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Joel D.’s Story


Check out our pictures in the Photo section and be sure to read the captions!

Also, please read the JOURNAL for recent activity, and sign the Guestbook! Joel LOVES to read them.

08-04-09 Surgery to remove initial lump on right side of Joel's neck.

08-06-09 Diagnosed with melanoma cancer INSIDE the body in a lymph node, stage 2 cancer.

08-27-09  Had a “Modified Radical Neck Dissection” where they removed 30 more lymph nodes. No cancer found in any of them. Joel was placed on Short Term Disability, began paying COBRA payments for family health coverage. Converted life ins policies to private, began paying for them.

Sept. 2009 Had a port surgically implanted in chest.

Sept. 2009 Began Interferon, an aggressive treatment that caused horrific illness. It was given via the port for about 2 hours every day, Mon-Fri, for 4 weeks. Then Joel had to go to the hospital 3 days/week for another 11 months to get Interferon shots (lesser dosage). He remained very, very ill the entire time (5 months or so).  They thought he was going to die.  We did too.

09-30-09 Joel was terminated “involuntarily but in good standing” from his employment of 7 years.

Oct/Nov 2009 Port was surgically removed.

Nov. 2009 Joel was changed from Short Term Disability to Long Term Disability.

Jan 2010 COBRA ins coverage increased from $235/mth to $900/mth for a family!!

02-01-10  Joel is place on Social Security Disability Income.  How sad, how humbling.

02-09-10 Joel’s PET Scan showed the cancer had spread to 3 places in his brain! What a shock! He was told he could not drive because he was now susceptible to seizures.  Joel is now "stage 4, terminal" and we are horrified.

Feb/March 2010 Joel had “Full Brain Radiaion” for about three weeks (14 treatmnts) in Fort Wayne.  He began taking steriods & started quickly gaining weight. He became incredibly ill with spells, vomiting, headaches, fever, chills, and more. Radiology nurses & doctors could not tell us why.

March 2010  Kimberly called the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. They made appointments to see Joel one week later to see if they could help.

03-28-10  Drove to Rochester, MN, ten hour drive one way. Joel had seizures off and on the entire drive. Driving through Chicago was  terrible.

03-30-10  Joel missed his appts at the Mayo Clinic because he became so ill, while standing IN LINE for first appointment, he had to be rushed to the ER!!  He was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital (a Mayo hospital) on a Tuesday. They began many tests over the next few days.

04-01-10 Dr. Lachance, a neurology-oncologist, came into Joel’s room around 5 pm on Thursday and advised that 2 of the 3 tumors could be surgically removed. AND that they had an opening the very next morning at 6:30 am! They would cut Joel’s skull in 2 places and surgically remove the 2 larger tumors. After praying, Joel decided to go ahead with the surgery the next morning…which happened to be Good Friday of Easter weekend!

04-02-10 Joel was gone from about 6:30 am to 4 or 5 pm in surgery and recovery. We saw him for about an hour afterward but he didn’t really know who we were. He was in ICU for 24 hours.

04-03-10  Jadyn and I spent most of the day with Joel.  He was in ICU until the afternoon, then moved to a room on the neuro floor. Not a great day.  Joel has never been able to remember any of today (or yesterday).  That's probably a good thing.

04-04-10 Easter Sunday, Jadyn and I found a church and went, then spent the remainder of the day with Joel in the hospital. We had no family for friends with us, we were 3 states away from home. Joel was not himself, which is understandable.  He just had his skull and brain cut into.  Not a good day.  Joel doesn't really remember this day either.

04-05-10 Monday - Joel released from hospital only three days after brain surgery...into the care of Kimberly.  VERY frightening for all involved.

Apr 2010 Stayed in MN for several weeks. Joel had many appts over the next week w/various Mayo doctors for follow-up after the brain surgery.

Apr 2010 A couple weeks after surgery Joel had gamma-knife radiation on the third tumor in his brain. He was released to drive home the next day. Joel could not drive until he was seizure free for 6 months, so Kimberly did all the driving.

May/June Various appts with oncologist in Ft. Wayne.

June 2010 Our friend Jim-nasium drove us to Mayo Clinic again for tests & an 8 week follow-up. All looked good inside Joel’s brain. Cancer had not spread.  PTL!

June/July Various appts with oncologist in Ft. Wayne. 

Aug 2010 Drive to Mayo again for 8 wk follow-up & tests. Cancer spread to brain. Did nothing at this time, but we are to return to Mayo again in eight weeks for follow-up.

Aug/Sept Various appts. w/oncologist in Ft. Wayne.

Oct 2010  Drive to Mayo again for tests and follow-up. Cancer in brain grew, so they performed gamma-knife radiation on it.  To return in 12 weeks.

