Emma’s story isn’t a unique one, in that sadly, in 2020 alone, the number of new cancer cases in the United States was estimated at 1.8 million, with approximately 606,000 of those ending in death, cancer.org.

However, her story is unique, in that, when it happens to a family member, a friend, yourself, the statistics cease to matter. In that moment the reality of it becomes real in a way it never could before. It’s no longer separate, but very personal, very intimate, and very frightening.

Like many families, cancer has impacted ours many times over. Cancer took my husband’s father in 1999, my father in 2010. We lost our niece to breast cancer at the age of 33, in 2013. A few years later, in 2015, we lost my husband’s sister to brain cancer. She was only 56.

Yet, even the pain and devastation of those losses could not prepare us for the blow that four little words would deliver: Your daughter has cancer.

This is Emma’s story.

Emma and her big sister in 2016, a few days before she would begin chemotherapy for stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma.

Five years ago, at the age of 17, after almost a year of tests and continued deteriorating health, Emma was diagnosed with stage 4 Hodgkins Lymphoma. The diagnosis was both a blessing, we finally knew what was wrong, and a curse, how could this be happening to her?

Fear and faith overwhelmed us. But in the end, it was Emma, herself who would fight this battle in mind, in body, in spirit. We could comfort, support, care for, and pray, but it would be Emma doing the fighting. And with faith and hope, did she ever fight.

She spent her senior year of high school at Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville where she underwent intensive chemotherapy to battle this deadly disease. Her warrior spirit and faith were something to behold.

Emma receiving her first chemo treatment. The day before she had cut her long hair and donated the length to Locks for Love. As it always was, her guitar was with her….and that smile.

As parents, my husband and I were humbled by her strength during such devastating circumstances. Instead of complaining or feeling sorry for herself she rose up. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, she turned her love and talent in music and art to gifts she shared with other patients and their families on the children’s wing.

She finished high school virtually, and played her guitar and sang as often as she could. She became known as the “Rockstar” of the pediatric floor.

Emma in June, 2016, before her final chemo treatment. Still smiling. Still grateful.

June 2021 marks five years cancer free for Em. Five years cancer free in the medical community is often referred to as ‘cured’ since the likelihood of reoccurrence is very small. We’ll take that.

We know how lucky we are. We know that Emma’s story doesn’t always end for others the way it did for her. And we are so very grateful for this miracle. We praise God every day for this precious gift he has given our family.

During her illness, Emma wrote a beautiful song called, Breathe. In 2019, we traveled to LA as a family, where she worked with producers and recorded it as her first single at Paramount Recording Studios. It was a family celebration of a lifetime.

Emma in 2019 recording her first single, Breathe, Los Angeles California.

She asked her dad, also a musician, to play on the track. She asked her big sister and I to sing backup vocals. It was a beautiful and inspirational moment when it all came together. One that we will cherish for a lifetime.

This is us in LA in the studio with Emma. We obviously had too much time between sessions!

Emma is almost 23 now. She’s healthy and strong. She continues her journey grateful every day for the opportunities and the life before her. She still sings. Still plays her guitar. Still writes music. She doesn’t define herself by her cancer story. Rather, she acknowledges that her story is one among millions and deeply humbled that unlike so many others, she was given another chance to live, to love, to be.

I’ve learned to be grateful for the hard times, because without them the good times wouldn’t be as good. I’ve learned more about myself and who I am. I’ve learned that even in the toughest times, you can make great memories. And I’ve learned that the way you think can change not only your experience, but also those around you. If you’re positive, it affects others in a positive way. Mostly I’ve learned that worrying is pointless, because you’re not in control. I’ve learned to trust God in all things, no matter the outcome.

Emma Rose Fenwick
Our Emma today.

Thank you for letting me share Emma’s story.

Breathe by Emma Rose is available on all platforms if you’d like to listen. ♥️

JN Fenwick (© 2021)

Teachers are expected to reach unattainable goals with inadequate tools. The miracle is that at times they accomplish this impossible task.

