BELLFLOWER - From the moment doctors told Jeff Jones he had cancer, he was determined to be the poster boy for cancer survival - not just of his own survival, but that of thousands of others. For the fifth year in a row, the owner and vice president of Admiral Pest Control, a family-owned business in Bellflower, has brought together Team Admiral to participate in the American Cancer Society's Bellflower Relay for Life. This year's event took place last month. So far this year, the city has raised $118,000 to fight cancer. Team Admiral has raised close to a quarter of that money, $26,000, and Jones has individually raised $13,000 - more than any other team or individual for the Bellflower event.
Six years ago, after waking to find a lump the size of a lime under his arm pit, Jones and his wife, Sheli, rushed to urgent care.
"We left that day kind of like, `Oh crap! I've got cancer,' but it wasn't like you're going to die. ... It's just, you have cancer," he said. "In my mind it was like, I'm going to have surgery. They're going to cut that thing out and I'm going to go back to work and be fine."
Instead, Jones lost most of the muscles in his right arm and was told not only would he not be able to use his arm again, but he had a 50-50 chance of surviving longer than five years.
"The initial thing for me was total shock because I think, like a lot of people, I'm in charge of this, I'm in charge of that and they can't live without me," Jones said of his business. "All of a sudden you realize you have to figure that out because you're not going to be there to do it, so you've got to fight for your life."
With his own gruesome diagnosis, soft tissue sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, Jones had a greater appreciation for what cancer patients endure, and the family got involved in Relay for Life.
They raised $11,000 their first year.
"I love doing it for everyone else," said his wife. "I love all the effort and all the work and money that's going to help others. I love to see it all come together. I love to know I'm doing something, whatever small part. I think I will always be a part of it regardless."
Life was good for the Joneses after his initial treatment. That is, until the cancer returned three years later, Jones said.
This time he had to endure longer chemotherapy treatments with side effects so bad he had to be hospitalized one week a month for six months.
"I was very, very low at times from the chemo," he recalled. "I remember many times I didn't care if I lived or died, I was so sick."
The next surgery removed his armpit and the rest of the muscles in his right arm. And although he still has full use of his arm, it is often in pain, he said.
"Two years ago (my doctor) told me if it came back, he was going to remove my arm and half my shoulder," Jones said.
An inch-size tumor was found in his armpit two months ago.
"(The doctor) told me to take the next three months to learn how to write left handed because `if it grows, your arm's off."'
Jones is eagerly awaiting his Aug. 14 doctor visit where he finds out if he loses his arm.
"I'll be the one-handed man and I'll really have to learn how to live left-handed," he said. "We've been reading a book together about living one-handed, and I've already learned how to write left-handed - not great, but I can do it."
The 52-year old father of four finds strength through the support of his family, he said.
"If I set my mind to something, I can do it. I've got to want it, and I wanted to survive," Jones said. "I keep telling my doctors, everybody can't die from cancer. Somebody's got to survive it. And I'm going to be the poster boy for that."
firstname.lastname@example.org, 562-714-2141, twitter.com/PamelaHaleBurns