There’s a gorgeous country home at the end of a cul-de-sac in Ottawa that owes every detail of its existence to one of the most trying and triumphant times in Jody Lancaster’s life.
In May 2006, Lancaster, 46, was diagnosed with Stage 3A breast cancer. The news sent waves of fear to her closest supporters and left the future of this charming, four-member family very much in question.
Before getting down to the nitty-gritty of her fight, Lancaster and her husband, Trent, took a deep breath, got as much information as they could about what they were facing and then rolled up their sleeves.
“We’ve got to attack this head-on,” Trent remembers the two of them discussing. “We can’t let it rule our lives and can’t worry about things we can’t control.”
That approach empowered them both, and, from that point on, Lancaster operated every day with the belief that she wasn’t going anywhere for a long, long time.
That’s when their new home entered the picture, even though the first studs were still years away from being hammered into place.
The Lancasters actually purchased the lot for their dream home two years before the cancer diagnosis, but, for one reason or another, the Lancasters dragged their feet on breaking ground. There may have been a reason for that. See, when Lancaster would sit for hours in the infusion rooms during her chemotherapy treatments or when she could not sleep because of the side effects or simply would not sleep because of the worry, she turned to the vision of the house she held dearly in her mind.
“That gave me something to do,” said Lancaster, adding that the home’s origins and the role it played in helping her beat cancer make it all the more special to live in today. “It gave me something to look forward to. Going through all of this, the cost and the insurance, we wondered, ‘Are we going to be able to do it?’ So that made me go, ‘By gosh, I’m gonna be around, and we are gonna do it. We’re not going to sit on the what-ifs.’”
‘Get. It. Out.’
Lancaster does not have a background in architecture. She did not study interior design while in school at Kansas State University nor had she ever undertaken such a large design-and-develop plan. But she did have ideas that worked well for both the house and her fight against cancer.
“I was one that tore out magazine pictures forever,” she said. “I would just go through those for hours on end, picking out the things I liked about homes that I saw in magazines. I just had a lot of time to really think things through.”
From the hardwood floors to the custom cabinetry — and even getting the flow of the house to match the lifestyle of her and her husband and their two children, Maddy, 17, and Cooper, 14, — Lancaster put her stamp on everything.
“She planned it all,” Trent said. “Every detail. I got to pick the garage color: ceiling white. Everything else is hers.”
In many ways, that concept was the takeaway from Lancaster’s battle with the dreadful disease.
After attempting to get first, second and third opinions elsewhere, Jody and Trent came back to Lawrence Memorial Hospital because the staff treated Lancaster’s case as a priority and was willing to help her start fighting quickly.
“I think the key to this is no matter who you are or where you’re treated, you have to feel comfortable with your treatment,” Trent said.
Added Lancaster: “That’s what I tell people.”
First up was surgery. Lancaster implored for the cancer to be removed as fast as possible, and LMH facilitated that request. After that came six chemo treatments, radiation and even participation in an aggressive clinical trial, which only recently became complete, with Lancaster being deemed cancer-free and no longer getting regular scans.
“Another hospital wanted to do chemo first, before surgery,” Lancaster said. “And that was another big reason we went with LMH. We were just like, ‘Get. It. Out. Get it out first and then, any residuals, we’ll tackle after that.’”
There weren’t many. Naturally, the chemo treatments took a toll on her body, but even that was something the Lancasters turned into a positive.
“When she started to lose her hair, we had a party,” said Trent, a veterinarian, who also graduated from Kansas State. “I brought the animal clippers from the clinic and I buzzed it off.”
Between eight and 10 of the Lancasters’ closest friends came by to participate and, when it was time to do the deed, they made sure Lancaster’s new look was the main event.
“We tried to make it more of a celebration,” Lancaster said.
Added Trent: “We buzzed it off and then we had Blizzard cake.”
Life is good these days, with the beautiful house, her happy and healthy family and a group of dear friends that is larger than she ever dreamed it would be. Because of that, Lancaster finds herself smiling and laughing more than ever. Some days, the five-year fight she took on with the spirit of a true champion is such a distant memory that it seems as if it never happened at all.
“I had always wondered, when I heard about other people who had things like this happen in their families, ‘My gosh, how did they do it,’” Lancaster said. “And we got to find out. It just strengthens your faith. You could literally feel the hands of our friends and the Ottawa community raising us up.”