‘I’ve never seen her come out of surgery as well as she has on this one,” says Denis Edroff, on the phone from the Mayo Clinic.
Imagine being a dad saying that about your teenage daughter, as though surgery were an everyday occurrence — which, for Jeneece Edroff, it almost is.
Victoria’s best-known teenager had her long-awaited operation at the Rochester, Minnesota, clinic on Friday. Doctors removed a tumour from the upper part of her right leg. She emerged from anesthesia asking for ice cubes on a day that began with a hotel-to-hospital trip through a thick blanket of fresh snow.
“She’s happy,” her father said afterward. “She’s basically out of pain, which has never happened before, after surgery.”
Pain has been a constant companion for Jeneece. Friday’s 11Ú2-hour operation was her 16th, just another hurdle in a race with no end in sight. Neurofibromatosis, the condition with which she was diagnosed at age three, means a life of dealing with fibrous tumours growing on nerve pathways.
Nine of those surgeries have been to her back. Two rods travel the length of her spine, held in place by 40 screws. Three more screws run through her hips. She has endured chemotherapy, fought tumours with thalidomide. Her four-foot-10 frame has absorbed a lot of agony.
It would be enough to make many of us surrender, but Jeneece has famously turned her affliction into a commodity, her name into a brand associated with good works.
At age seven, she launched a penny drive at Northridge Elementary School, raising $164 for the Variety Club, which had bought her a body brace. When the next year’s Variety Show of Hearts Telethon rolled around, her coin campaign had pulled in $27,000.
Today, more than $8 million has been raised for charity in her name. Jeneece Place, a home away from home for out-of-town families with children getting hospital care in Victoria, marked its first anniversary Jan. 20, the day Jeneece turned 19.
It punctuated a yo-yo of a year for her, a series of ups and downs. She graduated from Claremont Secondary last spring, earned a surprise trip to Hawaii this month courtesy of the reality show Operation: Vacation!, did a star turn on last weekend’s Variety Club telethon before flying off to Minnesota. She was also rocked with the news that she might need surgery that would cost her the use of her legs; that proved untrue. Late in 2012, leukemia claimed a close friend from Camp Goodtimes, the Canadian Cancer Society oasis that Jeneece thinks of as a home.
All this took place in public. Islanders are invested in Jeneece, think of her as their own; strangers will hug her without asking, not realizing how much it hurts.
She has grown up in a glare, meaning she cannot mess up in private like other kids.
“I want to act like a normal teen, but I can’t,” she said when turning 16 in 2010, the year she became the youngest person named to the Order of B.C.
“It has been quite a life for her,” her dad said Friday.
Jeneece, mom Angie Edroff and dad Denis are scheduled to stay in Minnesota until March 4. She has an MRI scheduled for next Friday; doctors want a look at her kidneys.
Who will pay for all this is still uncertain. What will be covered by the B.C. health-care system and what will be drawn from a fund raised by the community remains to be worked out.
Where she goes from here, who knows? Fame doesn’t mean storybook endings, and it certainly doesn’t mean freedom from pain.
Jeneece has her dreams, though. She talks about a second Jeneece Place and a pediatric oncology unit that would allow Vancouver Island families of children with cancer to spend more time at home and less in Vancouver. Jeneece looks up and sees skies, not ceilings.
“On the road to recovery,” she wrote on her Facebook page after surgery. Friday was a good day.
© Copyright 2013