Haim Ginott

I left teaching in 2008. As the years pass, I realize that I left a bit of myself there too. In the lives of all the students I taught and in all the ways they enriched my soul.

For the past decade I have worked in the government contracting industry as a developer of training and educational products for the Department of Defense (DoD). Still a form of teaching, I suppose, but not in the same way as the fifteen years I spent in the classroom and as a coach. Those years, I admit, were the pinnacle of my career, for nothing else I would ever do would feed my soul or fill my heart with so much gratitude and pride.

My students are now adults, college graduates, husbands and wives, parents, contributing in their own ways, to the world around them. I keep in touch with many of them, thanks to the ease of social media, and I’ve even worked with a few of them at times. They still call me, “Ms. Fenwick, or Fenny,” even though I tell them they can call me “Jennifer,” now that they are grown. They have a hard time with that, as I suppose no matter how old they get, I’ll always be their teacher. A title I wear with extreme pride. As much pride as I feel every time I see their successes, celebrate another milestone in their lives, or witness the moments in which they truly blossom.

Any genuine teaching will result, if successful, in someone’s knowing how to bring about a better condition of things than existed earlier.

John Dewey

For a year or two, I was witness to their growth and learning every day, then I had to let them go – on to the next chapter of their lives. But I never stopped holding them in my heart, and more than that, I never stopped being poignantly humbled and eternally grateful for all the lessons they taught me.

Empowering my students was a daily goal. Teaching them to think for themselves and to embark on a journey where seeking knowledge was always at the forefront.

For the short time I had them, I felt a deep sense of responsibility for helping to shape their attitudes and perceptions toward knowledge and learning, and not simply to just teach them American History. “Learning,” I’d explain to them, “is a lifelong endeavor. It’s not something that has a finite end, but instead, it’s something that continually shapes our lives and ultimately our growth.” And truly, isn’t that the real goal of education, to continually grow and evolve, as we gain knowledge through experience, as well as through education?

Understanding that middle school students wouldn’t understand this perspective from my words only, I set about teaching them through example. My goal? To instill in them a lifelong desire for knowledge; a deep and intrinsic desire to continually ask questions and to seek, of their own volition, the answers. In my own experience, and through the guidance of my parents and some of my own teachers, I was shown the value of the quest and ultimately the lasting effect of earning knowledge.

As a history teacher, I found myself in the unique position of being a mentor to hundreds of students over the course of the fifteen years I taught. I took that position very seriously, constantly seeking new and meaningful ways to teach my kids the great importance of looking deeper than the history books, beneath all the clutter and noise, in order to find a truth that does exist. It takes time and focused research, which in this day and age, is becoming a lost art. Still, the impact of seeking, of being willing to dig deeper, is so very rewarding and necessary if we are to become informed citizens. 

One of the easiest, and most underused methods available to us all is simply this, learn to perfect the art of distinguishing fact from opinion. In doing so, you become more adept at drawing relevant conclusions, thus arming yourself with one of the most powerful weapons available, knowledge that is earned and not simply given. It’s not hard, but it makes such an important difference. 

When we were embarking on the history of the U.S. Constitution, I wondered, what better way for them to understand the process, the debate, the compromises that went into shaping this document, then to recreate the Constitutional Convention in my classroom? To assign each of them to the role of one of the delegates? To give them the opportunity to step into the past and assume the perspectives, if they could, of the very men who met in the Summer of 1787 to draft the document? It wasn’t the names and the dates, after all, that were important, but rather the lessons learned and the words that were drafted, that still held relevance today, that were at the heart of the lesson.

From the activity, many questions arose, many debates ensued, and many new perspectives were gained. I think one of the most important lessons my students learned, something I myself had learned when I was their age, was that history should not be judged by the principles of the present, but rather we should acknowledge the evolution of those thought processes and the changing mindset of ensuing generations. How else are we to learn from the past? How else will we prevent the repetition of events that have already transpired, that have already been sacrificed for, that have already left their indelible marks?

