Monday, July 27, 2009

The History and The Mission

Growing up, my sister Tina and I were so different. Even though we are only three years apart, the gap felt bigger. We rarely had those special sister moments that people often talk about, but of course we loved each other. My Mom, Dad and I moved to Texas in 1995 while Tina stayed in New Jersey to go to college. The distance in miles has exasperated the distance in our relationship. It wasn’t until our adult years that our friendship began to grow. Unfortunately, it was at that point that life chose to throw some really difficult challenges her way. I feel extremely helpless and want to do whatever it is that I can to make things at least a little better. I want to tell you about Tina. I want to tell you about how her strength has inspired me, and humbled me to ask you for your help.

Tina was first diagnosed with breast cancer in April 2006, at the age of 29. This was a rough period in her life; she was going through some marital troubles and struggling to take care of her two-year-old daughter, Ashley, who is the absolute light of her life. After months of treatment Tina’s cancer went into remission. Although they tried to make things work in their marriage, Tina and her husband eventually divorced, and she was ready to start a new chapter in her life.

Tina had a new lease on life and was ready to find love again; true love that she didn’t even know existed yet. That’s when she met Paul. She described him to me as something straight out of a movie script or romantic novel. She told me that all those cheesy lines about someone lighting up a room, or making your heart skip a beat really do happen. Their relationship has continued to flourish and those moments have yet to disappear. I had never seen Tina so happy.

In the summer of 2008, Tina started to experience pain in her lower back. She thought it was muscle strain that would go away on its own. After a few months, the doctor suggested an MRI where they discovered her cancer had returned, but this time it was much worse. It had spread to her liver and lungs and all throughout her bones in her legs, hips, back, sternum, and arms. I can only imagine how things might be different had she gone to the doctor at the onset of this pain.

The cancer has taken a serious toll on her body. An aggressive drug used in conjunction with the chemotherapy caused rash on her face, the effects of which have yet to fade and may never fully disappear. For reasons we don’t yet know, one of her vocal cords is paralyzed and she sometimes speaks in a whisper. Because of the cancer in her legs and hips, it’s difficult for her to walk. Unfortunately, she lives in a two story house. Since the cancer has spread to her arms and shoulders, she can no longer pull herself up the stairs by the banister and it’s becoming increasing harder to get in and out of the car. On her most recent trip to the hospital to get scans, the doctors discovered she had broken her hip. She’s had surgery to insert pins to stabilize the break. After that has healed, she will receive rigorous physical therapy to reverse the affects of the atrophy caused by being mostly bedridden for more than six months.

Throughout all of this, Tina’s maintained a positive outlook. Sometimes it is difficult for me to understand how strong she is inside, when she looks so weak on the outside. She can hardly walk, has no hair, a scarred face, and can barely speak, but she has an unwavering determination that she will beat this. Her strength is an inspiration to our family and everyone she meets.

When I heard the cancer returned and she would need help, I drove to New Jersey to be her caretaker through the beginning months of chemotherapy. My mother was laid off from her job in April so we traded places. Although I tried my best to care for Tina, there’s nothing like having your mom around.

Paul has been with her throughout all of this. Although they wanted to wait until they were married for them to live together, they’ve decided it was best that he move in now to help out as much as he can.

Tina lost her job after being on disability for more than six months. As luck would have it, Paul also got laid off. There are now three adults under one roof, a five-year-old to take care of, and no one has a job.

Tina and Paul desperately want to get married. He is determined to make this special for Tina, but cannot afford to until he is employed again. Due to my sister’s mobility, there needs to be a remodel on the house which includes a chair lift and a renovation of the bathroom. Just recently the transmission went out on the car which is how she and my mother get to the hospital in Philadelphia every day for radiation and physical therapy treatments. The family is chipping in to help with these expenses. With mounting medical bills, the cost of raising a child, every day bills and expenditures, and now an expensive remodel, a wedding is the last thing they can afford.

I am reaching out to the public because I simply don’t know what else to do. It is heartbreaking to see Tina get hit with a new obstacle every time she turns around. She’s gone through so much grief; I want to be able to give her some joy. I want to give Tina and Paul the wedding they deserve and a time to gather extended family to celebrate this truly wonderful occasion. Nothing over-the-top or incredibly fancy, just something that right now is unfortunately beyond their means given all of the medical expenses and the economic hardships. I know that Paul has made Tina happier than she’s ever been, and I’d like to give them the opportunity to focus on that. I want to give my sister another way to fight this cancer – by focusing her energy on the love she’s found. We never know how much time we have on this earth and I think it’s important that they don’t put it off. True love should never have to wait.

I am sending the above letter to people and companies that might be able to help with this cause. If you know of anyone who may be able to help, please contact me. Thank you everyone for your love, support, prayers and positive thoughts.


  1. Thank you for telling Tina's story. She is a true inspiration for others.

  2. Jen, this is so beautiful. I am so sorry for all your family has and will soon face. Your courage is amazing but I'm sure is small in comparison to Tina's strength. Please pass our love and prayers on to Tina and all associated with you. I will pass this story on to those who might understand and have some connections. I do hope you all find a way to make her dreams come true. Love is an amazing thing and can move moutains. Your mountain seens to be bigger than most but with family, love, and help all hurdles can be conquered. Sending out love your way!!!
    Amanda Hattaway (Appel)

  3. Tina, more-than-likely, does not remember me but I went to highschool with her and we have many mutual friends. I'm a great professional photographer who is more than willing to capture/donate her one-day wedding for her, and any other milestones along the way. I know of enough wonderfully large-hearted people in the wedding industry that would be interested in joining in efforts of seeing Tina and Paul get married--please feel free to put me to work!! I'm touched by her story and will share in her belief that she will make it through. Hopefully the energy and prayers helps to do their part, too!
    Autumn Powell (Pittelli)
    Pittelli Photography