By Rochelle E. Brenner
This is delicate to write and tough to read. It has been a catastrophic three weeks for the Wetzel family:
Jennifer Wetzel, age 48, a second-degree black belt and the matriarch of the Wetzel clan, was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer.
There are a few communities that will be permanently altered by this diagnosis: her home, her church, her family, her karate family and her workplace.
The Wetzels are now navigating a new sobering reality: Doctors estimate she will live less than two years.
In other words, every moment counts.
They don't have it all figured out, and we are sharing their story and status for your love, encouragement, support, kindness, understanding and inclusion as part of the journey. Karate is their happy place and we are going to rally around them to make every moment we have better.
The Wetzels are the first family of Action Karate Mt. Airy and their lives are intertwined into the fabric of our community: They live in Germantown about a mile from the school. Tyler is 15 and performed on the inaugural Mt. Airy demo team and is the first person here to earn a junior and senior black belt. Kathryn is 17. She had earned her junior black belt and when she got her senior black belt this month, it was to be sure that everyone in their family had accomplished this milestone. Tyler, Kathryn and Tim all work at Mt. Airy -- and Jen is not an employee but is constantly contributing to making our karate school better, cleaner and friendlier. She is the kind of person who mops the mat on her days off, makes jam for the holidays, serves as the medical professional in the room during Black Belt tests, puts on the fans when its hot and volunteers to help a new student.
Jen worked as a doctor at a family practice in Jenkintown for many years, and most recently has been working as a doctor at Mt. Airy Pediatrics a few blocks away. She can no longer work.
They attend the church Spirit & Truth, located in Hunting Park, the same place where several of our other Black Belt families worship.
The chronology of her illness has been lightning fast like a 2x4.
The week before Christmas, she had a migraine. It persisted over days, seemed to dissipate a little, then became debilitating. She wasn't steady enough to drive to a doctor's appointment to check on her headache on Monday. Jen's husband Tim, the head instructor of Mt. Airy, drove her to the doctor, and they quickly sent her to the emergency room. Within four hours, she was scanned and monitored, and as basic class got started that afternoon, she was awaiting an ambulance to take her to Jefferson for emergency brain surgery for a tumor the size of a grapefruit in the frontal lobe of her brain.
I had been getting updates all day. I was teaching black belt prep class at that moment, since Tim was out with her, and I told the students I might have to leave for an emergency. Five minutes in, I called Sensei Dom to the mat and bolted out the door to pick up Tyler and Kathryn and take them to see their mom. She had to see her children in the moments before brain surgery. They were able to stabilize her and put off the surgery until Wednesday. I brought the kids back to the hospital at 5 am that Wednesday morning to see their mom before the procedure. The team covered classes. Sensei Tariq and Jaden and Will (who was in Jen's original Black Belt class) came in to cover classes over the last two weeks.
The long run in grueling, but there are beautiful moments along the way. Jen was out of the hospital with clarity and quality time with her family less than 48 hours after brain surgery and just in time for Christmas. She came to my house for a family Christmas party Dec. 26. The next day she took class. On New Year's Day she broke a board.
On Jan. 2, the follow-up doctor's appointment was the day it all crashed down. That's the day the doctor laid it out. That's how new this is. There is no cure, only a clinical trial and hop for a miracle while enduring sickening treatment. Jen and Tim are both the children of missionaries and their faith gives them hope and comfort.
There are a few things we can do in the meantime: lead in a class to support the students they love. Make a meal for their meal train. Pray. Live like a black belt. People keep asking what they can do. Here is the link for the meal train and we will send an update once we have more information.
Link to blog about Tim Wetzel's story on becoming a full-time instructor: Career or Calling