Episode 6 of 6
“It was a very big honor for me to be the one.”
Jessica’s life is the stuff of a country song for sure, all that heartache and triumph. All that pain and gratitude. Maybe call it ‘A Grateful Heart’ – something she talks about a lot. And she finds just the man to write it.
00:02 Aaron: I don't ever wanna see my wife hurt. Nobody wants that for their spouse. She still does have some health issues to work through, and we do that together. She is extremely brave and strong and tackles all these doctors' visits like it's second nature to her at this point. She speaks the language. It's pretty amazing to watch her in a doctor's visit, sort of demanding a lot, actually, and like I said, she's speaking the language, getting to the bottom of the reason we're there and expecting results. I think she probably was taught to have high expectations from your hospital early on. I think we may have been spoiled a bit at the beginning, but my fear is that she won't always get better, and that sounds awful, and I don't mean it like... My fear would be that she would go to the doctor and not come back with positive words.
01:32 Narrator: Jessica and her family welcome a new supporter and friend in their journey, Jessica's husband, talented songwriter Aaron Eshuis. Together, they set out to write a new verse of hopes and dreams. This is St. Jude Flashpoint.
01:50 Steve: Aaron, he... The first thing I think about Aaron, he really loves her.
02:01 Aaron: Jess has a lot of supporters and a lot of friends, and she is important to a lot of people, and I think they all have a high standard for the guy that Jessica is with.
02:14 Allison: For me to trust someone with her life, being her husband, that has to be a really special person.
02:26 Aaron: Not that it was presented to me like a task, I think I put that on myself. There's a high bar for Jessica's boyfriend.
02:36 Allison: She brings something to the table that the average person has never experienced and will never experience, and if you didn't... If he hadn't have understood that and understood that she still has some struggles and been willing to be patient...
02:52 Aaron: It was a very big honor for me to be the one that, not only that Jessica chose, but that her family chose.
03:02 Allison: He, I wrote him a card, it's really corny, and I have trouble because I lock all of my emotions up still, but I wrote him a card and gave it to him on their wedding day and said, I always prayed that you would find somebody who would take care of her and understand her needs and her challenges and everything that comes with that, and that's him. He understands and he gets it and he's there for her, and he is always so supportive of her, and he's so kind and so humble and so... But that was a really special day because there was a point when I wasn't sure she was gonna be there.
03:43 Aaron: Jessica has a really good relationship with her family, obviously, and it's contagious and they have taught me so much about being open and they are loud and they'll tell you how they feel, and I love it.
04:02 Steve: As soon as I found out he was a guitar player, I was... Every Christmas, we're gonna have the Christmas jam, and it's never happened.
04:10 Aaron: As a new member of Jessica's family and the way that they interact and they way they know each other and the way that they have grown from this unique experience that Jessica had as a child has taught me so much about the bond of a family and relationships and the strength that a bond can gain through an extremely difficult time, and the openness that they have with each other has taught me so much about connecting with people in a way that I don't think that I had experienced before.
04:49 Jordan: So Jessica definitely would say that I'm kind of a truth-talker, and I think she would also admit that when she doesn't wanna hear something that she knows she needs to, she would call me and ask me.
05:04 Aaron: If there was any approval I needed to earn or anyone's approval I needed to earn, it would have been Jordan's. I'm pretty sure at the beginning, Jordan wasn't a huge fan of mine. That took a minute.
05:15 Jordan: Her husband is so steady, so good for her.
05:20 Aaron: I think it's one thing to go on a couple of dates, but before... If I'm gonna be that one that's going to accompany Jessica while she tries to make her dreams come true, I needed to be up to the job, I needed to be a good dude.
05:40 Steve: He came to my house, he literally asked me, he came and picked me up. I was working on my car and I had to go get my car, and he took me there and he said, "I'm gonna pick you up in the morning," and I said, 'cause he's in Nashville and I'm in Memphis, and he's gonna come to get me, and I'm going, "Oh, there's something going on here." So anyway, so, anyway, and he literally asked me for Jessica's hand.
