Batesville resident Scott Henderson met Lexington, Kentucky, resident Jenna Gilfedder in 2010 at their favorite Young Life summer camp at Timber Wolf Lake in Michigan, where both were volunteer leaders.
"Hey, you two should meet," another leader suggested. Scott's response? "I'm not really here to date." But they had shared interests and rendezvoused at the Cincinnati Zoo after camp was over.
"She was soft spoken, yet bold," he says. "Always smiling, joyful, never said anything negative." The nurse and photographer with the radiant smile had endless lists of favorites. "She loved to take things that were old and broken and felt to me like trash and use them and make them beautiful," taking her cue from a best-loved HGTV show, "Fixer Upper."
After dating long distance for two years, Jenna went to Disney World with girlfriends. "She had no idea I was there" with his friends and brother. The proposal happened in front of Cinderella’s castle with Scott down on one knee. "Six months later, Jenna became my bride as we exchanged our vows on a picture-perfect horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky" in 2012, he recalled on a National Ovarian Cancer Coalition blog.
"The crazy thing about Jenna, she had cancer in high school and was in remission for 13 years and then it came back." At the time, she was working for Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as a pediatric nurse in the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute Clinic, providing care for children battling cancer. Because she had been treated there as a child, Jenna's cancer battle continued with familiar physicians and co-workers joining the fight. "She got the fast track treatment because she knew everybody."
After that round of treatments, Jenna went into remission again, only to have the ovarian cancer quickly return, more aggressive than ever.
Her husband remembers, "We traveled a lot in her last year," getting a second opinion at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, then slipping away to Waco, Texas, to tour Chip and Joanna Gaines' Magnolia store and offices and go behind the scenes of "Fixer Upper."
One of her last outings was to Young Life summer camp. "She went and did what she could."
The couple avoided conversations about the possibility of death parting them. She was feeling bad when Scott was ready to talk, then when she wanted to, he couldn't handle it mentally.
Jenna tried to remain hopeful, but by fall "she was just feeling awful. Her only complaint I would ever hear her say was ... 'This sucks, I want to go be with Jesus.'"
In September 2016, Jenna Henderson was preparing for a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Florida with a dozen girlfriends. Beforehand, she went to Cincinnati Children’s for a five-day inpatient stay to gain nutrition.
That's when the couple learned the patient's intestines were blocked by a tumor. "We had 30 or 40 people come visit that week. It was a blur, but it felt like a lifetime."
"We would ask her questions when she was in and out of consciousness. 'How are you feeling?' 'I'm not scared, I'm superexcited to be with Jesus ... I can't wait to be able to run with Jesus and eat whatever I want.' There was definitely a joy and peace about this for her. She was ready."
At 30, Jenna Henderson died Oct. 2, 2016.
In addition to being a nurse, she had a photography business and blogged about her illness at jennanicolephotography.com, writings he can't bear to remove. Her husband used to urge her, "'You should make a book out of this,'" but Jenna said no.
"About a month after she passed away, I had this prompting" to turn her musings into a book. Scott began rushing to finish it in one month to give to family and friends for Christmas. His brother advised him to slow down and make the book more complete. "'This is going to be bigger than you think and you need to do it right.'" Henderson added Jenna's prayer journals, stories written by Jenna's friends about her impact and even part of a letter the young woman wrote to her mother that Scott found on her computer two weeks after she died.
"Worth the Suffering: Loving and Leaving This Life" took about a year to finish. "Faith is huge in this book. If you remove that, the hope is gone."
Scott Henderson decided to become a Batesville High School freshman basketball coach – with the goal of turning teens into men more important than making them better athletes. After inner turmoil ("What now? What's next?" after the life he had planned was decimated), he also continued being a Young Life volunteer. "If God is going to allow me to see Jenna again and find life again," he will continue to share God's messages.
Through his company Distressed Roots, "Worth the Suffering" was published in late 2017 and the printing of 250 copies immediately sold out. (For a deep explanation of why Henderson named it Distressed Roots, go to https://www.worththesuffering.com/about.)
Two thousand more were printed and "we've sold over 1,000" (please see box). Henderson jokes, "It's fun packaging 1,000 books" to mail.
He has three goals for "Worth the Suffering": 1. "I really just hope that Jenna's story and legacy continues." 2. "If anyone is struggling with hard things or tragedy or 'How is there any hope or joy in this?'" they can read about how his wife coped with adversity. 3. "People can see Jenna's love for Jesus and ... that's where her hope and joy come from. It's not necessarily specific for people going through cancer."
The widower reports, "It's been incredible to hear the stories about how Jenna continues to make an impact on others" through the book.
After a Cincinnati TV station did a report on it, "I just got a message this morning from a Cincinnati woman whose 3-year-old daughter" was struck and killed by a car. The book "changed her entire thought process. She went to church for the first time last week."
In addition to marketing and selling the book, the 34-year-old stays busy as a business and executive coach with Focalpoint Business Coaching, IT consultant and doing marketing for a local company.
About 30 people come over to his home every week to watch a live stream of the national Crossroads Church service. He also relishes playing basketball at the Y and watching more professional players on TV. "I absolutely love leading Young Life, hanging out with high school friends and living life with them."
Being in Batesville, "I have incredible friends and a depth of community I wouldn't have otherwise."
"What I've learned through all this is what matters, what lasts, are relationships – relationships with each other and, more importantly, with Jesus," he says in a March 2 video on how he decided to move forward (www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKvYBtGW4JM).
Of his late wife, Scott Henderson believes, "Our story isn't over yet. We still have one last adventure together, through this book. It feels like I'm still married to Jenna. Well, kind of. I feel like we're on this journey together."
Where to find the book
• "Worth the Suffering: Loving and Leaving This Life" can be purchased locally at three businesses: Wallpe Chiropractic, Bird in a Tree and The Bookshelf.
• It also may be found at Joseph Beth Booksellers, Rookwood Commons, Cincinnati.
• The book may be purchased online at www.worththesuffering.com for $15.99.
• A minimum 10 percent of proceeds goes to the Jenna Henderson Young Life Memorial Endowment Fund, which sends selected teens to Young Life camp at no charge. "Our first recipient was last year," according to Henderson. A video about Eli's experience can be viewed at www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeLXDOOpMUM. "Every year we're going to send at least one person to camp. We may do other $100 scholarships. As the fund grows, we're going to be sending more and more kids to camp every year for free." To give to this endowment fund: www.jennayl.com.
• Also, a minimum 10 percent of profits will be given to Children's Minnesota for research on curing or preventing Jenna Henderson's particular type of ovarian cancer.
Debbie Blank can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 812-934-4343, Ext. 113.