In the Land of the Living
Written by Megan Johnson
“One of the things we found out is that your life can’t just be about cancer. You’ve got to be praying for other people. You need to be living a life that’s not totally centered on your illness. And, yes, God comes first. But still, there needs to be something that’s keeping you connected to others.”
RealLife small groups have been a point of that connection for Jeri Dowell and Al Cole. When Jeri describes the kind of support and love she has received from being a part of a small group, her expression changes completely: “They were the closest people to me. They were the people that were caring for us, carrying us, encouraging us, and praying for us.”
Jeri was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2017. Since then, she has battled the illness with rounds of chemo, but after a long road, she has been told there is nothing more that the doctors can do. “I have tumors in my brain. Cancer is everywhere. So I am definitely at the ‘end of life’ stage,” Jeri said matter-of-factly.
With months, maybe weeks, left, Jeri chose to spend time reflecting on her time at RealLife. “I continue to thank God all the time for RealLife, thinking that I could have died and not known anything about grace.” Jeri grew up in a church that was “more sin-conscious as opposed to Jesus-conscious,” as she described it. While she is grateful for her faith foundation, she found RealLife to be incredibly refreshing after nearly 50 years at the same church.”I think Kyle is the perfect person to speak to our generation; he can make things so very simple, and that was what I really needed.”
Outside of Sunday mornings, Jeri and Al cannot say enough good things about being a part of a RealLife small group. “They offered us true fellowship and real friendships. In all the years of my treatments, I’ve only missed two appointments, thanks to their support. They also immediately started bringing us meals.
“More than that, our group brought us out of isolation when COVID made that nearly impossible for a cancer patient.” Jeri’s entire group had already received vaccinations and made Jeri’s need for community a high priority. Her Group chose to meet her doctor’s requirements for personal contact as well, so Jeri and her husband were able to join their group while they were facing the biggest battle of their lives.
The best thing you can do for anyone who is battling cancer is to be pushy and sincere in asking them questions that really matter. “Ask them if there is something that will either make them laugh, make them feel better or something that will lighten their load today.” Her small group was excellent at doing this.
“Donna Turner called me and said, ‘We would like to invite you guys into our group,’” Jeri shared. “She said, ‘we’re totally aware of your situation, and we will do anything that your doctor wants you to do. If he wants you to be only with masked people, we’re totally willing to mask.’”
Jeri shakes her head in amazement: “Just wow! You know?”
“If your doctor wants you to distance, we will distance too,” Jeri recalls. “They took such protective care of my health that it allowed us to go. It was their care for me that brought us out of isolation. I don’t think I would have ever met these people otherwise.”
However, it wasn’t just creating a space for her to meaningfully connect during COVID that Jeri’s grateful for. “They would also call me and ask, ‘Ok, what’s really important to you right now? What do you want to do or get done before this whole thing is over?’”
It is experiences and thoughtful questions like this that give Jeri such passion for small groups, “This is the advice I would give anyone: get your support group. Right now. Do it while everything is good. Do it during a time when you can be an encouragement to others, because when you’re in a very dramatic, hard time, you’re not going to be able to reach out and form a group.”
“Yes, you can form prayer chains. But there’s just nothing like a small group. Our experience was that our group were the same people who were most aware of everything that was going on and were willing to do anything.”
Jeri has lived a full life with deep roots in the Chelan Valley. She was born and raised in Chelan and lives less than a mile from the house she grew up in. Her love for Scripture and God reaches as far back as she can remember. “My mother told us that we had to go to church with her until we were 12, but then after that, we could choose to go on our own if we wanted to or not.” Jeri smiled. “I kept going.”
She felt it was her duty to support and be present in the community. Jeri has given herself to many different committees and causes over the years, including her role as chamber president, leading Celebrate Recovery groups, and keeping her own accounting business. “I have a very strong belief that church is the best civic responsibility. We agree with RealLife that we’re responsible for everyone in this community.”
Jeri’s passion for doing things well and being engaged with her community is palpable. As she speaks, she doesn’t look like a woman on her deathbed. In fact, you’d never guess her body is riddled with cancer cells. Even her doctors don’t understand how she appears so healthy.
“My doctors have told me for the umpteenth time that there is nothing they can do for me,” she laughs, “but even though I look terrible on paper, I look great in person, so they keep letting me come back!” Her dangly red earrings and bright red fingernail polish tell a story of vibrancy; even while facing the end of things. “One verse that is giving me hope right now is, “I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.”
Jeri begins to wrap up her thoughts with some definitive statements. “It’s very obvious that the cancer has completely changed, and we really are at the end of things. But I’m so thankful that God hasn’t changed. He is still my constant; he is still with me every day. He has been with me every step of the way.”
“I do believe in miracles, and I believe I am evidence of His miracles. These last five-and-a-half years have been miraculous in many ways.”
She attributes the toleration of her treatments and the incredible people who have cared for her as a part of God’s miraculous work. “I’ve also been able to witness to other people in the chemo room about Jesus. Cancer is not the worst thing that has happened to me in the last five years. It just isn’t.”
She takes a long breath before continuing, “This is what I want you to know: you can depend on God. He comforts us. He provides for us.” She stops and laughs again, her smile widening and her eyes sparkling, “I don’t want to be too preachy, but, no matter what, God doesn’t change. Whatever God has for me is highest and best, I have no doubts about that.”
Jeri would like to thank the following people for being in their small groups and for their care in her life during this cancer battle:
Garry and Donna Turner, Arnold and Melody Baker, Dave and Chuc Laskowski, Randy and Terri Doull, Al Cole, Bill and Bev Hughes, Carol White, Nancy and Rusty Farmer, Terry and Laura Larson, Richard and Beverly Oliver, Don and Elma Puyeau, Steve & Kathy Sturtz, Greg & Kathy Stafford