There’s a wealth of beauty and sustaining principles upon which our country is founded. Is it perfect? No. But I firmly believe it strives to be. I’m not talking about politics here, I’m speaking of the rich and meaningful history of our country. The good and the bad. The foundations upon which our Constitution was founded and the amendments that have been added since the Bill of Rights. The foundations that have guided us through centuries of growth and progress, through wars and discord, through changing centuries and a changing world. These are not obsolete, but very much relevant even to this day. 

Good teaching is more a giving of right questions than a giving of right answers.

Josef Albers

When studying the U. S. Civil War, my classroom became a replica of the country during that period of our history. My students were divided into the Union and the Confederacy. They were tasked with researching each battle, each conflict, each principle, from the perspective of the side they were on. It was difficult at times. There were many issues that were difficult for them to wrap their minds around, many questions that we needed to address together. But in the end, by the time we reached the surrender at Appomattox, they shone with a sense of pride, and a deeper understanding of one of the most poignant and agonizing periods of American History.

Above all, I hoped that they walked away with a deeper understanding of the power of actively pursuing knowledge, rather than simply receiving it; of being willing to ask the questions, of doing the research, and seeking the answers on their own, and then, and only then, when armed with the information and the facts, in forming their own, individual opinions. Their successes became my reward. Their pride in themselves for a job well-done, my gift.

The teacher’s task is to initiate the learning process and then get out of the way.

John Warren

Teaching is in fact a calling. There are no grandiose salaries. The work itself can be at times, frustrating and it often goes unappreciated. Our society doesn’t go out of its way to value teachers or to stress the importance of their role in the lives of future generations. Teachers go into this profession, knowing and understanding that. But thankfully, still go into it nonetheless.

I can only hope and pray that the call to teaching continues to beckon future generations. That individuals who understand the value and necessity of embarking on this career, aren’t dissuaded by the negative aspects, but look at it instead as an opportunity to make a lasting difference in the lives of so many.

You may be wondering at this point, if I feel so strongly about this profession, why I left? It wasn’t an easy decision, nor was it one I took lightly. An opportunity that enabled me to provide more financial support for my family, better benefits, and a better retirement package presented itself. It was as hard and as simple as that.

Though my new position has many perks, it hasn’t, nor will it ever, replace the things I gave up when I left teaching. I will always be an educator at heart. And though I’ve been out of the profession for a decade, I continue to support my fellow educators and the individuals and programs that give them the support and the tools they need to continue to do their jobs effectively and with passion.

The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see (Alexandra K. Trenfor),” while, “A good student is one who will teach you something (Hanifa Jackson-Adderly).

That’s the beauty of being a teacher. It’s a two-way path. The path we chose, to become teachers and the preparation we undergo to ensure we are effective ones; and the path our students walk; eager to learn, often frustrated and combative, wanting desperately to reach that capstone year so they can graduate and enter the “real world” finally.

My students are now young adults, embarking on their own lives and successfully pursuing their goals. In my heart though, they will always be the best reminders of what it truly means to teach, to inspire, and for me, to always be a lifelong learner.

I encouraged my students to strive to become individuals of accomplishment in their quest for knowledge as much as they were in the other areas of their lives. I reminded them daily that they lived in a country that values and protects their right to do so. That they should, in fact, embrace this gift and even more, actively seek knowledge, for it is this that will ultimately enable us to prevail and to grow from generation to generation.

Afterall, The best and most lasting gift we can give our students, is the ability to critically think and the desire and passion to pursue knowledge and learning throughout their lives.

It must be remembered that the purpose of education is not to fill the minds of students with facts – it is to teach them to think, if that is possible, and to always think for themselves.

Robert Hutchins

(©2019)  Jennifer N. Fenwick, former teacher and author Four Weeks and In the Eye of the Storm  

Nearly five months after Hurricane Michael ravaged the Florida Panhandle, economic setbacks and delays have made recovery increasingly difficult for Florida Panhandle residents trying to rebuild their homes, and their lives.

