Homewood mother stays the course despite breast cancer
Ginger Brashinger Correspondent August 24, 2013 10:20AM
The Little family in their Homewood home (from left) Jade, 21; Jerri and Tony; Cara, 17; Christian, 16, and Joshua, 4. | Ginger Brashinger for Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 26, 2013 6:45AM
Jerri Little has a lot to say about keeping the faith.
The 45-year-old Homewood mother of four was diagnosed with breast cancer in late 2007, a devastating HER2-positive diagnosis that required “the whole nine yards” of treatment because the cancer was a “particularly aggressive form” of the disease, Little said.
Little was preparing to begin chemotherapy treatment after undergoing a mastectomy and removal of lymph nodes when she experienced “infection after infection after infection” following the insertion of a port for chemotherapy.
Little and her husband, Tony, 46, felt what was happening to her was more than medical.
“At that point, from a faith standpoint, we thought the Lord was trying to tell us something,” Little said.
Because of her faith and the faith of her family and friends who were telling her that the infections were a sign that the time was not right for traditional medicine, Little said she made the decision to “wait” on chemotherapy, the message Little felt God had sent to her.
The decision was reaffirmed in her mind when Little discovered she was pregnant. Despite the “doom and gloom” of her oncologists who feared for her health, Little said she didn’t want to take a chance on harming her unborn child.
Adding another child to her family of three children from a previous marriage — Jade, 21; Cara, 17, and Christian, 16 — was a blessing rather than a problem for the Littles.
Little decided to begin a regimen of vitamin supplements, healthy eating and healthy living as her treatment.
She returned to work as a backup singer with Willie Wilson and Company’s Gospel group, another form of therapy for Little whose faith was not only reflected in her life but in her career.
As a songwriter and solo artist, Little recorded a CD in 2006, “Help Somebody Today,” which the Littles were planning to promote when her cancer diagnosis put the promotion on hold.
Life moved forward for the Little family in other ways. Joshua, now 4, was born a healthy child in 2008, and Jerri Little’s health seemed to take a turn for the better as she focused on raising her family.
Then in fall 2012, after Little was exposed to a fungal infection, the lymph nodes in her neck began to grow at an alarming rate, Little said, threatening to close her throat. Although her doctor told her the lymph nodes were likely reacting to the fungus in a normal way, Little became fearful that something worse was happening.
“They grew until they became a mass,” Little said. “That’s when I knew something was wrong.”
Gravely ill and in a great deal of pain, Little went to the emergency room in late 2012 where a diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer was described by one of Little’s oncologists as “advanced advanced.”
Little said she was still “putting the Lord in the driver’s seat,” but she didn’t understand what was happening.
Although she wasn’t questioning whether God had sent her the correct message in 2007, Little said, she was questioning whether she had understood it.
“I questioned, ‘Wait for what?’ ” Little said.
The answer came from two oncologists at St. James Hospital in Olympia Fields in January.
The Littles said the “glory part” of their story is that the doctors said there was a drug, Perjeta, for women with HER2-positive metastatic breast cancer who had no other treatment options available to them.
Little said what “hit me like a ton of bricks” was her doctor’s comments about the drug’s availability.
“He told us these drugs were not available six months ago let alone six years ago,” Little said.
Little said her questions were answered.
Because of her Perjeta drug therapy, Little has experienced an incredible decrease in the size of her tumor, now considered “negligible.”
The Littles said there was “an immediate change” in Little’s health as the mass started to shrink.
Jerri Little said it was as if “the tumor started to melt.”
“There’s no evidence of disease in my body,” she said.
They praise the doctors for Little’s recovery — “we give our doctors tremendous credit” — but Little said it was her faith that kept her going.
“With my faith, I didn’t have time to have any naysayers, any doubters, no crying,” Little said. “Everybody has to be like-minded around you.”
Little now encourages others with a similar diagnosis to remain positive.
Her message is simple: “Don’t give up hope.”
“That statement has never been truer, now more than ever,” Little said.
“Metastatic breast cancer is not a death sentence,” she said.