Jan 2011  Jim-nasium drove us to Mayo again for follow-up.  Minnesota had SO MUCH snow we couldn't believe it!  Sadly, Joel's cancer spread to 8-10 places in body.  Sent us home to continue usual treatments.  To return to Mayo in eight weeks to see if treatments were helping.

Jan/Feb 2011  Various appts. w/oncologist in Ft. Wayne.

Mar/Apr 2011  To Mayo again for tests & follow-up. Cancer spread 12-15 additional places in Joel's body. Makes a total of approx. 25 tumors so far. Some large, some small.  Some we could see sticking up out of Joel' skin on his neck.  A 5th tumor was found in brain, gamma-knife done again.

Mayo Clinic told us of a drug (Yervoy) not available yet in the USA that was specifically for Joel's cancer.  We began working on seeing if we could get it in our hometown.

04-27-11 Indianas NewsCenter did story on Joel and the new drug Yervoy.
Joel was first in Indiana, and among first in USA to use Yervoy treatment.

4-28-11 Joel was the first in Fort Wayne to receive Yervoy.  Today was first treatment.  News reporters went with us.  Overwhelming, yet exciting.  Watch our news stories at">"> and just type in Joel Saunders in their search engine.

07-03-11 Joel hospitalized for EIGHT days due to terrible side effects from Yervoy. He was horribly ill.
Even though Yervoy had nasty side effects, it was supposed to shrink the larger tumors and possibly make some of the smaller tumors go away.  We could only hope and pray for the best.

08-04-11 Joel had a full-body PET scan. He was miraculously declared cancer free!! The cancer throughout his body was gone! Joel was in remission for now. The doctors DID NOT expect the Yervoy to do this. Check out the very first date in this "My Story" section, it was 08-04-09.  Today is 08-04-11.  We found out Joel was cancer free exactly two years to the date from his first surgery!! We give God ALL the glory for ALL good things!

Aug 2011 - Aug 2013 Over past two years, Joel had many problems such as memory loss, balance issues, speech issues, motor skill problems, shaking voice, depression, a few seizures, and so much more. Regular visits to oncologist, neurologist, and to primary care physician during this time for medications, PET scans, and MRIs on his brain.

Even though cancer free, Joel is still considered stage 4 terminal and will never return to work.  They expect the cancer to return, become even more aggressive, and take his life at an early stage.  And what do we do?  We praise God during both the good times AND the bad times!

Spring 2013  Social Security Disability people decided that because Joel has no active cancer in his body, that he can go back to work!  Crazy people!

Summer 2013  Had to hire attorney to represent us against Soc Sec Admin.  Things look bleak.  So we are going to Mayo again to get Joel specifically looked at.  Hopefully, those reports will show Soc Sec Admin that Joel is disabled from his treatments, and surgeries, radiation, etc. 

08-05-13 Spent another week at the Mayo Clinic. Joel had many tests and has a great deal of problems due to the full brain radiation, interferon, yervoy, brain surgery, etc. Joel has been diagnosed with progressive dementia. 

Joel has brain atrophy (natural shrinking and shriveling of brain usually due to old age) and his brain is comparable to that of a 70 year old man. He is only 48 now.

He also has an adrenaline insufficiency and wears a medic alert bracelet. He still suffers from all of the previous problems.  But, we are grateful to the Lord that Joel is still with us, that's the most important thing of all!

Sept 2013  WE WON!!  Unheard of, but we won't against Soc Sec Admin.  It's because we are honest, and we have God on our side!!! 

12-20-13 We receive the results of Joel's full-body PET scan. Joel continues to be cancer free! It has now been two and a half years! The doctors are stumped! But WE know that God is SO Good and we give Him all the glory for Joel being in remission!

02-01-14  Joel had a seizure and we took him to the ER this morning.  They performed tests, kept him overnight.  Kinda scary because he hasn't had any serious "problems" in such a very long time.  PTL for that!

02-02-14  Superbowl Sunday - Joel is itching to get out of the hospital!!  After having an MRI on his brain, some more blood work, and seeing three doctors....they determine that the seizure was from a change in medication five days ago which lowered his thresh-hold again seizures.  He is being weaned off that medication and onto another. 

Praise God that Joel was released and we got to leave just in time to watch the Superbowl game in the comfort of our own home!  God is so good!

FUNNY SIDE NOTE:  We recently realized that Joel has been in the hospital on April Fool's Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Father's Day, Fourth of July, Superbowl Sunday, and Groundhog Day! 

Website written by Kimberly K. Saunders

Latest Journal Update


Joel is doing well these days.  He's LOVING being off the steroids.  Of course, he still has his memory issues, balance problems, and all that.  But he's enjoying the summer months and trying to get outside as much a possible.  Joel really loves helping out at church as often as he can.  Our little family helps out others quite often (family, friends, acquaintances, etc.) and that always makes us feel so good.  

