Indy woman inspires others during cancer fight

Jo Scifres

An Indianapolis woman living with a terminal disease is inspiring those around her with her outlook.

Joanne Scifres, affectionately called "Jo" is dying, but is intent on living the best she can in whatever time she has left. Scifres is full of affection for anyone who crosses her path. Family and friends recently supported her at a fundraising event for her Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure team.

"It's amazing. I couldn't do it without all my family and friends and I feel really blessed and thankful that I do have that," Scifres said.

Team members will walk "for the love of Jo." Her battle with breast cancer inspires them.

"She's just a fighter. She fights for everything. She shows terrific strength," said Chris Spannuth. "I don't want anybody to have to have the pain that she has gone through and to worry if they're gonna be able to see tomorrow."

Scifres has stage four metastatic breast cancer. The late-stage cancer had already spread to her liver, lungs and bones when doctors discovered it.

"My very first thing that popped into my head, though, was 'Oh my God, I'm gonna die...and I'm not going to see my son graduate.' He was in 7th grade," Scifres said.

But five years after her dire diagnosis, when doctors gave her just two years to live, Jo is still standing. Her son, Mikey, is now a junior in high school.

"My big goal today is to make it through his graduation," Scifres said.

She says her life goal is to serve.

"The only reason I can think of for having cancer is, I feel like God gave it to me. I know it sounds weird, but I feel like he gave it to me as a gift. So my gift and my purpose for being here is to help other people," Scifres said.

She helps by making others laugh in the midst of her trials, injecting humor into her Race for the Cure team name - "Joggin' for Jo's Jugs."

"Love it," Scifres laughed.

Jo helps others by walking in the race to fight for others to live.

"I want people to be aware of the race and to raise as much as we can," she said.

"She's helped me to have faith and helped me to live each day," said Jean Hafley, Jo's mother.

But Hafley admits, there is nothing more painful than watching her child suffer.

"I always want to be there to help you, to be your angel and to take care of you," she said.

"You're always there for me," Scifres replied to her mother.

"I know, but, you know, sometimes I can't fix it," Hafley said.

It's a powerful feeling, enveloping even Jo at times, as the cancer spreads.

"I'm scared every single time we do a new scan, I am terrified that they're gonna come back and say it's growing real bad again," she said.

Today, Jo's cancer has advanced into her pelvic area, spine and ribs.

"And that's causing a lot of, even the breathing, you kind of hear me breathing really hard," Scifres said.

A pain pump in her abdomen stems the sickness, but the chemotherapy that arrested the cancer's growth is losing its effectiveness.

"We're pretty much out of options right now," Scifres said. "Since it has been five years, I feel like that clock is ticking faster, because the chances of survival are a lot less with every day I take."

So time for Jo is precious, measured in moments, like those with her two-year-old niece and other family members, and moments to reflect on the legacy she hopes to leave for family and friends.

"If they remember me hopefully being an example to them doing good things, then hopefully, they'll learn some of that and do some good themselves," Scifres said.

In her most difficult hours, Jo thinks not of herself, but others.

"I want everybody to help each other and it'd be so much better if we could do that," she said.

The Race for the Cure is on April 21 in downtown Indianapolis and Jo plans to be there, courageously leading her team.

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