06:06 Aaron: I drove to Memphis to ask Jessica's dad's permission to ask her to marry me, and I got up really early in the morning, I had to write that day in Nashville, probably at 11, would have been 11 AM, I had to be back in town to write a song. So I got up really early, I think I was probably in Memphis by seven or so, and I wanted to take her dad to breakfast to ask permission. And we never made it to breakfast. I think we spent so much time in the kitchen, we never really got out the door, and I think I finally got him in my car with minutes to spare, I needed to get back to Nashville. We got down to the end of the street, and I said, "Steve, I think you know why I'm here." And he kind of teared up, and I told him that it was an honor to be asking. And I was really proud to be the one to ask. I wanted to tell our kids that I drove to Memphis to ask her dad, it was important to me. And I think it meant a lot to him.
07:19 Steve: I'm a musician. So I love that he's a musician of course.
07:22 Aaron: When I wrote "This Is It" with Scotty McCreery, I think I'd been married to Jess for maybe a year or so. But it was still fairly recent. And this was before Scotty had proposed to his now wife. So we had a lot to talk about, a lot in common when we were writing the song. And our wedding was still fresh in my mind. So it was actually the lines for that song came pretty easily.
07:50 Steve: When he turns into his musician person, he's kind of a different character too. But I think they go together really well. He knows that she's going to be very involved in the hospital. That's not going to be news to him. And she loves the country music life. And she's very connected to the country music life, because of the Country Cares, part of St. Jude. And so that's a great match. You know what I mean, they connect on that level. I guess I'm a musician, and he's a musician. She can talk that musician ease, I suppose.
08:23 Jessica: Look, we have a lot of things that are still currently coming up. So he's in the middle of it with me now. Like he's in the weeds with me. And we're sort of on a health roller coaster together still, and he never gets shaken by it.
08:47 Aaron: I'm still learning what it means to be Jessica's husband, learning what it means to be married to somebody who survived cancer, and still trying to do better, and do better for St. Jude. I mean, it's a big part of our life. But it's an exciting... Anytime we get the chance to be a part of something with St. Jude, we jump on it. And each year it seems like Jessica and her team come up with new and exciting events to work on, whether it's This Shirt Saves Lives campaign, or something involving music. And so every year we have something new to look forward to. And it's been a journey. It's been a ride and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
09:35 Jessica: He never seems like it's scary, like it's too much, every single thing that we ever hear from a doctor, he's like, "Oh, we got this," like, it's never a thing.
09:51 Aaron: My journey with Jessica has caused, I think a priority shift. Part of that is growing up. These dreams of making music and all of that haven't become secondary. But I've learned that there are more important things in life. And something Jessica says sometimes when I'm maybe stressed out about losing... When I'm losing perspective, Jessica will say "Get a real problem."
10:35 Jessica: I'm easily shaken now when I hear new diagnoses or, you know, if bad news comes up.
10:44 Aaron: I think at the beginning, when it came to health issues, I was trying to fix things, solve things. And I'm sure that some of my mistakes have been in what I've said at the wrong time. I've said the wrong thing and maybe was trying too hard.
11:08 Jessica: If bad news comes up, I sometimes will automatically think, "Oh, this could be the worst." But he's always like, "We can do this. We got this."
11:19 Aaron: Having kids, for Jess and I is going to be a fairly challenging experience. And that's something that we're talking about seriously now, but no real plans yet.
11:32 Jessica: Long story short, there are all of these medications at play. And I don't know if pregnancy... I don't know how it plays into that.
11:41 Aaron: The lasting effects of having cancer and being treated for it as a kid, it took its toll on her body, and we're figuring out now if she's gonna be strong enough, and if that's something that's gonna be a realistic possibility for us, but there will be children somehow.
12:04 Jessica: Last week, I asked my rheumatologist that question. And he sort of took a minute and we talked about all the medications and how I was still really flared up. And he was like, "I don't think pregnancy is an option at this point." I was by myself and it was like a lot to take in. And I didn't really know what to do with that information. So I went home and I just took a nap. During the nap, I had a nightmare that this is like so symbolic, just a metaphor for my life, that my mom and my sister and I were standing on this like little island, and we had this Hammerhead who's like circling the island. And I'm like, "Mom, is that a Hammerhead guy come out and get us." And you know, somebody, Jordan says, like, "Oh, that's super rare. Like that never happens. It's possible but it's not gonna happen." And in the next moment, the Hammerhead is jumping out of the water and it has attacked me and I am down like... Things aren't going well but my sister's doing CPR and I wake up.
13:08 Jordan: If Jessica's worried or anxious or has a health challenge, it's the same exact... It's like fight or flight and you go exactly back to what you know, and that's just that I'm able to be that steady that I know she needed and she still needs.
