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Childhood cancer survivor runs foundation to help children deal with illness

Jenny Rodgers, executive director of the Cavett Kids Foundation, was diagnosed with cancer at age 13. “I get their emotions, their fears, their frustrations, their joys, their sorrows, their scars — physical and emotional — I just get it.”
by Bryan Painter Published: September 22, 2013

With long hair, Jenny Rodgers never really gave a lot of thought to her neck.

Rodgers had noticed a knot on it.

“But so what,” Rodgers thought. It would go away. Too much was going on in life to slow down and worry about the knot.

But her doctor was concerned.

Rodgers was a 13-year-old about to enter eighth grade. Born and raised in Pauls Valley, she was involved in dance, basketball, and cheerleading. A physical was required to participate in sports. Rodgers' mother insisted she go to her doctor for a complete physical.

“They thought it was cat scratch fever at first and treated me with antibiotics,” Rodgers said. “But when the knot didn't go away, they decided to do a biopsy.”

After a long weekend of waiting, Rodgers and her parents went to the hospital that Monday for the results.

The family met with the doctor who delivered the news, “Hodgkin's lymphoma ... cancer.”

Today, Rodgers, 29, is executive director of the Cavett Kids Foundation, which provides positive experiences for courageous kids diagnosed with life-threatening illnesses. The program promotes the development of character, coping skills and connection. The foundation's mission is to provide camps and other events for children who have life-threatening and chronic illnesses.

“I had lost dear friends to cancer in the past, so all I really knew was that cancer equaled death,” Rodgers said of hearing the diagnosis. “(The doctor) explained that we would be going to Children's Hospital in Oklahoma City for testing the next week.”

The family cried and asked lots of questions. When they left, they cried some more.

Then suddenly, the teen was done crying.

Moving forward

“I remember telling my mom in the car, ‘OK, we cannot cry anymore,'” Rodgers said. “‘It's not going to help us. So if you need to cry, don't do it around me and I won't do it around you. Deal?'

“She agreed, and honestly, I don't really think I ever saw my parents cry again during the process, except maybe for the good news.”

When Rodgers got home, “pretty much the entire football team and town of Pauls Valley was there waiting and cheering me on.”

“I love the support of a small town,” she said.

A genuine love

The biopsy was the last week of August in 1997. Rodgers underwent a surgery and had her first chemo in early September. She finished radiation treatments on Dec. 10, 1997.

She felt blessed that it had been caught very early. She underwent six rounds of chemo and 14 radiation treatments. Rodgers had many other trips to the doctor and tests, but again felt blessed not to have any overnight hospital stays the entire time, she said.

When Rodgers looks back on her battle with cancer, she sees a teen preparing for her future.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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