Girl On A Roller Coaster

Susan Narjala   |   June 6, 2018 

Fourteen-year-old girls are supposed to be sassy. They’re supposed to roll their eyes at you and slam doors and lose themselves in a world of text messages and teenage drama.

They aren’t supposed to be the subjects of blogposts about inspiring individuals.

But this kid? This one is different.

She’s a teenager who has nothing but gentle words and thoughtful glances. She brims over with positive energy and radiates a sweetness that is far from typical for her age.

But, if there’s one overarching quality to describe her, it would be that she’s a fighter. Wonder Woman has nothing on this girl.

Jenita is my niece, a young girl who has endured some of life’s fiercest storms only to emerge stronger and more joyful.

It wasn’t long after Jenita’s thirteenth birthday that her mom, Judith, noticed a slight bump on her forehead. During a routine visit to the paediatrician Judith mentioned the swelling.

The doctor suggested they do a scan, although the bump was “probably nothing.”

That scan was the first domino that tipped over in a winding, almost never-ending sequence. From then on, the tiles just kept falling, one after the other, in a mind-boggling series of complications and challenges.

After a second scan, it was clear that Jenita needed further treatment. Along with her parents, this brave girl left her home in Mumbai to consult doctors at the renowned CMC Hospital, Vellore.

Yes, it was discovered that the bump was, in fact, a tumor.

Worse still, doctors found out that it was only a secondary tumor. The primary tumor was actually much larger and located in the abdominal cavity. It had soundlessly wound its way around many of Jenita’s vital organs.

After scores of tests, scans, MRI’s, a biopsy and poking and prodding, it was discovered that Jenita had a condition called Ganglioneuroblastoma: the growth was an “intermediate tumor,” one that had both malignant and benign cells.

Doctors decided that Jenita would have to endure a life-threatening surgery to remove the growth in the abdomen. It was a nerve-wracking surgery performed by highly-skilled surgeons at CMC, lasting over eight hours.

The unwieldy tumor was removed and the surgery deemed successful. Yet, in just a few days, a series of complications arose: excessive quantities of bile-like discharge started pouring into drain bags connected by tubes to the surgery site. Jenita was again rushed in for surgery.

After this second surgery Jenita was put on a manual ventilator and moved to the ICU. She was heavily sedated, covered in a tangle of tubes and confined to isolation.

When I recently spoke to Jenita about her time at CMC, I asked about the most difficult thing she had to endure. She spoke about her time in the ICU. “It was a little hard,” Jenita says. I smile when I hear the word, “little.” She speaks honestly, yet her positivity is evident. She continues without a hint of whining, “I had to be all alone. In the ward someone’s with you all the time.”

This kid who loved swimming and dancing and playing handball, was now alone in a cold, sterile room with only whirring machines for company. This self-confessed "foodaholic" was fed through a tube in her stomach - and that continued for the next three months. She was not allowed a single sip of water, although her lips were cracked and her throat dry.

Yet, her parents report that she didn’t utter a syllable of complaint. She fought battle after battle with a courage that simply had to come from God alone.

Complications continued to rear their ugly head. Even as she recovered from the second surgery back in the ward, Jenita’s organs went into septic shock. Her parents watched horrified from the sidelines as doctors rushed her into the ICU again.

This time, there seemed to be little hope.

Jenita’s dad, Rajiv, was called into the ICU. He was told by the doctor to "prepare for the worst" - the words of every parent’s most dreaded nightmare.

And, yet, Jenita fought – and won – that impossible battle by the grace of God.

She emerged from her third surgery physically battered, a shell of who she used to be. In the days that followed, she went into "ICU psychosis," a type of shock from being isolated and sedated for so long. She had to re-learn how to connect with those around her as her eyes took on a distant, unrecognizable look. She had to re-learn how to walk. Even a few steps from the bed to the chair were a strain on her weakened system.

Finally, eighty-eight days after Jenita was admitted to CMC, after five surgeries in the OT, four stays at the ICU, three times on the vent, more than 1000 pokes for blood, numerous scans, ultrasounds, and persistent prayer, Jenita was discharged.

She was going home. Back to Mumbai. Back to her beloved family. And, finally, her own bed.

The journey before her, even after her return to Mumbai, was far from easy. She had to undergo exhausting cycles of chemotherapy and radiation. Clumps of her hair started to fall out. She was hospitalized again for a high fever, even as her platelet count dropped to dangerously low levels.

But there was hope and there was prayer and, underneath it all, the loving arms of the Father.

A few months after her return to Mumbai, Jenita decided she wanted to go back to school. Rajiv and Judith watched their daughter climb onto the school bus, joyful tears running down their faces. Her uniform hung loosely on her, given all the weight she had lost, but that didn’t matter. With supernatural strength Jenita wrote all the exams. Despite not having attended school for almost a year, this determined young lady scored an amazing 80%.

Once her radiation sessions were complete, doctors advised that scans be repeated. By the grace of God the reports came back clear - there was no evidence of growth. Jenita was cancer free!

Today, two years after her first surgery in Vellore, Jenita is getting stronger. When I ask her about what she’s learned, she speaks wisdom that belies her age, “It’s been a roller coaster for me. But I’ve learned about being thankful. I’ve learned about gratitude for every moment. I’m thankful for my family who encourages me. I’m thankful for God who never leaves me.”

When I hear of all Jenita endured, I stand amazed. But, more than that, when I hear of this young girl’s resilient spirit, when I hear her words of sweet grace and even gratitude, I stand convicted.

When I think of those who have walked tough paths and emerged, not just tougher, but more faith-filled and more joyful I can’t help but think of a sweet fourteen-year-old who loves life, family and God.



Photo by Mark Asthoff on Unsplash

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When she's not smuggling chocolate past her kids or drinking gallons of coffee, Susan Narjala can be found writing, baking and (thinking about) working out. She grew up in Chennai, lived in Portland, Oregon, for the last ten years and is now back in India with her family. She finds nuggets of humour in the everyday, and writes about it on on her blog,

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9 comments on “Girl On A Roller Coaster”

  1. It is indeed God's doing in Jenita's life as well as her family life. The paryers of family and friends did also move God. Every time I see Jenita and her family my heart leaps with joy to see God's miracle before my eyes. Praise God !!!!

  2. Amazingly described Susan. The message is so powerful and had tears while reading. Thank God for Jenita.
    And thank you for bringing it out so beautifully. God bless..

  3. Beautifully written Susan. I really admire Jenita....and I have learn many things from her story.

  4. Truly inspiring journey of this wonderful young girl and much to learn and be thankful for, for the multitude of us who are not always thankful for what we have. So beautifully written. Thank you. God bless each of you who are part of and supporting this amazing girl Jenita.

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