For the past six months, a husband, wife and their teenage son have been dealing with a devastating health crisis. The close-knit family have been undergoing treatment for three different types of cancers.
While they've struggled with the tremendous emotional and physical burden, the family's spirituality and faith has kept them going, along with the support of their community and people from across the country.
"Things that are meant to destroy us can be turned around for good and there's been a lot of good happened out of all of this," mother Kathy Desclefs, 56, of Jacksonville, Florida, told TODAY.
It started in 2015 when Kathy was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma. She had already beaten cancer after being successfully treated for Hodgkin lymphoma when she was 30. Doctors told her that treatments will prolong her life, but she'll never be cancer-free. She was worried, but optimistic.
“You come to terms with what's going on with yourself. You're not going to live forever,” she said. “The goal is trying to be around as long as I can be for my kids and my husband.”
But just a few months later, as Kathy was juggling treatments while working at the family's restaurant, the Magnificat Café, her husband suffered a seizure in the cafe, dropping to the ground and losing consciousness. Within minutes Benoit Desclefs, 58, stopped breathing and turned blue.
“He had a grand mal seizure at work. I have to be honest with you, it went on so long,” Kathy said, “I thought I was losing him.”
The family soon learned Benoit had a rare brain tumor, an oligodendroglioma, and doctors needed to remove as much of it as they could. Following surgery, he started chemotherapy to treat the remaining aggressive cancerous cells.
“It’s so hard now,” Kathy said. “He’s not really able to get back in there in the kitchen.”
Doctors put him on anti-seizure medication and gave him a prognosis of about 12 years following treatment.
The family had no idea it could get worse. Then, about half-way through Benoit’s chemotherapy treatment, 17-year-old son, Luke, complained of a swollen lymph node.
“He had a lump show up on his neck and it was the same lymph node that they had removed for me when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma,” Kathy explained. “When he showed it to me, I just knew.”
Luke had Hodgkin lymphoma.
“He was upset. But he’s lived in this world of cancer already and it wasn’t so unfamiliar,” she said. “He’s positive because we are. We’re a very spiritual family. We rely a lot on our faith and we pray together.”
On Halloween, Luke started chemotherapy. A PET scan midway through his treatment showed the treatment was working. To keep his spirits up, Luke focuses on the future. He also spends a lot of time praying to remain strong. He often prays for other teens with cancer and finds that being compassionate helps.
"This is part of the journey," Kathy said.
Even with their strong faith it's hard to absorb the blows they've been given. Kathy has learned to take everything as it comes.
“You got to be in the present,” Kathy said. “I can’t worry about tomorrow. Yesterday’s over. I can’t do anything about it. It’s just what I have in front of me.”
Even though Benoit struggles to work in the kitchen, he visits the café daily to complete paperwork. Kathy has increased her role and hired others to help. Luke has been home schooled since October because his immune system is weakened and he tires easily. The high school senior feels frustrated at times, but still plans on attending college to study exercise science and to go to medical school like his brother, Tyler.
“Luke feels an inability to keep up with the work because of the chemo brain,” Kathy said. “That bothers him more than anything because he just he's very studious. He's a good student.”
Still, the family feels lucky. They're together and the health challenges have taught them what's truly important. The support from the local community and people across the country has been an enormous help.
“It has been incredibly uplifting. You get all these people that are really trying from their hearts and they’re loving you and that brings grace and that strengthens you,” Kathy said. "It literally changed the course of our lives."