Husband helps coach wife through cancer

By Tonya Frelix/Hattiesburg American

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — After Jessica Caillet found a lump in her breast, she didn’t want to go to the doctor to have it checked out.

The reason: She was scared.

When Caillet, 31 at the time, did go, her doctor assured her it was a fibroid cyst. It was June 2009 and she was gearing up to attend the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., to cheer on the University of Southern Mississippi baseball team. Her husband, Chad Caillet, is an assistant coach for the team.

To keep Caillet from worrying, the doctor said she should enjoy the trip and have a mammogram when she returned.

“I think that was God’s way of letting me enjoy my trip before the mammogram,” she said.

When she returned home, Caillet had a mammogram that revealed something she didn’t want to hear.

“I was clueless. All I heard was cancer. The first thing I thought was I don’t want to die,” she said. “Of course, I was scared to death, but my husband was awesome. He took over and he became my coach. He coached me through the whole thing.”

Doctors found cancer in her breast and lymph nodes. She endured six rounds of chemotherapy and 30 rounds of radiation because the cancer was in her lymph nodes. After those procedures, Caillet had a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy.

“It was rough. I had four major surgeries within one year,” she said. “I decided right away to not let it get me down. I maybe broke down and cried twice.”

Instead of feeling sorry for herself Caillet reminded herself that God was on her side.

“I was raised and my husband was raised with faith in our lives and keeping God close,” she said. “We prayed every day and we knew God was with me. That’s how we got through our surgeries. If you have faith in God, you will be OK and He’s going to get us through it.”

Her faith — along with her family and friends — served as Caillet’s support group.

“I had my mom, dad, in-laws and great friends who did fundraisers, benefits and helped me financially and mentally,” said Caillet, who is now 35.

Her parents, Bobby and Karen Compretta, and her husband’s parents, Kerwin and Diane Caillet, stepped up and helped care for Jessica.

“To this day, I don’t see how people go through that without family help,” said Chad Caillet. “My parents basically moved in with us. They stepped up with us and it was a huge role in getting past that point.”

Chad Caillet, 37, said the news hit him hard, but he used his coaching experience to step up and be the support for his wife.

“You don’t see it coming and at the same time you don’t necessarily know how to respond,” he said.

Jessica Caillet, a dance teacher, had to quit work and couldn’t spend time with her children, Carsyn, and Coby — who were 4 and 2 when Caillet was diagnosed.

“I couldn’t pick Coby up and chase him around like I wanted to. People had to step in for me,” she said. “When I lost my hair, Carsyn was the one I was worried about. She asked a lot of questions.”

Dream fulfilled Caillet said her dream was to always open her own dance studio.

She opened DanceSouth in Newpointe Shopping Center and recently celebrated its one-year business anniversary.

“It’s proof you can get through that bad word of cancer and pursue your dreams and hopes in life,” she said.

But there was a shocking twist for Caillet and her family: Her mother, Karen Compretta, was diagnosed with breast cancer while she was helping to care for daughter.

Compretta had a pain in her breast and was having trouble breathing. Jessica Caillet said the cancer had spread to her lungs.

“It was a rough year and she was with me and saw it firsthand,” Caillet said. “I had to turn and be strong for her. She said the thing that kept her positive through everything was that I was so positive.”

Caillet said her mother is undergoing treatment.

Now, Caillet uses her profession and story to educate others. This year she will hold the second annual Kicking for a Cure.

“The USM Dixie Darlings do a dance clinic and we raise money,” she said. “Last year we donated to the Pink Ribbon Fund. Each year we will donate to an organization that does breast cancer research.”

Chad Caillet feels the experience has made them both stronger. His advice for any spouse dealing with such a diagnosis is to remain calm.

“Don’t panic. Modern medicine is remarkable,” he said. “Go back to your trust and faith that something good is going to come out of this. You’re going to be tested to the ultimate limit. You have to trust your love for each other, beliefs and you’ll get through it and something good will happen.”

To this day, Jessica Caillet lives by the motto: “If you are handed it, then you can handle it.”

She feels God brought her to and through breast cancer for a reason. Her advice to other women is to reach out to others.

“Don’t be scared to ask questions or get in contact with other people that are going through it,” she said. “Keep God on your side, pray about it and have a lot of others keep you in their prayers.”