffer brain damage.
“Jessica looked at me, and it took her a few seconds,” says Clint, “and she shook her head ‘no.’” She also refused radiation therapy because of its similar risks.
“We really didn’t have a lot of treatment options after that,” said Clint, pointing out that surgery was never an option because of where the cancer was.
“She did not wake up”
The treatment question came up again when the baby reached the third trimester. At that point, says Clint, the decision was much more difficult, with the doctors claiming that the risks were minimal because the baby was almost fully developed.
However, Jessica still refused the treatments for the sake of her unborn child – a decision that Clint says left her doctors “very confused.”
Clint confides that neither he nor his wife felt doctors were being completely straightforward about the risks. But he also says that his wife had another reason for refusing the treatments.
“She knew she was going to die anyway,” he says. “She didn’t share that with me until almost when she died. … But I think she knew, and she was thinking she was going to give this baby every chance she could.”
Although the couple found some success with alternative methods to stem the cancer’s growth, including a strict diet of organic vegetable juices and supplements, without more aggressive treatments it was only a matter of time before the cancer got the upper hand.
A 23-week miracle
On the night of February 5, Jessica went to sleep with a headache and nausea. “She did not wake up,” says Clint.
The following day the hospital declared Jessica brain dead, and Clint gave the doctors the go-ahead to deliver by C-section. On February 6, little “Jessi” was born, weighing only 1 lb 3 oz.
Doctors had thought that Jessica was 25 weeks pregnant, but after they delivered the baby they realized that she was likely only about 23 and a half weeks along – the absolute threshold of viability.
“I can only testify to God’s grace on that, because Jessica died right when the baby was viable for life outside the womb,” says Clint. Doctors say baby Jessi is doing well.
Clint describes the whole experience as “emotionally brutal,” and admits that despite his firm Christian and pro-life convictions, it was the farthest thing from easy to take the path that he and his wife did.
“Yes, I did struggle,” he says, “because in the Bible the one person that we’re commanded to love more than myself, this was her. I did struggle.”
“Sometimes it’s easier to be selfless as far as whatever happens to you,” he points out, “but when it comes down to losing the one you love more than anything else, it’s very difficult.”
It was also difficult for their two-and-a-half-year-old son. Clint recounts that after Jessica went into the hospital, his son was unable to see her for about a month, and during that time he wouldn’t even look at or speak to his father. But after he got to visit his mother, “he started doing better,” says Clint.
After Jessica’s death the boy suffered a period of acute “separation anxiety,” although his father says he has begun to adjust.
As for Clint himself, barely two months after his wife’s death, he says that he is operating on autopilot, staying busy with work and caring for his two children.
At this point he pauses. “I’m going to be very open,” he says, remarking that he wants to do whatever he can to help others who might be in a similar situation. “For about the first month, I could not – and I mean that as in a literal inability – I could not read my Bible, I could not pray.”
He describes the feeling as akin to that of a child being disciplined by a parent: “Even though I knew cognitively that the relationship was there, I knew [God] loved me, I accepted all these things from a mental standpoint. I felt nothing, spiritually.
“And it’s not about the feelings, but the delight in God was completely gone for about a month. I was functioning solely on what I knew to be true from a mental standpoint.”
Now, however, he says he has moved beyond that first stage, and has begun to pray again, including for other people.
Nevertheless, he says there will probably come a time when he will have to drop everything, and properly mourn the loss of his wife.
“God be praised”
Even though the weariness and the suffering is palpable in Clint’s voice, in speaking to him one detects something else as well – a deep resignation born not of despair, but of an authentic, rooted faith that accepts that this suffering was ultimately meaningful, and that there are worse tragedies even than death.
In a note penned less than two weeks after Jessica’s death, and posted to a blog about her struggle with cancer, Clint wrote the last words many would expect to hear from a man who has just lost a young wife whom he dearly loved.
“God is to be praised, my Friends,” he said. “Do not doubt God; do not be angry with Him for me.
“I am privileged to have had a Wife who was so full of the love of the Father. Rejoice with me, Brothers and Sisters. God has blessed Jessica in taking her to place of perfect peace and no pain. I must be thankful for the time that I had with her rather than ungrateful for all the things we never got to do together. We must give thanks in all things for this is the will of God in Jesus Christ.
“Grace and Peace to all.”