To be told he had melanoma cancer totally shocked Joel Saunders and his family who live in Fort Wayne, Indiana. An auto technician (window installer), Joel was always extremely healthy and rarely called in sick to work. He has been married to Kimberly for 17 years. They have one child, a daughter, Jadyn, who is now eleven years old. The three of them love the Lord with all their hearts and are members of a local church.
It all began when Joel discovered a pea-sized lump on his shoulder near the base of his neck. After having the lump surgically removed in August 2009, he was diagnosed with melanoma cancer in the lymph node. Later that month Joel had a “modified radical neck dissection” where they removed about 30 more lymph nodes in his neck, jaw, and shoulder areas.
Joel had a port surgically installed in his chest and then began Interferon, an aggressive treatment that caused horrific side effects. It was given via the port for about two hours every day, Mon through Fri, for four weeks. Then Joel had to go to the hospital three days a week for another ELEVEN months to get Interferon shots (lesser dosage). He remained very sick the entire time while on Interferon. He was so ill he could barely get out of bed or off the couch. They thought they were going to lose him.
During this time Joel was terminated (in good standing) from the job he held for seven years and placed on short term, and subsequently long term, disability. Joel continued with the debilitating Interferon treatments for several months. In February 2010 a PET scan was done, and it showed the cancer had spread into Joel’s brain. Joel was told he could no longer drive because he was susceptible to seizures. They immediately stopped the Interferon treatments.
In March 2010 Joel had “full brain radiation” at one of the local hospitals for about three weeks (14 treatments). He continued feeling incredibly ill. After the completion of the brain radiation Joel became even MORE ill with “spells” that we could not explain. He also suffered from vomiting, tremendous headaches, fever, and chills. The radiology nurses/doctors could not tell us why this was happening.
Things seemed pretty bad for the Saunders family at this time. But they have a strong faith and trust in God to carry them through even the most difficult situations. Joel’s wife, Kimberly, knew something was very wrong and that Joel was getting worse. She took it upon herself to look up the Mayo Clinic online. The closest one was in Rochester, Minnesota which was a ten hour drive (one way) from their home. She called the 800 number and gave them all the requested information over the phone and later through the mail. Within 48 hours they called Kimberly and Joel and advised that they wanted Joel to come up so they could “take a look” at him and see if they would be able to help. The appointment was about one week later, toward the end of March.
On the morning of Joel’s appointments at the Mayo, he became violently ill and had to be taken to the emergency room. He missed his appointments and had no idea when they would be able to reschedule. Joel was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital, which unknown to the Saunders family at the time, is part of the Mayo Clinic.
Joel was admitted into the hospital and had a room in the Domitilla building. They proceeded to perform many tests over the next several days. On April 1. Dr. Daniel Lachance from Mayo neurology-oncology walked into Joel’s hospital room around 5:00 in the afternoon. Joel had been put on steroids and other medications, and he was feeling much better at this time. Dr. Lachance advised us that two of the three tumors could be surgically removed. This was the first time any doctor had even suggested surgery!! Dr. Lachance also advised that they “happened” to have an opening the very next morning at 6:30 and could perform brain surgery on Joel. They would cut Joel’s skull in two places and surgically remove the two tumors on the front left side of his brain. Joel had to make a decision by 7:00 that evening. They needed to do tests and make other preparations for his surgery the next morning if he chose to go ahead with it.
The Saunders family fully believe that God’s hand was directing the circumstances that had given Dr. Jonathan Bledsoe a cancellation the next morning providing him the opportunity to perform Joel’s surgery. Even though they were several states away from home, had no friends or family near them, they prayed about it, and Joel decided to go ahead with the surgery the next morning…which was on Good Friday of Easter weekend 2010. Joel and Kimberly chose to trust in the Lord and tried to stay as positive as they could, especially to set a good example for their daughter. That night the nurses were kind enough to bring two cots into Joel’s room so that Kimberly and Jadyn could sleep in the same room with Joel the night before he had major brain surgery…
Written by Kimberly K. Saunders
Next: “Joey’s Hope – Part 2 of 4“