By Mike Brue
As a child and adult, Cindy Jo Adams has traveled from her country home to Reynolds, N.D., far more times than she could count.
Saturday’s trip to her hometown will be different.
Cindy Jo knows it, too, and there’s little the 48-year-old can do to prepare herself for it other than to just to show up.
“I don’t know how I’m going to take Saturday,” she conceded.
She’s unsure how to adequately prep herself for the big benefit planned at the Knights of Columbus Hall — a meatball and potatoes dinner, with homemade baked goods for sale, silent and live auctions, paddle walks and cake walks, plus live music. The benefit is intended to help her.
“It’s going to be a tough day, I know that,” Cindy Jo said, then added. “They’ve been just wonderful.”
For Cindy Jo, Saturday is a coming-out gathering of sorts that follows her grueling half-year battle with Stage 3 ovarian cancer – a period when this typically gregarious, outgoing woman lived an atypical, cocoon-like existence, she said.
“She’s nervous about it, and I think it’s more anxiety because she hasn’t been out and she hasn’t seen many of these people” since learning she had cancer back in September, said her daughter, Cassie Adams, 20. “I think she’s afraid she’s just going to be very overwhelmed.”
“Oh, yeah,” said close friend Jeanne Breidenbach of Reynolds, the benefit chairperson. “There’s going to be a lot of tears. . . . She’s been out a few times now, but not in big, big crowds. So Saturday will be a very big day for her.”
Cindy Jo is no stranger to being on the receiving end of a benefit, but that experience seems like half a lifetime ago. Back in 1997, a temporary, life-threatening kidney ailment put 3-year-old Cassie in a Minneapolis hospital on dialysis for eight weeks, and a successful Reynolds benefit was held for the Adams family. That benefit, like Saturday’s, was sponsored by charitable nonprofit NDAD.
And Cindy Jo has participated in benefits to help others, including one for her brother-in-law, Gary Adams of Reynolds, held in 2011 as he was dealing with serious intestinal complications.
During her chemotherapy treatment, Cindy Jo witnessed the community’s kindness in other ways. Her community friends teamed up to bring 30 meals, one a week, to the Adams family: Cindy Jo and husband David; son Jordan, a Central Valley High School senior; and daughter Cassie, when she’s home from Crookston, Minn., where she’s a junior majoring in animal science at the University of Minnesota campus there.
Each week, the meals were delivered with a little inspirational note.
“Reynolds,” Cindy Jo said quietly, “is a very good community.”
The feeling appears to be mutual.
“Kind. Bubbly. Puts her family and friends first, before herself,” Jeanne said about Cindy Jo.
Saturday’s benefit is going to test Cindy Jo’s strength, emotionally and physically. She was exhausted from battling illness after the last of her six chemotherapy treatments in Grand Forks on Feb. 24. The chemo regimen began several weeks after her cancer surgery, including a radical hysterectomy, Oct. 8 at the Mayo Clinic complex in Rochester, Minn.
Cindy Jo said she was told that she’s the first person in Grand Forks to complete the full chemo regimen for her particular cancer drug. “They said 28 percent clinically only finish this regimen,” she said. “It was very strong. I was sick for days” after each treatment.
The rural Reynolds woman admits she wanted to stop taking the chemo treatments, given how ill they made her. She didn’t, in part after being reminded what she’s always told her children whenever they pursued athletic endeavors, be it youth snowmobile racing in the KC Pro West circuit or school sports, such as basketball or volleyball: If they started a sport, she said, they could not quit during the season — no matter how difficult it might get.
“We’re not quitters, Mom,” Jordan Adams reminded his mom.
Cindy Jo wasn’t, either.
In fact, Jordan, who turned 18 on March 28, opted not to play his senior year of basketball for Central Valley this past winter season. His choice. “He knew it would be very hard on me if I could not make a game,” Cindy Jo said.
She regularly has joined husband David – or represented him when he couldn’t be there (and vice versa) — at Jordan’s sprint car races in Grand Forks, their Central Valley school athletic competitions and, before that, Cassie and Jordan’s Kitty Cats / 120s Sno-Cat races on the youth KC Pro West regional circuit.
Inspirational. Supportive. Loving. Cindy Jo says her family has been all of those at the time she has needed them most — from driving her to medical appointments to Grand Forks and back, to providing quiet understanding and needed assistance at home on the farm.
“We were a really, really close family before. Did a lot together,” Cassie said. “But I think we’re even closer now, which I think is really cool.”
Saturday’s benefit is a reminder of all the others who think Cindy Jo is cool, too.
“Don’t know how I’ll take it,” Cindy Jo reiterated, “but It’s going to be a great day.”
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Jeanne Breidenbach remembers the September 2013 day well.
She took Cindy Jo Adams to Altru Health System in Grand Forks for aCT scan to determine what might be causing her some back and lower abdomen pain.
After the appointment, the two met a mutual friend for lunch and a game of bingo at a Grand bar and grill. They were there when Cindy Jo’s cell phone rang. It was an Altru representative calling.
Cindy Jo stepped outside to take the call. Jeanne and their friend, Shelly Schumacher, suspected the news wasn’t good.
