Monday, August 22, 2016

Jordyn's Story

I have a habit (and I think we all do in one way or another), where I believe that nothing bad can happen to me. Somehow, somewhere deep down, I never believed terrible things could happen to me. Because they hadn’t. I have seen all my grandparents pass away, broken bones, gotten super sick, felt guilt, felt regret, gotten my heart broken, struggled with depression, anxiety, etc., but I’ve led a pretty cush life. I grew up with awesome parents, an incredible family, great friends, and talents and opportunities many never get. A few years ago my life was turned upside down and I want to be open and candid about it. Maybe this is my way of overcoming some of the pain and sadness I have pent up inside of me, which only gets out when my inner volcano erupts. I’ve been dreading this day for a year. 8/23/16 marks one year since my identical twin passed away. I want to share my story without holding much back. So here it is…

I grew up with Rachel, my twin, and we had a love hate relationship, as I’m sure all girl-girl-twin’s do (the hormones don’t help). High school was rough. I was positive Rachel was out to ruin my social life, and I remember she felt that way pretty often as well. But if you ask my mom (Diane), to this day she will admit that Rachel was definitely the bigger problem. She was a rapscallion and we liked and disliked her for this reason. Anyway, Rachel and I went to Mexico the summer of 2012 on a humanitarian trip, and this is where she started to act sick. It never seemed abnormal though. Later in the summer, we got in to the TV show “Lost”, and ended up laying in my twin size bed together, all day, every day for weeks watching our show. I was lazy, I didn’t realize that she was fatigued. She was taking 6 hour naps each day soon after. So much testing, nothing was wrong. But it was. Rachel was an athlete, and it was so unlike her to feel so fatigued and dizzy. It was August 9th, 2012 I was nannying Brodey. I was about to take him to the pool, when I got a call from Rachel who was at yet another dr. appointment. I distinctly remember thinking, she has cancer, brain cancer. On the phone she told me I needed to wait to go swimming till she got home.

My Mom and Rachel pulled up in the garage, and I was panicking. They made their way inside where they sat at the counter. I tried to push them asking over and over what was wrong. The silence and the tears lasted for what felt like a lifetime. I kept praying my initial feeling was wrong. They were both in tears. Finally, Rachel got the courage to tell me she had a brain tumor—and it was cancerous. I was right, for the first time that I didn’t want to be. I didn’t know what to think or how to respond. But Rachel being the sassy girl she is, was quick to make it known that she was going to get the thing cut out of her head, get back to normal, and be running again by state track the next year. I left and went to the pool, Rachel made me. I met some friends but kept the news to myself, my whole family didn’t know yet. I kept thinking about it, but didn’t know how scared I really should have been. That night she was at Primary Children’s in SLC. I visited her, only to find out that she had DIPG, and it was not going to get removed. Over the next few months it became apparent that Rachel’s initial plans would not come to pass.

The next few months I grew up really fast. I also missed more school than anyone should.  Just a few words from my journal:

 “Rachel called me early this morning- crying. She was homesick and just wanted to hear my voice.”
“It scares me to think about Rachel’s cancer. What’s going to happen next, how many more Christmas’.”
 “No one understands, and I am DYING on the inside. I wish someone would see it.”

I was dramatic. But that is how I felt. I was a high schooler that just wanted a normal life back. I was withdrawn from my dad, and my mom and Rachel were in Tennessee. And when they got back, Rachel was a different person. Rachel gained weight, lost weight, got crazy side effects from her steroids that affected not only her appearance, but her personality (in more drastic ways that most would think). I would call her daily when she was in Tennessee to quote a funny line from a TV show because I was great at impersonating it, and she would laugh so hard. But eventually the laughs stopped. That’s when I knew that something really bad was happening.
But over time, Rachel found strength. She had different treatment types and we saw improvements. She wasn’t normal, but she was close to the Rachel I grew up with, and that was good enough for me. Until her health declined. Cancer was a tease (I’d use a stronger word, but I’m trying to be good about that). It would give me glimpses of hope for my future, and then rip it out of my grasp. It was cruel and unfair to me and my family, and most of all, it was Rachel’s personal hell. But she went about her trial with courage, faith and strength.

I’m going to skip along so I don’t write an entire book here (skipping some of the details here, because there are so many that are too painful to write (regret, scary symptoms, fear, etc.)), but fast forward a couple years. Dec. 5, 2014 my boyfriend proposed to me. Rachel was excited and happy to help me plan the wedding. She was so healthy, working a TON, having a social life. It was like the same old Rachel with edges that were a little more round. I know she was excited for me, but she also really struggled. Why wouldn’t she? Maybe that’s another twin thing… She even recommended to my mom that my mom and I go to California together since I had missed so much time and attention for the last few years while her focus had to be elsewhere, keeping my sister alive.
Here is where I’m going to get a little religious on you. I was sealed to my husband in the Oquirrh Mountain Temple on March 14th, 2015. My mom noticed Rachel’s symptoms starting to surface again that night. The night I was married. What are the chances. I believe God left her on this earth until I had someone to take care of me, because she was the one keeping me together. Cooper needed to be in my life. I know he did, because I wouldn’t be living today if I didn't have Cooper.

