“Right after I would eat, I would have diarrhea, which was definitely not normal and very new. It was during a praise and worship session at my church that I experienced a really intense pain that took my breath away,” she says, adding that she served as music, worship and arts director for her church at the time. “Days passed, and finally the pain subsided, but I still had to run to the bathroom after every meal. I thought I had a virus, but I didn’t have a temperature or any other symptoms.”
One evening, while lying on the bed talking with her husband, she said she felt a large lump in her stomach.
“That was the first time I felt the lump,” she says, “but it still took me several months before I saw a doctor. I first canceled because I didn’t have money for the copay, and I almost canceled again when I found out they were sending me to a male physician. I’m glad that I went because that appointment was what led to my diagnosis.”
She says after the doctor felt her stomach, a scan was ordered the same day.
“I didn’t know it then, but I know now that the urgency of the scan meant a major problem,” she says. “A song we often sing at church dropped into my heart that day—‘It Is Well with My Soul’—and I just repeated those lyrics to myself. I called my husband, Keith Litmon, and my pastor—Pastor Delores—for the scan. The next Monday, I was scheduled to meet with Dr. (Jeffrey) Sussman at UC, and he confirmed that I had hepatocellular carcinoma, which is a form of liver cancer.”
Sussman, professor in the Department of Surgery and surgical oncologist at the UC Cancer Institute, told Litmon that an attempt to remove the tumor via surgery was an option, and it seemed to work, until the symptoms returned months later.
“Unfortunately, it returned in 2012 initially to my lungs for which I had surgery and started chemotherapy and then later moved to my large bowel, peritoneum (membrane that lines the abdomen), mesentery (fold of tissue that attaches organs to the body wall), my ovaries and became widespread in my lungs,” she says. “It all happened so fast—from being diagnosed to being cancer free to being diagnosed again. It was devastating, but I never lost hope thanks to my faith in God, my wonderful support system and my team of doctors at UC.”
Litmon was referred to Olugbenga (Benga) Olowokure, MD, assistant professor in the Division of Hematology Oncology, Department of Internal Medicine, at the UC College of Medicine and a gastrointestinal oncologist for the institute, after her surgery and for follow-up. He discovered the recurrence and put her on a combination of medicine which is helping her continue her life.
“I struggled with the idea of chemotherapy because I didn’t want to lose my hair at first,” she chuckles, “but my sister Mitzi talked some sense into me. I’ve had a number of surgeries and hospitalizations since my second diagnosis in 2012, but I’m still going. I’ve been able to bounce back because of God’s grace, and because of my care team, the progression of the illness has been slowed.
“Dr. Benga told me, ‘You’re not going to be a miracle; you already are one!’”
“She really is an amazing patient that is determined to make a positive difference despite her many challenges,” adds Olowokure. “It is wonderful to hear her encouraging patients in the waiting room, many of whom have curable malignancies. Whenever we have a newly diagnosed liver cancer patient that wants to speak with a patient that has liver cancer, she is always happy to volunteer speaking to the patient.”
To help spread her message of hope, Litmon has written and recorded a song called “Soar Above the Clouds” where she sings about coming to terms with her illness. She’s also written a book, “My Experience…For His Glory,” sharing her journey.
“I want my experience to urge others to not be afraid of going to the doctor,” she says. “I want my story to inspire others and to help them push forward through their life struggles. This cancer diagnosis was not a death sentence for me. It was a life sentence. I made a decision to live!”
“You should listen to her sing. Two words: Sensational and Powerful,” says Olowokure.
“The team at UC was and still is a Godsend and a blessing for me, and it started at the primary care level,” Litmon says. “When I met Dr. Benga, I knew I wasn’t going anywhere else for treatment. He told me, ‘You have to be a fighter to get through this. You must keep those boxing gloves on! People who survive the longest are those who are surrounded by others who love them.’ So, I decided then that I have to fight. I can’t fail Dr. Benga. I have found hope, faith and love, and I’m holding onto it for dear life.”
Media Contact: Katie Pence, 513-558-4561 Patient Info: The first annual Rock Out Cancer concert benefiting the UC Cancer Institute and GIVEHOPE and supporting pancreatic cancer research to help patients like Jodi is going be held at the Horseshoe Casino at 6:30 p.m., June 20, 2015. The band The Guess Who will be performing. To purchase tickets, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/rock-out-cancer-concert-2015-tickets-13648985483?aff=eac2.