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When you meet Jennie Spencer, be prepared to chat, answer questions about yourself and your family, and make a new friend.
By any measure, the 66-year-old wife, mother, grandmother and leukemia survivor from Forest City, Iowa, is truly a warm and remarkable person.
Having previously been diagnosed and treated for a rare genetic migraine condition at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Jennie skipped local emergency services near her Iowa home in October 2020 and drove 40 minutes to the Emergency Department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Doctors there identified some troubling lab work and suspected leukemia, so they coordinated a transfer for Jennie to the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center in Rochester.
Mayo Clinic News Network photojournalist Kevin Sullivan met with Jennie as she returned for treatment and a surprise for her care team:
Jennie was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in October 2020 and decided to approach her journey through cancer treatment with a focus on joy.
"I didn't know if I had two days, two weeks or two years, but I was going to make the most of my time and find joy in the journey," she says.
During her stay at Mayo Clinic, Jennie painted, and she made a quilted blanket from washed, discarded hospital gowns. She also made social connections with fellow patients and staff.
With encouragement from family, friends and the nurses on her care team, Jennie also wrote and published a children's book, "Princess June of Tangerine Lake."
Jennie says interactions with members of her care team at Mayo Clinic inspired her to write the book.
"My children's book offers a new perspective on cancer treatment," says Jennie. "It chronicles a young princess' journey through cancer treatment, and it's filled with hope, joy and creativity."
The book takes young readers on a journey to a fantasy world of "tangies" and brambles, and it reveals how the princess eventually finds hope. Jennie will distribute the book to children's hospitals across the Midwest on a buy-one, give-one basis.