BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --
In everyone’s life, there comes a time when everything seems to take a turn for the worst. We recount these events as the turning point that change us for the rest of our lives.
For Lt. Col. Kneil Novak, 460th Space Wing command post chief, and Jodi Novak, dental hygienist, their lives took a turn for the worse at the ages of 26 and 27. During a couples retreat in 2001, Jodi started to get headaches that caused her vision to appear like water was trickling over her eyes. Within a 24-hour period, Jodi experienced four of these headaches.
With Jodi’s abnormal symptoms, she knew something was not right and sought imaging from her doctor. Before the MRI results came back, Jodi brought up the possible idea of a brain tumor to her doctor. Her doctor at the time dismissed the symptoms for usual migraines and suggested a beta blocker.
When the MRI results came back, Jodi and Kneil were dealt the foreshadowed news.
Jodi had a brain tumor.
“We started to question why did this happen to us,” said Kneil. “We started to wonder what we could have done differently.”
Jodi had the brain tumor removed in June of 2001. The tumor was then sent off to be biopsied to determine whether or not the tumor was cancerous and what it might be. After three weeks of waiting for the results of the tumor, Kneil and Jodi’s future became even bleaker.
Jodi’s tumor was a stage 4 malignant tumor: glioblastoma.
According to Jodi and Kneil, brain tumors can either be cancerous or non-cancerous. There is also four stages that classify the development of the tumor. One being the smallest or least fatal to four being the largest or most fatal.
Glioblastoma is factually the worst brain cancer an individual can have. One percent of those diagnosed with Glioblastoma survive beyond five years. Fifty percent of those diagnosed die within the first year.
“I didn’t think I’d live to see my next birthday,” said Jodi.
Jodi and Kneil realized their life together was on a timer set to expire. For the next year, they decided to live life to the fullest. Jodi and Kneil spent every day trying to create as many positive memories as they could, knowing each one could be their last.
“It was a year that we will remember for the rest of our lives,” said Jodi. “We traveled to many places and grew stronger than ever together.”
At the time of her diagnosis in 2001, medical technology in the cancer side of treatment wasn’t as advanced as it is today, Jodi and Kneil did their best to research options for treatment but their findings were very grim.
“We were hopeful we could beat the disease, but we weren’t confident,” said Kneil.
However, through their research they found Duke University in North Carolina had been trying different forms of cancer treatment. Jodi and Kneil reached out to the director of the cancer center, Henry Freedman, and asked him for help. Freedman called them back the next morning and asked them for records, to finish her current chemotherapy and then come to Duke to see what they could do.
Jodi went through a year and a half of cancer treatment with Duke University. The doctors believed that all the cancer was destroyed after her treatment, however, she had to continue receiving MRIs to make sure the cancer wasn’t coming back.
“Brain tumors like to come back and when they do they like to come back stronger than before,” said Kneil.
Jodi and Kneil had wanted to start a family however fewer than 20 percent of cancer survivors have children after brain cancer. Chemotherapy affects egg production in females. Many females freeze their eggs before chemotherapy, but Jodi didn’t.
There is a big fear from brain cancer patients that during pregnancy hormones could trigger another brain tumor. After making it through the impossible, Jodi and Kneil still took the chance to have a child regardless of if it would take away all the progress they achieved over the years.
“We just had a love for children,” said Jodi.
After seven years, Jodi’s doctor gave them the green light to go ahead and have a child.
After having a child and no signs of brain cancer after numerous MRIs, Jodi’s doctor said something very uncommon when treating patients with brain cancer: he said he thinks she was cured. It was the first sign that there was light at the end of the tunnel for Jodi and Kneil.
“We never had a ‘we’ve won’ moment,” said Kneil. “We always were fearful it would come back.”
Jodi is a symbol of hope for those fighting brain cancer. She and Kneil now spend their life deeply connecting with those going through the same struggle they once did and enjoying every moment with their children that they fought so hard to have.
“We are grateful for the simple things in life and thankful to just live a normal life,” said Jodi.
Jodi and Kneil are extremely grateful for the people they have met on their journey and the lives they have touched.
“We wouldn’t have chosen it, but we wouldn’t have changed it,” said Jodi and Kneil.