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Jim Thorpe supports native in brain cancer battle

Jessica Nhem now calls Ohio home but, being the daughter of a McClafferty and a Bott, there is no doubt she’s a Jim Thorpe girl at heart.

That’s why it comes as no surprise that the community where Nhem, now 37, grew up and started her family is rallying behind her during a stage 4 brain cancer battle with such intensity.

Before her diagnosis of glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive types of cancer, became public knowledge, Nhem first shared the news with a group of her Jim Thorpe friends including Beth Kuhla, whom she has known since kindergarten.

“Hearing her say those words, there was a lot of disbelief,” Kuhla said. “She was diagnosed in October and we had just seen each other in July. It took a while to fully process what she was telling me.”

When still living in Jim Thorpe, Nhem worked as a meter maid in the borough and served as president of the Policeman’s Ball. Her list of community involvement, her friends said, stretches as wide as her smile.

Nhem now lives in Ohio with her husband, Sam, and their three children.

She recently kicked off chemotherapy in the form of five pills with different dosages of Temodar. She is also taking other prescribed medications, such as anti-nausea, for a total of around 10 pills daily.

“The Temodar has agents so strong it can only be handled by Jessica and is only delivered by a few special pharmacies around the country,” Sam said in a Facebook update.

Nhem is also starting radiation and has a special mask molded specifically for her. She will wear the mask while on the bed in a radiation machine, Sam added. The linear accelerator treatment consists of 30 sessions over six weeks.

Four weeks after her last radiation treatment, an MRI will be done to determine the next level of care.

“Both the chemo and radiation will be tough,” Sam said. “They aren’t walks in the park. The MRI will let us know if and how much the treatments were effective.”

Several weekends ago, Kuhla, along with Julie Kunkel, Rashunda Yuhas and several others, organized a fundraiser at the Mauch Chunk Rod and Gun Club that blew their expectations out of the water.

“What started as a simple basket raffle ended up with over 175 baskets, a soup sale and live music, all while following the COVID-19 safety parameters,” Kuhla said. “From about 10:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., the line just didn’t stop. We were floored. It is a testament to what Jessica means to so many people in this community.”

Mauch Chunk Charity funded the soup sale, and the Union Publick House in Jim Thorpe donated supplies for to-go packaging.

The event raised over $14,000.

Kuhla said they were able to reach Jessica via FaceTime during the event, a moment that blew her and her family away.

“The fundraiser put together in Jim Thorpe was amazing,” Sam said. “We received texts, calls and FaceTime calls throughout keeping us feeling as if we were actually there. We are truly one blessed family. Even those who couldn’t make it still sent a text, called and simply communicated how much they wish they were there. The love was truly felt.”

Since her diagnosis, Nhem had two major brain surgeries, one lasting just under seven hours.

The resection craniotomy that took place Oct. 28 was very successful, by and large, Sam said.

“The neurosurgeon was able to remove 80% of the tumor,” he added. “However, the tumor did indeed grow in the short period of time between her first CT/MRI scans and the ones done during the second surgery. The hope is that the amount that was removed killed off the main portion of the tissue.”

Sam started a GoFundMe page for Jessica that, as of Thursday, raised $44,255. According to the page, the contributions came from 630 different donors.

“There is absolutely no surprise that so many people are backing Jessica’s fight,” Kuhla said. “She has a personality that builds a bond with people. She’s full of faith, spunk and she’s fiercely loyal. I can’t think of anyone who has a smile that lifts you up 100% like Jessica does.”

Donations to the GoFundMe can be made at https://www.gofundme.com/f/25ws29p2k0.

The usual prognosis for glioblastoma is bleak. The median life expectancy is just under a year.

Sam and the family readily acknowledge the battle won’t be easy. But one thing is for sure, Nhem is not the kind of person to simply give up.

“She is the strongest person I know,” Sam said. “She will fight this cancer with every bit of sass. We believe miracles do happen and have all faith in God.”

Jessica Nhem, a Jim Thorpe native now living in Ohio, is drawing on the support of her hometown as she battles stage 4 brain cancer. Pictured with Nhem, from left, are Louise McClafferty, mother; Jonathan, son; Sam, husband; and Trinity, daughter. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO