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01-02-04: Couple moves ahead with wedding plans


ST. MARYS — Area residents Jay Epperson and Jodi Schultz have no idea what the future holds, but they figure dealing with the challenges and the uncertainty can be accomplished best as husband and wife.
In the presence of relatives and friends at Zion Lutheran Church, the couple will promise to remain true to each other in good times and bad. The March 19 wedding comes six months earlier than expected as Epperson fights brain cancer.
Epperson, a 30-year-old Setex employee, chuckles softly and states he plans to walk down the aisle under his own steam.
“I don’t want Jodi pushing me in a wheelchair. It’s bad enough she has to put up with a somewhat bald man,” he said.
An unrelenting headache struck within weeks after he placed a diamond engagement ring on the left hand of his 24-year-old fiancee. The overwhelming pain reduced him to tears on more than one occasion. His family doctor attributed the malady to spurts of high blood pressure and prescribed appropriate medication. After seeing no improvement, the couple sought help from another doctor. He diagnosed the problem as a sinus infection and recommended different remedies.
Epperson never had an opportunity to take the new medication. He began vomiting repeatedly, so Schultz headed for the emergency room at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys.
Initial indications pointed to a migraine headache but the doctor ordered scans of the sinus cavity and the head to rule out other possibilities.
“I will never forget the look on the doctor’s face,” Schultz says. “I knew it was more than a migraine before he told me about the two masses in the brain right above Jay’s right eye.”
The physician explained the shadowy areas — one the size of a walnut and the other somewhat smaller — could be tumors, cysts or some type of brain abnormality. Surgery was the only way to tell for sure.
Epperson does not remember the Sept. 30 ambulance ride to Ohio State University Hospital in Columbus. Strong medication dulled the pain as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
More tests preceded the Oct. 2 surgery. Doctors warned the procedure could take nearly 41⁄2 hours, but the neurosurgery team finished in less than half the expected time.
Pathology results identified the masses as glioblastoma multiforme, a fast-growing, aggressive form of cancer that attacks the supportive tissues of the brain. It generally strikes men between the ages of 45 and 55, with the average survival rate being two to five years. The cause is unknown and there is no apparent link between his cancer and another form that claimed his mother’s life three years ago.
“The doctors removed 90 percent,” Schultz says. “Digging away the remaining 10 percent would have resulted in memory loss and other complications involving motor skills. They recommended radiation and chemotherapy to take care of the rest.”
Epperson has completed 31 radiation treatments in Lima, traveling there five days a week for the interim. A 45-minute drive preceded and followed each of the 10-minute procedures.
“I got a nice suntan and lost my hair in the process,” he says with a smile. “I consider myself very fortunate. In Columbus as well as in Lima, I could always look around and see someone facing a tougher battle. I learned very quickly to count my blessings.”
Doctors have attempted on several occasions to reduce the amount of steroids the St. Marys-area man takes to counteract brain swelling in the wake of radiation treatments. One attempt landed him in the hospital for five days when the all-too-familiar headaches returned.
“All I could do was hold Jay and pray the pain would go away,” Schultz says. “We were so scared it meant more problems and more surgery. Thankfully, that was not the case.”
The couple talked at length about their future during the last hospitalization. Immediate plans include 12 to 14 weeks of chemotherapy following a Jan. 12 appointment with a tumor specialist in Columbus. Their discussion focused on marriage, his return to work after chemotherapy and having a family.
“We came to the conclusion to go ahead with the wedding,” Schultz says. “But we moved it up from September to March just to be on the safe side. I want to grow old with Jay, and I can’t imagine spending my life without him.”
Epperson smiles at her exuberance, pointing out he brings a lot of uncertainty to the altar. Doctors have not talked about longevity at this point as they focus on aggressive treatment.
“I don’t want a doctor somewhere to put a limit on the time we have together. It doesn’t matter whether we have months or years because we are going to live each and every day to the fullest before looking ahead to tomorrow. Only God knows the amount of time we have to share and worrying only wastes precious moments,” Schultz said.
“Something so unexpected certainly puts love to the test,” he says. “Everything was going so smoothly — the purchase of a house in February, Jodi’s graduation from Wright State University in June and our engagement in September. Not everybody has the chance to live happily ever after like in movies and books. Our love will carry us through whatever lays ahead. Two of us fighting together are better than one of us fighting alone.”
Being alone is not an option where their family and friends are concerned. Armed with rakes and blowers, they set out to rid the couple’s Howell Road lawn of leaves. Others continue to plan a Feb. 7 benefit dinner and raffle at E-Z Campground. There are more offers to help with wedding chores than tasks to assign.
They also draw support from their faith as well as a line — “Where there’s life, there’s hope” — gleaned from the book “Chicken Soup for the Surviving Soul.”
“We plan to live one day at a time,” Schultz says patting her fiance’s hand. “When something shakes you to the core, you look at life in a different manner. Little things don’t matter anymore. Jay isn’t afraid and I try not to be.”


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