We're excited about Jadyn beginning school tomorrow (August 3) and dance classes at Studio 149 begin the week after.   It's difficult to believe she is going to be a Freshman in high school!  Our school has always been called Christian Home Academy and we are grateful to have been able to homeschool all these years.  We also feel SO very blessed to be a part of Studio 149, where Jadyn dances.  It's an amazing organization, definitely Biblically based, and the founder and teachers are amazing!  Jadyn is a beautiful and graceful dancer.  She is taking Contemporary, Ballet, Trick, Tap, and Pointe classes this upcoming year!  I'm going to be even more involved with them this year as their receptionist, working three evenings a week!  We both eagerly look forward to starting up again with them soon.

Our small groups Bible Study begins this month.  And the women's Mentor Bible Studies also begin.  We are looking forward to those things, among many others activities happening in regards to our church and/or church family.  Jadyn moves up to the high school Sunday School class this morning.  Exciting things are coming up this year!

Some of you aren't aware of my recent experience at the emergency room and with my surgery.  I will try to make it a short story because others of you have been following along on Facebook and I don't want to bore you by being repetitive!  LOL  

The Friday before last I had my third attack of searing, burning pain in the center and right side of my upper abdomen, my right ribs and straight through to the back beneath my shoulder blades.  This attack was severe and I had to be rushed to the ER.  I had several tests, including an EKG, because they had to be certain it wasn't my heart.  That was really frightening. They also did a sonogram and discovered that my gall bladder contained stones.  Because the pain subsided during my four hour long ER visit, they sent me home with arrangements to see a surgeon on Monday.  Well, on Monday I had another attack and didn't have an appointment to see Dr. Grabowski until Tuesday.  I was determined not to go to the ER again, since I knew what it was, so I took a pain pill and suffered through the pain.  If you've never experienced this, t's horrible, excruciating pain by the way.  You can't get comfortable standing, sitting, lying down, walking, or anything.  

Tuesday I saw Dr. Grabowski and told him I would like my gall bladder "ripped out....tomorrow!"  And he said OKAY!!!  I was SO relieved.  So this past Wednesday I had the surgery.  The doctor told Joel my gall bladder was "full of stones".   The doctor also advised Joel that my internal organs and body cavity looked "in very good shape". So, it was outpatient surgery.  I was in agonizing pain when I came out of the anesthesia, which I later thought was an unusual thing to happen.  The nurse gave me Morphine in my IV.  THEN she gave me a shot of Demerol.  THEN she gave me Vicodin!  Wow, needless to say, I didn't feel the pain anymore.

Sadly, as soon as Joel got me into the car to leave the hospital I reacted to all those pain meds and began throwing up and had dry heaves.  I hadn't eaten for sixteen hours other than a cracker and ice chips in the recovery room.  This continued throughout the afternoon and evening.  Let me tell you my stomach muscles are STILL sore! The day after surgery I felt like I had some cracked ribs, or even like my right lung was punctured.  I could not believe how much pain I was in.  That was all quite a dreadful experience!  But it's all in the past, I'm healing.  I feel much better now, just a little sore!!  I'm just VERY thankful that I won't be having those gall stone attacks anymore.  That pain was piercing and searing, and yes the thought did cross my mind that I was having a heart attack.  But it wasn't, and I thank the Lord that it was all taken care of it such a quick manner of time. 

Joel and Jadyn are at church this morning.  It's quite and peaceful at home.  I'm up and doing a few little things around the house.  I'm feeling very grateful to all of our friends and family who have been with us these past few years, through our struggles and through our triumphs.  God certainly has blessed our precious little family.  We are deeply, deeply grateful for all of you.  None of us out in this big ol' world today probably tell each other how important others are to us.  Or how much we love each other.  

Well, we are telling YOU this, right now!  We genuinely love all of you so much.  Whether we see you often, or very little.  Whether you are family, or friends, or acquaintances!  Our feelings are the same, we care deeply for each one of you. We appreciate you a great deal!  We are grateful for your encouragement, for your prayers, for your kindness toward us.  We are constantly amazed at the thoughtfulness of others.  Our hearts smile at the thought of the way so many of you have been there for us!  It makes us all the more excited when we help others, because we know firsthand how good it will make them feel, and how it will bless both them and us.  

And isn't that the way it's supposed to be?  Jesus wants us to Love one another, He commands us to Love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  That is made very clear in God's Word, the Bible.  There can be no doubt. 

Life is really rough at times.  But life is also so very, very good much of the time!!  Even when life is bad, it can be quite good, don't let anybody tell you differently.  And that's because God is SO very good ALL of the time!  God IS Love!  YOU have definitely shown us the Love of Christ, over and over again.  We thank you.  We genuinely, seriously, gratefully, immeasurably....thank you from the depths our hearts!  May our Heavenly Father, the Creator of the Universe, abundantly and richly bless you in all you do.  And may you NEVER experience a gall stones attack!!  

Serving Him,