Allie Raffa, Fox News, February 28, 2019

When I set out to capture the stories of Hurricane Michael across the Panhandle, I never anticipated the impact, In the eye of the Storm, would have on the region devastated by the October 10, 2018 monster storm. It started out as a way for survivors to share their stories, their grief, and heartbreak, and their hopes for the future.

In the weeks since In the Eye of the Storm: Stories of Survival and Hope from the Florida Panhandle was published, the outpouring of support and engagement has been humbling.

“We need more people like you,” said Tina Rudisill in a message she sent me via social media after purchasing two copies of the book, one for her and one for a friend. “You can show the world our journey.”

Rudisill and her husband, both disabled, rode out the Category 4 storm in their home in Panama City. “We lost everything but our lives,” she explained. “We had just bought our home two years ago and it is devasting seeing everything destroyed.”

Rudisill is not alone in her grief. There are so many stories like hers across the region. So many I wish I could have included in the book. So many that deserve to be shared. As I continue to meet people, to listen to their voices, to provide comfort where I can, I’m inspired to continue this journey.

“Perhaps a follow-up book will come out of this,” I told Rudisill in my reply to her message, “An anniversary edition marking one-year following the storm. Stories of progress and hope in the aftermath.”

“Oh my goodness,” she immediately responded, “What an awesome idea. A follow-up of healing and starting over is so needed for the communities impacted.”

Thousands of homes were destroyed rendering them unlivable throughout the region. Including the home of Tina Rudisill and her husband, who rode out the Category 4 Michael in their Panama City residence. Image by Terry Kelly/Shutterstock

“It pulls at the heart strings to hear from other people that survived the storm and to hear their stories of strength and moving forward after such major devastation to this area. Anyone that doesn’t know or isn’t struggling to come back from this storm really needs to read this.”

Amazon Reviewer, February 24, 2018

Our book is not the only one telling the stories of the heartbreak of the people living in the aftermath of this historic storm. Survivors: Work Created in the Wake of Hurricane Michael, released on Amazon November 20, 2018, is a collection of poems, essays, short stories, artwork, and images compiled by Tony Simmons of the Panama City News Herald and local artist, Jayson Kretzer.

Mike Caz Cazalas, also from the News Herald, produced a beautiful book of compelling photographs and newspaper front pages documenting Michael’s impact across the Panhandle. Michael is a collector’s item that will forever commemorate October 10th and the immediate weeks following the storm. A portion of the proceeds from both of these publications, as well as our own, are being donated to the Hurricane Michael Relief Fund to assist with rebuilding across the region.

Memoirs of Michael – The Hurricane is a Facebook page dedicated to sharing survivor stories. The Blog, created by Ashley Conner and Photographer, Cierra Camper, and recently featured on WJHG-TV’s Morning Show, tells the stories of the men and women who survived Michael and are committed to rebuilding their communities.

October 10, 2018, is a day the Florida Panhandle will never forget. The day, our lives and our cities were dramatically altered, irrevocably and forever. Compiling the stories, poetry, and images submitted for this project was raw and real. I realized going in, what a huge undertaking and responsibility this task was. I also realized that we could not tell every story; and there were thousands and thousands. What we hoped instead, was that the stories we were able to tell would resonate, and that in doing so, In the Eye of the Storm, would become a voice for the region.

Jennifer N. Fenwick, editor/contributor, In the Eye of the Storm
Cities just north of Bay County, including Marianna (pictured) suffered the destruction of Michael. It will be a long time before this region heals. Image by Robert Blouin/Shutterstock.

Update

Promotion and outreach for In the Eye of the Storm are ongoing. Our goal is to reach a wider audience and to raise as much money as we can for local recovery efforts.

We recently made our first donation to the Hurricane Michael Relief Fund from book sales and will continue to do so for the long-run. Some of the contributors and I have joined efforts to reach out to area individuals and businesses for sponsorships so we can get the book into the local market.

Media coverage here and in surrounding areas has been wonderful. WJHG-TV presented our story on their Morning Show with Paris Janos and in a piece by Neysa Wilkins, which aired during their news broadcasts. The Panama City News Herald’s Tony Simmons was gracious to write a story about the book in his feature Book Notes.

