Jodi & Chad’s Journey: Not for Sissies
“One of the things I learned is that you need an advocate because being a patient is overwhelming.” ~ Chad Butters
Jodi and Chad Butters’ trip to Mexico in 2012 with a group of friends changed their lives. It wasn’t the scenery, the food and drink, or the language; it was the aftermath, when they got home. Just when they should have been sorting through their photos and posting them online, Jodi got a bug that wreaked havoc on her gut. Several of their traveling companions got the same bug, but one by one they got better. Jodi did not.
Worried, the Lehigh Valley resident took herself to the doctor. But it wasn’t a bug. It was cancer. At age 49, Jodi Butters was diagnosed with rectal cancer. Soon, she met her colorectal surgeon, her radiologist, and her medical oncologist—and began a 30-day treatment with both radiation and chemotherapy.
It should have gone smoothly, but either the chemo or the radiation caused a perforated bowel. No one knew for sure, and it didn’t matter. What mattered was that Jodi needed emergency surgery for an ostomy to create an opening in her abdomen so waste could pass into a pouch outside her body. Healing was lengthy, and it didn’t go well either; Jodi required a wound VAC to decrease air pressure on the incision so it would heal. It finally did.
And that was just the first step. She still had to undergo the planned operation to remove part of her rectum and gall bladder, and to have a hysterectomy. Then more chemo. “I don’t mind talking about this. I’m pretty much an open book,” says Jodi as matter-of-factly as she took to her treatment.
And then it was over. Treatment had lasted three years, from 2012 to 2015.
Yet, even as their lives were imploding with cancer, they were also exploding with possibility.
Chad, a military pilot, was wondering what was important in life. He and his family had spent 25 years moving from post to post in the States and abroad. Now, he concluded that being with family was most important, building something for his daughter and son, now 26 and 29, was also important. And having fun and a focus were also important. He’d need to leave the military if he were going to be with his family. He hit upon the concept—growing grains and making whiskey—that became Eight Oaks Craft Distillers. Planning for retirement took three years, and in 2015, he left the military. He and Jodi sold the New Tripoli suburban house they’d lived in for seven years, and bought and refinished an 1850s stone farm house on 22.5 acres, also in New Tripoli. They turned the land and the buildings into a craft distillery. His daughter became the marketer; her husband-to-be, the distiller.
Jodi laughs, “I claim I was in a chemo stupor when I said yes to the distillery.” She continued her job of 10 years in the accounts payable department of a Reading company.
But two years later, in July 2017, the respite was over, for during a normal scan, doctors discovered three nodules in Jodi’s chest. She decided to postpone treatment until after her daughter’s September wedding. Then, she underwent five months of chemo and stereotactic radiation, precisely targeted radiation. She finished in April 2018—and has had no recurrence since.
“I am in a great place now,” Jodi smiles and brushes her hand across her short-cropped grey hair with a shock of white in front. “I look at this disease as treatable, not curable, and the doctors agree.” She glances at her husband. “He is positive, and he keeps me that way.”
Chad was her caregiver, Jodi says with the slight Southern twang of her Virginia roots. “Once I was diagnosed, I knew Chad could do it. But before that, I wouldn’t have known.” She giggles and catches his eye. “He was always the one who’d say, ‘Hey, the kids have 103-degree fevers. They’re fine. They should go to school.’ But he pulled me through this. I could rely on him to make good decisions and guide the way. He’s been to every doctor’s appointment and every treatment.”
Chad smiles, “Jodi handled this as she handled everything: no whining, facing cancer head-on. But cancer ain’t for sissies.”
Jodi chimes in, “There are mornings when you want your pity party.” She stops for a moment. “I had Chad, but I also had my hairdresser who’d had breast cancer twice. The first time I had chemo, I lost a little hair. It was no big deal. But the second time, I had big bald spots. That’s how I ended up with this snazzy, short haircut. My hairdresser and I would cry together as she cut my hair. She knew exactly what I was going through.”
Chad shifts in his chair. “Cancer flipped my compassion switch. I’d always been an alpha personality so I didn’t necessarily see what was going on around me. But I became more empathetic when I saw what Jodi and others were going through. I was just looking at one hospital and one disease. If I multiply that by many hospitals and diseases, I see massive struggles in this world.
“I don’t know how people get through these things without support.” He places his glasses, with their brown wooden frames, on the table. “Some can’t speak the language, some don’t have any money, some don’t have any friends.
“One of the things I learned,” he goes on, toying with a sleeve of his red plaid shirt, “is that you need an advocate because being a patient is overwhelming. You get so much information. I’d record conversations on my phone or just type them in. You need to bounce the conversation off someone. Sometimes, we’d come out of an appointment, having heard different things.”
As much as they have embraced the distillery, it has embraced them. “We started the business at the right time, as the industry was just taking off.” Chad briefly removes his baseball cap emblazoned with the Eight Oaks Distillery logo.
Committed to interacting with the community, three years ago he realized that he wanted to have deep ties to just a few charitable organizations, rather than superficial relationships with many. The company identified Farmer Veteran Coalition, Tails of Valor, and several New Tripoli non-profits as partners. They also—as a result of Jodi’s experience and considerable research—identified the Cancer Support Community as an organization with which to work closely.
Together, Jodi and Chad mull over how they have changed. Chad muses, “We don’t need fancy trappings anymore. That’s been an evolution, moving away from the predictable and superficial. Jodi’s experience, going through all the things she had to go through, caused us to ask, ‘What’s important?’ We know what it is: spending time with family.”
The two stand, their worn jeans underscoring their new lives. Then they head toward their grey 4×4 with Eight Oaks Distillery painted on the cab doors.
Chad introduced his wife Jodi to the Cancer Support Community after Eight Oaks Distillery entered a partnership with CSC in August 2018.