A Life of Giving
Janet never planned to leave Cleveland.
But, as she knows well, life can take incredible turns. After years of building a career as a social worker in the Midwest, her faith led her somewhere completely different.
“When I was working at [St. Vincent Charity Medical Center] in Cleveland, I went to a prayer group, and all of the sudden, I realized I needed to go to Medjugorje.”
Medjugorje, a small town in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has become a popular site for Catholic pilgrimages. Janet renewed her passport, and before she knew it, she was on a plane headed toward a small town she never dreamed she’d visit. She expected even less that she would build a life there.
However, when the Bosnian War broke out, Janet once again found herself on a plane—this time returning with medical supplies. Throughout the war, she made multiple trips, gathering and distributing supplies and helping in any way she could. In 2001, after splitting her time between Cleveland and Bosnia-Herzegovina, she sold her house and moved overseas.
“I ended up doing good old-fashioned social work—some of it medical, some of it housing, some of it food—and I would just evaluate what was needed and verify, then send out newsletters and talk to pilgrims who would come over and try to connect them to help. It wasn’t anything I ever planned to do.”
Eight months into her work, Janet’s life took an even more unexpected turn when she was diagnosed with ductal breast cancer. She underwent a mastectomy, received chemotherapy and took medications to keep the cancer in check, all while in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Though the treatments left her tired, she pushed forward with her work. She went about her business bald—not a common thing for a woman in that country.
“I cannot stand anything on my head. … I became known as the crazy American,” she recalled with a smile.
Janet continued with her work until a routine doctor’s appointment in 2005 revealed that the cancer had not only returned but spread. After further radiation and medications, she was back on her feet, organizing programs and connecting citizens with help.
After about 10 years overseas, Janet returned to Cleveland and bought a small house to remodel. However, a bone scan set her plans back yet again. The cancer had returned. For years, she cycled through treatments and medications to prevent the cancer from progressing. All the while, Janet has persisted with an incredible attitude, a sense of humor and a strong faith.
Through her experience as a medical social worker, Janet has been a fierce advocate for her own health. She questions her doctors, digging into the specifics of her condition.
“I have done a lot of research on my own to look up side effects to anything I’m on. … I lined up a pulmonologist as soon as I heard [the cancer] was in the lungs. And [I lined up] a heart doctor because nobody had ever checked my heart through all of this. It’s [been] 14 years, and I thought, ‘Chemo could have an effect on your heart.’ I thought it would have damaged some of the muscles, and it hadn’t.”
Finding care providers she would work well with put her in contact with Diplomat. She was prescribed a new medication that quickly resulted in improvement. Daily activities became less taxing, and she had energy that she hadn’t for the previous three years.
“My experience with [Diplomat], from the moment I’ve had contact, has just been outstanding. It’s so personal. They act like I’m the only one they’re concerned about at the time. … When I first talked to the person [from Diplomat] who called me, she told me what the cost would be … but my part would be about $1,700 a month. I said, ‘Well, that just cuts it right there. I have no money. … I sold my house and used that to live on in Bosnia. … I am living on very little.’ Within 24 hours, she called me back and said this foundation approved to pick it up, and they’ve been taking care of my part of it ever since.”
Janet began volunteering at a homeless shelter serving people with medical issues. The biggest challenge, she said, is pacing herself.
“Accepting there are good days, bad days and those in between has been a big necessity.”
With her energy returning, Janet described her turnaround as amazing. For the first time in years, she felt like herself. Over the summer, she traveled to see her great niece get married in New York. And in September, she once again found herself on a plane—this time for another visit to Bosnia-Herzegovina.