We are participating in a book signing event at My Favorite Books in Tallahassee, FL, on March 23 and are planning to host one locally as well.

We’ve also sent out press releases to national media outlets to garner exposure and coverage. Our momentum continues to grow. All of us who contributed to this project feel a deep responsibility for getting the word out and for correcting misperceptions that all is well here.

“The contributors and I are humbled by the outpouring of support and the responses we’ve received thus far. For those who feel left out or forgotten, that was never our intention. We’re part of the communities that survived that day and are living in the aftermath. Know that your stories, your pain is interwoven in every word. How could it not be. We are in this together.”

~ Jennifer N. Fenwick

The panhandle of Florida is home to not only the World’s Most Beautiful Beaches, but also to many gorgeous natural springs abundant with local wildlife. My daughter, Emma and her boyfriend, Jason, spend most every weekend exploring these locations, capturing their trips in pictures and video for their YouTube channel, Paddle Blues.

Last weekend Jason and Emma set off to explore Sylvan and Cypress Springs. As usual, they captured their adventure in video and photography. Most of the Springs they visit in the area are within driving distance from Panama City and perfect for a day trip.

Although rainfall can sometimes cloud the water making visibility low, they typically snorkel and have captured many underwater photos using their GoPro. They are always on the lookout for little known or less visited areas to add to their growing list of favorite locations.

Cypress Springs photo by Jason DavisThe areas they visited this past weekend hold two of the “must go to” springs on their list of favorites. Cypress Springs runs into Holmes Creek in Northwest Florida. According to Cypress Springs Adventures, “Cypress Springs is one of the most beautiful springs in Northwest Florida, boasting a strong current, lush banks and deep sapphire waters. the spring discharges from two vents in the limestone boulders at the bottom of the spring pool. Approximately 150 feet with a maximum depth of 29 feet, the large surface boil is visible over both vents. The cool, clear water is a constant 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The banks surrounding the pool are heavily vegetated with cypress and tupelo trees.”

The sapphire waters can only be navigated via canoe or kayak, but you can enjoy snorkeling, swimming and scuba diving as you explore the natural habitat of the area.

Sylvan Springs is located along State Road 20 in Bay County and boasts a newly renovated recreation area that supports activities such as picnicking, swimming, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking. Sylvan Springs is located at the southern end of Econfina Creek.

Sylvan Springs consists of several vents on the west side of the Creek. A spring vent emerges from beneath a submerged limestone ledge into a 40-foot diameter pool. Maximum depth measured at the vent is 12 feet but the conduit extends further and downward. There is a large surface boil. A number of ancillary vents are scattered along the west bank.

Econfina Creek Unnamed Spring by Jason DavisThis past weekend the pair located an Undocumented Spring as they explored along Econfina Creek. They contacted the Northwest Florida Water Management District, who owns and manages the land, sending them coordinates and images. Once the District has taken discharge measurements, observed and confirmed the spring, Jason and Emma will get to name it. At present they’re thinking, Moccasin Spring since a large water moccasin prevented them from exploring past the first vent! We’ll see how that goes!

Econfina Creek Unnamed Spring by Jason Davis

Visit their YouTube channel, Paddle Blues, for video of their adventures and to see what they name the new spring!

If you’re ever in Northwest Florida, make it a point to visit one or two of these beautiful locations. The experience is certainly worth the time!

Jennifer Nelson Fenwick (© 2018)

 

Four Weeks CoverMy new book, Four Weeks: A Journey from Darkness, is now available for pre-order on Amazon! It hits on October 16, 2018!

The poetry and reflections included in Four Weeks, come from the journals I kept during my time in treatment for the eating disorder and alcoholism that darkened my life for decades. Four Weeks, is my journey from darkness. More than that, it is my journey from despair to hope. A hope I long to share with others walking the same path I did for so long. Hope exists in each of us, I have learned, it is when we surrender to that hope and to the source from which it flows that we begin to heal.

Check out the link to reserve a copy today!