Jessica Strohauer’s battle for her life — and the lives of her unborn twins — began with what doctors thought was bronchitis.
She was prescribed an antibiotic, but the swelling in her neck and underarm wouldn’t go away. Before doctors could do an X-ray, Strohauer learned she was pregnant.
In April 2014, Strohauer, 27 and four months pregnant, was diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
And so began Strohauer’s long and difficult journey to survive. She endured months of chemotherapy while pregnant, but was able to carry her twins and deliver naturally at 35 weeks. Only two months after her healthy boy and girl were born, Zachary and Ella, she learned the disease had spread to her spine and bones.
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On top of her health troubles, Strohauer, who also has a 6-year-old son, was recently dealt another blow. Her fiancé, the father of her twins, died suddenly May 20. She said his heart gave out after years of struggling with addiction.
“He was always there to push me,” she said of Christopher Joiner. “That’s what’s really hard now, not having him there to go through this with me.”
Strohauer said the next few months will be especially rough.
Earlier this month, she learned she was in remission. But now she needs a bone marrow transplant, which means she can’t work for three months, and for the first three weeks of the process she won’t be able to see anyone.
“I don’t know what it’s like not working,” said Strohauer, who worked through her treatments.
Born and raised in Hollywood, Strohauer graduated from Hollywood Christian School and was always into sports.
Growing up, her only health woes were colds that turned into bronchitis.
“I was really pretty healthy,” she said.
When she was 22, she had her first son, Johnny McCabe. She said it was an easy pregnancy.
Strohauer always kept busy working two jobs, one as a dispatcher at Field of Flowers and the other as a bartender at Triple B Bar and Grill in Hollywood.
When she first learned she was pregnant with twins, she cried for joy. Joiner had entered a rehab program and things were looking up.
After learning she had cancer, her motherly instincts kicked in.
“I wanted to wait as long as I could before having chemo, but it was getting harder to breathe,” she said. “I didn’t want to do anything that would hurt them.”
After giving birth to two healthy babies, doctors told Strohauer that she was in remission. But that was short-lived.
The cancer spread and she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lymphoma.
She was given a high dose of chemo, and on July 11 she once again learned she was cancer-free.
On a recent Sunday, Strohauer who lost her hair for a second time, played with her twins and tried to stay positive.
“Everything I do is for my children,” she said.
She is now living with the parents of Joiner, who are helping her to raise her children.
Scott Joiner, a deacon at St. Maximilian Kolbe Catholic Church in Pembroke Pines, called Strohauer a “trouper.”
“The outpouring of love has been amazing,” he said.
The community has now stepped up to help. Friends are holding a garage sale Saturday to raise money to help her pay her bills and care for her children while she is out of work.
For Strohauer, surviving is her only option.
“I have so much more life in me,” she said. “I want to be there to see my kids grow up and have children of their own. I can’t leave my kids without their mother.”
What: Garage sale for Jessica Strohauer
When: From 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday
Where: South Florida Church of Christ, 9191 Orange Dr. in Davie.
To donate: Items can be dropped off by Wednesday at the three Field of Flower stores, 5101 S. University Dr. in Davie, 8177 Glades Rd. in Boca Raton or 13165 S. Dixie Hwy in Palmetto Bay until Wednesday. Then items can be brought to the church the day of the sale.
Other ways to help: Friends have created a fundraising page for Jessica Strohauer at http://www.youcaring.com/jessica-strohauer-382756. For updates on Strohauer’s condition visit https://www.facebook.com/jstrohauer.
For more information: Call 800-963-7374.