SNOQUALMIE VALLEY – There’s no way of knowing how cancer will play a role in one’s life, but those who are touched by the disease know it will change the way they live the rest of their days.
Gaynel Gunderson’s experience with cancer involved losing her brother, Neil Rogers. Jessica Blessard’s meant losing an ovary. Still, something good came from both their pain.
The women met when Gunderson wrote a book to help others deal with cancer. “Love, Hope, Faith: A Personal Journey Through Cancer” has just been published by Gunderson, a lifelong Valley resident and daughter of Ken and Medora Rogers, who founded Ken’s Cafe in 1941 and Truck Town in the 1960s
“Love, Hope, Faith” is the story of how Gunderson coped with the experience of her brother Neil’s journey through pancreatic cancer. Neil was a prominent Valley businessman for decades and received the Small Business Association’s Entrepreneurial Success Award for Truck Town in 1992.
As a child, Gunderson felt a special bond with Neil, who was much closer to her in age than her other two brothers. Laced throughout the memoir are excerpts from a journal Gunderson kept during Neil’s struggle with cancer.
“It has to do with my love for my brother, my hope he’d be healed and how our faith got us through it,” Gunderson said. “I think I did it mostly to help myself heal because it was so very hard to go through and after my husband and daughter read it, they thought it would really help other people.”
Rogers was planning to retire in 2001 and he and his wife Mary were in the midst of planning to go on a cruise when Rogers began feeling poorly. He went to the doctor to make sure he was healthy enough for the cruise and that’s when the cancer was found.
“They never did get to take the trip,” Gunderson said.
The family didn’t know anything about pancreatic cancer – including the fact that it is terminal – until it became a part of their lives.
Gunderson wrote her 75-page book in increments. “I could only do a little at a time because it was so hard,” she said.
She saved it on her computer and on a floppy disk and walked away from it for six months. When she returned, it seemed both copies had been erased. “So, I wrote it again and it was better the second time, and it helped me heal more,” Gunderson said.
Gunderson finished the second version last fall and found Mount Si High School sophomore Jessica Blessard willing to produce the cover art. Gunderson’s husband, Jed, suggested a book cover showing that people can rise above the dark cloud of cancer, and Blessard captured that in the photo for the cover in her digital imaging class at school by using PhotoShop to smudge and filter the scene just right.
But when Blessard began working on the image, she didn’t realize she was about to have a brush with cancer herself. Severe stomach pain led to a doctor visit that revealed a 10-pound cyst on her left ovary. The growth was benign but doctors said it was just starting to become a tumor.
“It made me think it was really kind of interesting that it happened when it did – like I was supposed to do the book cover. It was kind of inspirational; kind of like I knew what [Gunderson] was feeling,” Blessard said.
Both Blessard and Gunderson believe that when bad things happen, people can learn from them and help others.
“I prayed constantly for a miracle because miracles do happen,” Gunderson said. “I counted on that, but it doesn’t always happen. I think people need to understand that and that cancer isn’t God’s fault. Some people blame him because he allows bad things to happen, but through this whole thing we relied totally on God. He gave us what we needed to get through it and he answered our prayers in other ways. We got all our strength from him.”
In the end, Gunderson said, she realized their prayers were answered in so many ways and Neil was eventually healed by reaching “the ultimate goal” of heaven in February of 2001. He was 55.
Gunderson, who now lives in Soap Lake, hopes her book will help others deal with their own journey through cancer. Blessard thinks that maybe God wants people to learn to deal with struggles like cancer so they can help other people.
Neil is survived by his wife Mary of North Bend; four children; and many grandchildren.
“Love, Hope, Faith: A Personal Journey Through Cancer” is available for $10.95 at www.barnesandnoble.com, www.amazon.com and at Ken’s Gas & Grocery at Exit 34 off Interstate-90.