“You just know,” Jeanne recalled. “Not too often do you get a call right back after having a test.”
Shortly, Jeanne went outside to check on Cindy Jo – and found her in tears.
“And when we came back in, she went, ‘We gotta go. I just can’t be here.’
“And then she goes, ‘Ohhh, but we bought bingo cards. . . .We better finish bingo.”
Jeanne shakes her head and chuckles. “But that’s Cindy.
“So we played bingo, and then we all went to my house” in Reynolds.
“And we just did a lot of talking and crying.”
From Reynolds, Jeanne called Cassie at Crookston and Jordan in Reynolds. “I just said, ‘Come to my house. Your mom needs you.’” They did, and learned the news there.
David Adams was away from home all day and well into the night busy with harvest. “I went out to the field to tell him,” Cindy Jo recalled.
Suddenly, life changed again for the couple, childhood sweethearts who married 30 years ago this coming Nov. 10. Some things wouldn’t change, though.
“My dad’s been a rock,” Cassie said. “He’s been awesome.”
David has been “just very patient, very kind. And my love,” Cindy Jo said.
Less than two weeks later, the entire family accompanied Cindy Jo to Mayo for her appointments and subsequent surgery.
– – – – –
Cindy Jo Adams describes herself before her cancer diagnosis as a “runner, runner, runner.”
“Very busy,” daughter Cassie confirmed, laughing. “Fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants kind of girl.” With a clear spontaneous side. “Me and her, when we find something to do, we just go do it.”
“That’s Cindy,” friend Jeanne said. “And when she does something, she does it ‘all or nothing.’ “
“That,” Cassie said, referring to her mom’s life since her cancer diagnosis, “is what is so different about this.”
Cindy Jo said that she’s “kind of turned into a totally different person.”
She doesn’t know when she’ll return to her job full time as a real estate agent for Greenberg Realty. “I’ve worked a little bit. Not too much,” she said. Skip, her boss, “says don’t worry about it.” Cindy Jo really enjoys the work, which she’s done for about five years, and she very much likes to spend time with the people. Still, she’s apprehensive.
Without the work, there’s plenty ahead for the Adams family in coming weeks, including Jordan’s graduation is May 24. A celebration is planned on the Adams farm. “And there’s lots to do,” Cindy Jo said.
She’s also eager to finally ride the black-and-white Tennessee Walker she purchased last year. It’s her first horse since she stopped riding when the children were young. Now-grown Cassie owns three colorful paint horses, and Cindy Jo would love to ride with her daughter again. By then, Cindy Jo says, she should know her horse’s personality – and it should have a new name, too. “His name when I got him was Brad Pitt, but I just think that’s a goofy name for a horse,“ she explained.
“You can just tell she doesn’t have the strength” to ride horses yet, Cassie said of her mom. “She’ll brush them and that, but that’s it.”
Cindy Jo’s strength is returning slowly. She remains weak, and she tires easily.
“I just started last week going back to the barn and doing a few things,” Cindy Jo said early this week. “It’s challenging. . . It’s very frustrating. I can’t do nearly as much around the farm as I want to.”
In March, several weeks after she finished the last round of chemo, Cindy Jo accompanied her family on a trip to Mesa, Arizona. They’ve been there before; David’s “snowbird” parents and other friends have Arizona homes. This March trip had special purpose.
“I wasn’t quite strong enough, but we went,” Cindy Jo said. “I promised my children. They were very good when I was going through my chemo treatments.”
“She got really tired really easily,” Cassie recalls. “We were really careful with her….We just kind of took it slow. It was more to just get away, get some sun. I think she really enjoyed it. I think it helped boost her confidence and just her overall attitude a little bit.”
Jeanne Breidenbach called the trip “marvelous” for the Cindy Jo and her family after their trying fall and winter. “Like we tell everybody, how would you feel if you didn’t know where your life is going to go next? How would you feel if you didn’t know if you were going to survive this or not?” Jeanne said. “Nobody deserves cancer, and everybody deserves a getaway.”
That said, Jeanne reminded, her good friend still is “not out of the woods.”
Cindy Jo’s kidneys have been damaged by the chemotherapy treatments. And Monday, she’ll be tested genetically to determine whether she carries a gene that shows up in women with certain types of breast cancer. Her sister, Lynette, recently was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“We really didn’t have cancer in my family,” Cindy Jo said. That’s partially why when her doctor first talked about it last September, Cindy Jo said, she was in denial.
Now she’ll receive positron emission tomography (PET) imaging tests every few months to monitor for any possible return of cancer. She also has other permanent medications she must take.
“Here was a girl who would barely take an aspirin, and then all of a sudden she’s got a little purse full of these meds and that med,” Jeanne said.
But Jeanne added she’s optimistic “Cindy will be Cindy again. . . . She wants her life back,” Jeanne said. “That’s her words: ‘I just want to feel normal again.’”
Come Saturday, friends, family and community intend to remind Cindy Jo Adams that they support the woman she was, is and – for a very long time to come, they hope – will become.
Mike Brue is communications director for NDAD.