Paying it forward

After husband Robert’s death, Teresa Jones aims to ease other families’ pain.

When Teresa Jones reflects on the life she shared with her late husband, Robert Lee Jones Jr., she says her most enduring feeling is gratitude that they shared 26 happy years of marriage, led fulfilling lives together and stayed hopeful right up until his death from a brain cancer called Glioblastoma. The disease is far from the focal point, she says.

“He lived out the rest of his life happy, showing love and showing kindness,” Teresa Jones said of her husband, who was a minister, worked in maintenance and sang gospel songs in his family’s music group since he was a child.

Robert, who was 65, died July 2, 11 months after his initial diagnosis. Even in his final weeks, Teresa said, “He never forgot a Bible verse or any of the songs. We still laughed and joked and talked. Even the saddest part was part of our love story.”

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The couple’s cancer fight began in June 2020, when Robert started having longer, more severe seizures than the epileptic seizures he previously had experienced. An MRI exam showed he had a tumor on the left lobe of his brain. The tumor was malignant, and the doctor told them it was Glioblastoma.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my God,’ ” Teresa said. “The first thing I asked, ‘What is this?’ I had never heard of it. The doctor said, ‘It’s malignant, and it’s incurable.’ ” 

Most people, including Robert, rarely find out that they have the fast-spreading disease before Stage 4. Still, the Joneses decided to try every treatment available. 

Robert had radiation, two rounds of chemotherapy that lasted about six months total and Novocure, in which electrodes are placed near the tumor in hopes that alternating electric fields can disrupt cancer-cell division. He wore a portable battery pack during the Novocure treatment so he could keep doing household chores, going to church and singing his alto part in the family gospel group, The Fantastic Jones Family Quartet, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in June. 

None of the treatments could defeat his cancer, but Jones endured no pain and stayed active until a few weeks before his death. 

Now, Teresa and her sister-in-law, Jackie Newman, CEO of the Springfield (Illinois) Housing Authority, are setting up an endowment in Robert’s name to raise money for research into Glioblastoma in hopes of finding a cure.

Teresa also talks with the wives of other Glioblastoma sufferers.

“I’m careful not to say, ‘I know how you feel,’ ” she said. “But I can say, ‘We may have similarities.’ I can say, ‘You are angry. You may feel hopeless and scared.’ 

“Through the entire time, I had hope,” Teresa said. 

Teresa also appreciated that her employer, AARP, granted her paid time off to care for her husband. The non-profit advocacy organization lobbies for paid family leave for others in her position, too.

“We have a great benefits package with sick days, caregiving days and vacation days,” said Teresa, who works as the organization’s director of advocacy and outreach in Illinois. 

“My managers and my colleagues came to my side during this whole time,” she said. “Never once did I have to worry about whether taking time off to be with my husband was endangering my job. My state director said, ‘The most important thing is your husband.’ ”

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