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LDS mother battling cancer is cherishing time, making memories

Jessica Herbert doesn’t know if she will live another week, a year or longer. She does, however, know that her time is likely limited, and that knowledge has changed her life.

“The littlest things, I just appreciate,” said Herbert, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from Springville, Utah. “Like being able to wake up is such a gift to me now, and I just look at things with a different perspective than I used to. I feel like all of my relationships are stronger because of what has happened to me.”

Until March 5, 2015, Herbert had enjoyed good health and was expecting her third child when she had a seizure while sleeping and was rushed to the hospital. Doctors discovered a tumor on the frontal lobe of her brain, and Herbert had surgery two days later.

“People were surrounding me the whole time,” Herbert said. “Friends came and visited me, so I never had time to process what was really going on. Once I did, I was just mad … at the situation. I felt like I was being robbed from my girls and my husband. I’m a young mom, and they’re young kids.”

Herbert and her husband, Eric, are the parents of three daughters: Harlow, 6; Harper, 3; and Hazel, 7 months.

The young mother soon learned that anger would do nothing to improve her situation.

“I realized attitude is everything,” Herbert said. “If you don’t have a good attitude, you’re not going to heal. It takes a good attitude to get better and to feel better.”

Doctors were optimistic because the tumor was operable, and they felt they were able to remove almost all of it. Four months later, on July 17, 2015, Herbert gave birth to Hazel. After three weeks of enjoying her newborn, Herbert began chemotherapy and radiation. All seemed to be going well until last month, when another spot was found on Herbert’s brain. Doctors will soon do an MRI to determine whether it is a tumor.

But Herbert said she has no plans of exiting this life anytime soon.

“I plan on sticking around and doing whatever I can,” Herbert said. “I’m willing to try whatever I need to try, and I feel like I have very capable doctors. I really like them a lot, and I feel like I’m in good hands with them.”

Still, this experience has made her appreciate every aspect of life a bit more. She enjoys spending time outside more than she used to, and when a doctor recently asked her younger brother if her behavior had changed, her brother replied, “Well, she’s a lot sweeter to me.”

“It’s sad that it takes things like that to strengthen relationships,” Herbert said. “It shouldn’t be like that, but I appreciate my girls, even if they’re throwing fits and stuff. I feel like I’m ... trying to be more patient with them.”

Herbert understands what her daughters are experiencing. In 2010, Herbert lost her mother to breast cancer. She said she remembers watching her mom go from a healthy 49-year-old to “virtually an 80- or 90-year-old.”

“Watching her and how strong she was and how she kept a good attitude, that was such a good example to me,” Herbert said. “And I thought, 'If she can do that, I can do it.' … She passed away in front of our eyes. She wilted away. So seeing that with my eyes and being there definitely helped prepare me to be strong and not complain.

“I never heard a complaint out of her mouth. She didn’t have the easiest life, so I feel like she definitely helped prepare me for this, and I feel like she’s been along the way for me throughout this whole thing.”

Herbert hopes her daughters will look up to her the way she looks up to her mother.

“I just hope I can be a good example to them,” Herbert said. “I have always wanted to be a mom my entire life. I want to raise my kids. That’s kind of selfish, but I want to be the one experiencing all of their firsts. I want to do it with them.”

This is why when her brother Jeremiah Johnson and his wife, Lindsey, set up a YouCaring page to raise money for the Herberts, it focused more on creating memories than paying medical bills.

“Our wish is for Jessica and her family to enjoy every minute they have together,” the Johnsons wrote on the YouCaring page. “Jessica would love to travel, to help build a future for her girls and to create memories with her family that they can cherish forever.”

In April, the Herbert family plans to do just that when they go to Europe, thanks to the contributions of over 450 people who donated $30,100.

“We were just blown away by perfect strangers who donated money,” Herbert said. “It’s insane how generous people are and how giving and loving people are. I always see stuff like that and think, ‘Oh, poor family,’ and I don’t take action, but they took action and had such nice things to say and well-wishes.”

Herbert said her oldest daughter, Harlow, became “obsessed” with Europe when her Aunt Samantha Herbert went there for a study abroad program. Samantha sent Harlow pictures, and a love for Europe was born.

“I think with little kids any new experience is amazing,” Herbert said. “And I just decided if they ever go to Paris, I’m going to go with them and experience it with them and see it through their eyes.”

Having received a wake-up call, Herbert considers herself lucky to have this chance to live fully.

“So many people have tragic accidents, and who knows if they even appreciated that day they passed away,” Herbert said. “I’m lucky enough to kind of have a timeline given to me. … I’m lucky enough to realize I could be gone in a week. I could be gone in a year, five years, who knows? But it will most likely take my life. So … enjoy simple things and keep a sense of humor. Don’t get upset about trials. They’re given to you for a reason, and we’re never given anything we can’t handle, so if you ever feel like giving up, don’t give up.”

Email: mjones@deseretdigital.com