‘Speedy’ survivor : Jill Jennings makes a pitch for a cure

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 16, 2001

Features Editor

Jill Jennings doesn’t remember much about her bout with cancer. She was only 3 years old, but even if her memory served her, it probably wouldn’t make any difference.

Jill is as tough as nails

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and she wouldn’t let even the memory of something so traumatic get her down.

The 11-year-old Troy Elementary School fifth grader doesn’t share her medical past with her schoolmates, although many of them know she is a cancer survivor. But, she would just as soon they not know. She doesn’t want any special treatment as she goes about

life "full speed ahead."

Jill, whose nickname is "Speedy," has quite a sports resumé for one her age.

She has gained the most notoriety on the softball field as a fast and hard, fast-pitch pitcher.

"Yeah," she likes to put ’em down swinging. That puts a smile on her face that she is careful to hide. But, "Strike three! You’re out!" is music to her ears.

Jill also takes gymnastics and she’s tried dancing and will try cheerleading. But, when she’s home alone or just with a friend or two, she likes to swim, roller blade, ride her bike and "scoot" down the hill, 90-to-nothing.

Everyone who knows Jill’s medical history marvels at her "toughness" because a Wilms Tumor- a form of childhood cancer – claimed one of her kidneys. However, it didn’t claim her spirit, her courage or her zest for life.

"Jill is amazing to me," said her mom, Beth Jennings. "She is very competitive and she goes full speed ahead with everything that she does. Every time I look at her I realize how blessed we are. Had her cancer not been caught early, the results could have been devastating."

Wilms Tumor is very hard to detect and it isn’t usually diagnosed until the tumor is so large that it protrudes.

"Dr. Todd Pearlstein found Jill’s tumor when it was only about the size of a butter bean," Mrs. Jennings said. "We were so fortunate that he found it and so thankful, but, at that time, our whole world was turned upside down."

Jill’s affected kidney was removed and chemotherapy was required as follow up treatment – a year and a half,

to be exact.

"Every Thursday for 88 weeks, we traveled to Children’s Hospital in Birmingham for the treatments," Mrs. Jennings said. "Every seventh week, we had to stay a whole week. Jill was so sick after the treatments and some days I thought I just couldn’t live through it. But the support we got from family, friends, neighbors and people we didn’t even know helped us keep up our spirits. We can never thank people enough for what they did for us. Their support was overwhelming."

On top of everything that was happening to the 3-year-old, she also developed chicken pox and had to be isolated.

"The doctors had to give Jill something immediately to stop the chicken pox because they could have been deadly to her," Mrs. Jennings said. "She was in isolation on Halloween, but visitors came and brought the children Halloween treats. When they came by Jill’s room, she was sitting up in bed with her pig suit on and a trick-or-treat bag beside her."

At Christmas, Jill’s parents wanted the day to be special for her, so they rented a room at the Wynfrey Hotel and she "had a ball

riding the carousel and seeing the halls all decked for Christmas.

"It was such a wonderful experience for Jill, that we wanted to take her again," Mrs. Jennings said. "But, it was very expensive for us, especially with all of the other expenses we were facing at the time."

Mrs. Jennings contacted the hotel and asked about their weekly rates, hoping they could afford to spend one week there when they were in the city for the week long treatments.

"When they heard the circumstances, they were so generous," Mrs. Jennings said. "They let us stay every week, free of charge, during the remaining week-long treatments. They would have coloring books and books in

the room for Jill

and she could ride the carousel as many times as she wanted. They were so generous. We often don’t realize how good and kind people are until times of real trouble. There are many wonderful people and we appreciate them all."

Jill was the "little chair" for the first Relay for Life event in 1995. She and her family stayed all night

and slept for a while in their van. Another year, they slept in lawn chairs.

"We just know the good that Relay for Life does and we want to support the event from start to finish," Jennings said.

And, for "Speedy," after all she’s been through, an all night event is just a walk in the park. And, she’s up for any game in town – especially when it’s a "Relay" for life.

Jill ran her leg of the relay and claimed victory over a very tough foe eight years ago. Now, she’s in it for others and it’s full-speed ahead to find a cure for cancer.