13:30 Jordan: I think it would be great to be in a place where we didn't have to have these conversations, where we weren't looking for the newest drug because we knew what already worked. It would be great to have solid answers to these diseases, not just cancer but, St. Jude's studying other things, ALS and diabetes, and malaria, and sickle cell, and I don't know, it's an honor to get to witness what's going on but I also wish that this work didn't have to exist.
14:11 Allison: Her life is 100% different, richer, stronger, deeper, more meaningful for having gone through it. All of us, her sister. Her sister works here too because we all feel such a huge responsibility, I think, to the hospital. They saved our life, you saved my sister's life, and so this is where they're meant to be.
14:44 Jessica: I can't imagine being anywhere else, honestly. I feel like, every single day, I have this grateful heart. I just know that there has been so many... I've been offered so many chances and I've been given another chance at life, and I really feel a lot of pressure to make that life count, and I can't think of anywhere else that I could do that, in my mind, to have an impact more than St. Jude. And I can only hope that it's paying it forward and helping a family who's walking in today to just make their journey a little bit better.
15:37 Steve: I'm sure she would probably tell you that she probably wouldn't change a thing and I think it made her who she is.
15:44 Jessica: Now, when I'm back at the hospital, I get really excited to meet families who are in the treatment journey and I can only hope and pray that they find inspiration by seeing what can be like on the other side, what life can look like.
16:05 Steve: I just love that she's a survivor and that when she tells the story, when she tells that at St. Jude events, people really respond and they just love the hospital. As a dad, it makes me really crazy proud.
16:21 Allison: It's all about the journey. And so if we hadn't have gone through this, the people that we wouldn't have met and the things we wouldn't understand about life... We've been able to help other people who have had a family member that had been diagnosed with cancer and, "You're gonna be all right. This is what's gonna happen. And chemo is no fun but life is gonna go on." We've been able to empathize with people in a different way because of this experience. And the girls too, and they still, through their jobs, working with patients, current patients, they have a lot of understanding that they bring to the table because they've been there. "I was seven, I was a sister. I understand what you're going through."
17:13 Jessica: When I think about maybe my purpose to this point, St. Jude is what comes to mind. That has been such an incredible piece of my life. It made me really feel like just fulfilled. That fulfills me to be able to do something really good every day and to be fighting for other families who are in the middle of their battle.
17:44 Steve: I think, Jessica, probably really... She probably wouldn't change a thing.
17:48 Jessica: I would say, it's the best thing that ever happened to me because it... It's the best and the worst thing, if you were gonna ask me those questions.
17:58 Steve: In the long haul, it was a beautiful thing and I think both my daughters do great work for the hospital and I'm just so proud of them.
18:12 Jessica: It has given me perspective, it has given me purpose, it has shown me the beauty in those really dark times and I wouldn't trade it for anything.
18:27 Allison: To me, it's such an incredible place. I wish that I had just gotten to meet Danny Thomas... There were times when things would happen and we would just jokingly say things like, "Hello, Danny Thomas," 'cause you just felt like he was over there or something miraculous happen. Things happen at St. Jude, miraculous things happen at St. Jude, I don't know how else to say it. And you would just say, "I guess Danny Thomas was there." So I wish we had gotten a chance to meet him and tell him thank you because a normal person who starts a hospital that saves the lives of thousands and thousands of children, who... He didn't have to do that, he didn't even live in Memphis, he didn't have a child that was sick. It just was put upon his heart to do such a thing.
19:19 Jessica: I was motivated and fueled by looking at the friend on the left and the friend on the right. I always noticed that no matter how bad your day is or you think it is, when you're looking over here, they're having a worse day. There's always somebody over there who has got it 10 times harder. I really hate that I asked that question, "Why me?" But I did on night number one. And Ms. Gail comes down and she had lost her leg to cancer, and she looked at me plain as day and she was like, "Jessica, why not you? Is there somebody else better that you have in mind?" And it was just so frank and matter of fact, and it was like, "Yeah, why not me?"
20:09 Allison: I think a badge of honor is a really good way to put it. There are struggles in every life. If you don't have a struggle, you really haven't lived. Again, it's about the journey, it's not all about puppies. Everybody has a struggle of some sort, ours just happened to be this.
20:28 Narrator: Rate, review and share St. Jude Flashpoint. Learn more, donate or volunteer at stjude.org. Finding cures. Saving children.