A single parent a long way from home with a youngster suffering with cancer may seem like quite a lot to deal with, but a friendship developed over soup and a deli sandwich, along with a world leader in pediatric cancer treatment, are together helping to take on the daunting task.
Jenny Stevenson has spent the past several months in the Mid-South, away from her home in Ottawa, Ill., with her now five-year-old daughter Korie Brust.
As a four-year-old girl, Korie was found to have a form of cancer known as posterior fossa syndrome, which eventually developed a tumor the size of a lemon, Stevenson said.
The cancer was found after Korie began to complain of having headaches followed by vomiting, actions that became consistent, Stevenson said.
“Our doctor that I work for, his daughter happened to go through cancer treatment as well and he said to take her to the eye doctor,” Stevenson said. “So we took her to the eye doctor and he told us to take her to the emergency room that night. There’s something pushing on her optic nerve, there’s a mass of some kind.”
An MRI led to surgery in February and the discovery of the tumor.
“I was kind of in shock,” Stevenson, who works as a medical office assistant in Illinois, said. “I got the anger of why my child? I just hope and pray that my doctors are going to lead us in the right way.”
Part of the initial result of Korie’s cancerous tumor found with surgery was that she couldn’t walk or talk, she had no hand movements and could not control bowel movements.
Another initial result of posterior fossa syndrome is that sufferers either express laughter or anger.
“We got the laugh a lot,” Stevenson said. “She giggled, she laughed and I’d rather have that because that’s her personality than the anger and crying.”
The pair’s connection with the Potbelly Sandwich Shop and the basis for a weekend fundraiser comes from their enjoyment of the soup and food served by the franchise that has an Olive Branch shop owned and operated by Fabian Nelson.
“Whenever we’re having a bad day, we always go to restaurants that remind us of home,” Stevenson said. “Right now I make some shirts and sell them since I’m not working now. I found there was a Potbelly here, we came in here a couple of times, started talking with him (Nelson), gave him a Korie bracelet and we’ve hit it off ever since.”
“She’s extremely special to me,” Nelson said about Korie. “I’m a father of four and I understand what Jenny has to be going through in terms of making sure that everything is in position for Korie to win her victory over cancer.”
It's through the relationship Nelson and Stevenson now have that Nelson will host a fundraiser Saturday at his sandwich shop. All profits from the day will go directly to Jenny and Korie. Although St. Jude and the Ronald McDonald House do not charge for medical treatment and living at the house while Korie is a patient there, some daily living expenses are still required and Saturday’s fundraiser will help cover that.
Korie has since come back to be able to move, function and talk, thanks to her treatment at St. Jude, where she was sent from OSF St. Francis Children’s Hospital in Peoria, Ill., a St. Jude affiliate facility.
“We arrived here Feb. 26,” Stevenson explained. “Our last MRI is the second week in January, so it depends on her counts.”
The Southern hospitality this region of the country is known for has certainly been showered on Korie and Jenny.
“It’s been just amazing,” Jenny said. “What she has is normal here. Nobody stares but they accept it. Any given time, we’ll be in Walmart and people will ask if they can pray for us, and I say, ‘Of course, let’s do it.’”
Jenny said the prognosis for her daughter is good.
“So far, so good,” she said. “I tell everybody that if we were blessed with a cancer, we were blessed with a good cancer. They have cures for this cancer. Our outcome should be good.”
And Korie’s battle with a dreaded disease will be aided by generous DeSoto County customers of a sandwich shop found because the soup reminded them of home.
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.