ROCK ISLAND — Janae White is fighting for her life, one day at a time.
Doctors have repeatedly told her that her days are numbered. One gave her two months to live. Another told her she had five to nine months at the most. They told her there was no stopping the 14 cancerous tumors growing in her brain.
So far, she’s proved them wrong. It’s been 20 months since her first cancer diagnosis. And after a very rough first year, Janae says she’s getting stronger each day thanks to great help from conventional and alternative medical professionals as well as her family, friends and strong faith. And her own gritty determination to live.
“Any tragedy can strengthen you or take you down,” the 52-year-old Rock Island woman said. “It’s blessed me to think of that every day.”
Her unexpected health problems surfaced July 4, 2009, when she experienced her first mysterious seizure after watching fireworks with her family. Her husband, local businessman Calvin White, rushed her to Central Washington Hospital, where she had two more brief seizures. Her face and body became paralyzed and she couldn’t speak or move. An X-ray showed eight fingernail-size tumors growing in her brain. A second brain scan later at the University of Washington Medical Center found several smaller tumors — 14 in all — as well as other “chips” that doctors said could develop into even more.
Doctors operated to remove the largest tumor a few days later. A biopsy showed it to be metastatic melanoma, a serious form of skin cancer that had probably spread through the spinal cord to her brain. They examined her body, but couldn’t find a source of the cancer. They still haven’t to this day. Doctors told her the cancer had advanced to stage IV, the most critical and life-threatening stage. Radiation and chemotherapy would probably only extend her life a few months — less than a year — beyond doing nothing at all.
“I was in shock,” said Janae, who sat with her husband on a couch in the expansive living room of their home near Rock Island. A grand piano was positioned near the floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the Columbia River. Religious choral music played on an intercom. A Bible laid open on a table.
“I’ve always been healthy. I was raised Mormon. I’ve never smoked, drank or taken any kind of drugs. When you take that kind of care of yourself you assume that nothing like this will happen.”
At 52, Janae White has already lived a full and accomplished life. She and Calvin have been married 32 years. They have six children and 13 grandchildren. Janae is a concert pianist who has performed widely and recorded several CDs. She plays organ in her church and taught seminary classes for nine years. She was a Gold’s Gym trainer and bodybuilder who has competed and won bodybuilding contests throughout the Northwest.
Now, it’s life one day at a time. She realized a goal by surviving long enough to hold triplets born to her daughter Bergen in November. Her next goal is to hang on through April to see her youngest son, Colton, who has been serving a mission in Guatamala the past two years.
“Life is a wonderful gift. It’s wonderful to get up every day, but it’s really hard to think I have to give that up,” she said. “You ask yourself, when is it convenient to die? I believe in life after death, but I don’t want to go. I have 13 grandkids all under 7 years old. I can’t leave them now. They won’t remember me.”
The Whites initially rejected the conventional medical treatment of using aggressive radiation and chemotherapy to shrink the tumors. Doctors warned her of the severe side effects and told her the treatments could extend her life a few months, but probably wouldn’t save it.
Janae felt the treatment would also shrink her brain and lessen the quality of her remaining life.
She decided to try a naturopath’s plan of infusions, colon cleansing and taking 30 different natural herbs and tinctures that would strengthen her immune system. She went on a restrictive diet of very specific juices, fruits and vegetables.
“It’s not that we didn’t have faith in doctors, but we wanted to try everything,” Calvin White said. Janae lost about 40 pounds in three months. Brain scans later showed that the tumors were breaking down, but the process was also causing them to swell, creating pressure on Janae’s brain and causing her to have more seizures and stroke-like symptoms. Her body functions began shutting down.
“I got scared and decided I needed to get some medical help,” she said. She started a round of radiation and chemotherapy in September 2009. The next month she went to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle for more advanced gamma knife treatment to pinpoint radiation at each specific tumor. Doctors spent five hours shooting cobalt rays at the eight largest tumors.
A scan taken Sept. 30 found that seven of the treated tumors had shrunk or not changed at all, while one had grown several times its previous size. She underwent another gamma knife treatment the following day. Her next brain scan is scheduled for Wednesday.
“Scan days are very anxious days for me,” she said.
Doctors tell Janae she is doing remarkably well, probably due to her healthy lifestyle. They also tell her the cancer will likely always return.
Last December, the Whites traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, to try another alternative treatment that might help Janae keep the cancer at bay. She underwent a 21-day treatment at the International Biocare Hospital and Medical Center to detoxify her body and strengthen her immune system. She plans to return for a 12-day follow-up treatment in April.
“When your life is on the line, you have to do everything you can,” she said. “I’ve already lived past when I was supposed to. I appreciate every day of life I get.”
Rick Steigmeyer: 664-7151