May of that year, Rachel’s symptoms became so severe she needed to quit her job at doTERRA. I had been having to walk her around the building linking arms to keep her walking straight previously as we worked together. I got the call that my mom had driven her there. I hadn’t seen her this sick before. I went and helped her walk so my mom didn’t have to come in. We sat in our boss’ office and she could barely get out the words. I think she felt like she had failed or was giving up on herself. I can’t imagine her pain. In fact, this is the first time I’ve cried tonight as I’ve been typing the story. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to witness.

For months after that her symptoms worstened. She lost a lot of her sight, hearing, ability to swallow, balance, walk, drink, etc.. If you’ve ever watched anyone slowly cripple away to their death, I feel your pain. I was driving over every night to see my twin. It was horrifying and the most scarring experience I had ever been through or hope to go through in my life. Just thinking about it tears me to pieces and causes me to relive the deep pain that was felt at that time. For some reason, as this happened, I tried to help her balance and walk and stand up on her own, all in the hopes that she would bounce back like she had done so many times before.

But she didn’t bounce back. In fact, it continued to get worse and drug out for longer than I could have ever imagined. In her last days, cancer ripped away her health, dignity, and eventually mortal life, but it didn’t take away her personality and most importantly her testimony of her Savior Jesus Christ. She had faith in him.
The most difficult part of the last days with Rachel is that the entire time her health declined, her mind did not. She was sharp. In fact, she was almost sharper than she had ever been. She thought a lot. She was a healthy mind, trapped in a nightmare. Rachel knew that she needed help going to the bathroom. She knew she couldn’t use a spoon, let alone swallow her food, and that someone was having to help her. Like I said, she was trapped in a nightmare, and we had to watch, unable to do anything. She never gave up. She fought, but ultimately she passed on 8/23/2015. One year ago today.

I laid in bed for a few days by her side before she passed. We had some sacred experiences together, but ultimately I prayed she would be released. She is gone, and has been for a year. But she is not really gone. I have felt her with me, and Thursday I know I will feel her again as I perform her temple work. I am so humbled and eternally grateful. Rachel turned in to a new person with cancer, I said that previously, but ultimately, she turned in to the most Christ-Like, charitable, funny, wise person I have ever met. Days before she passed I couldn’t be in her presence without melting down. She knew I was struggling and she knew why, and she was the one to comfort me. I wanted so badly to be the strong one, but she lifted me up when I was down. I miss her.

I can’t finish writing this, but maybe someday I’ll be able to. So I’ll copy some of my thoughts from the talk I gave at her funeral:

I will miss the touch of Rachel’s long dainty fingers. Listening to her tell me how much she loves me. I will miss watching her sass people and the way she’d bite my fingers when I helped floss her teeth. I will miss the way she locked me in to hugs, or brainstormed gifts for others. I will miss hearing her sweet testimony and her contagious laugh. But I know although I cannot see her, that she is very close. I MISS MY TWIN, and EVERYTHING I said has left a hole in my heart.

Growing up, we lived very close to our grandparents and visited often. My favorite thing I learned from my grandma is that there are no goodbyes. Each day I would leave her home and tell her goodbye on my way out, to which she would respond, “No, it’s not “goodbye”, it’s “so long” or “see you later”. When my grandma passed away, I said “so long”, to which I now get to say to my sweet twin. This is not goodbye, just see you later.

She has won her battle and is now free from the pain and misery of a weak and broken body.

I know Christ lived and died for us. I know there is a plan. I know God lives and loves each of us individually and will listen to us when we pray. I am grateful for the way Rachel has touched my life and helped inspire me to grow my testimony. I am grateful for the peace this gospel can bring as we go through this trial and the rest of our mortal experience.

With all this being said, I know so many people have it more difficult than me. In fact, I strongly believe we're all pushed past our limits. But this is my story. And I can't express a fraction of what it's been. Twin bereavement is much different that other kinds, and I'm having to learn how to navigate it. One year, and so many to go till I get to see my sweet twin again. I guess that's why we're told to keep the perspective of "this life is but a small moment".

Lastly I want to say thank you. For prayers, love, and friendship. If you're reading this, you've touched my life in some way or another. Unfortunately, I let this trial make me ignorant of all the love and support I had. But looking back, I couldn't be more grateful, because I wouldn't have gotten through it without you, and most importantly my Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ.  

Now I'm done. I pray that you will count your blessings, hug a sibling, and "think of all the beauty that is left around you" -Ann Frank. Because that is what I have been trying to, and will continue to strive to do. 


Wednesday, August 26, 2015


(photo credit: Jane Groom)

Rachel Elyse Stratton

After 20 short years on this earth, Rachel Elyse Stratton returned to her Father in Heaven during the early hours of August 23, 2015. Her battle with cancer was only a small portion of her time with us, but she used that time to inspire people at home and around the world.  

“I believe I am my own statistic,” she wrote on her blog, and she set out to prove it was true. In 2012, she was diagnosed with DIPG and given nine months to live. Throughout her trial, she never had a bad attitude. Rather, she found positive in the negative, and constantly looked for new ways to challenge herself and uplift others. Rachel had a deep desire to serve a mission, and although the cancer prevented her from an official call, she came to understand that her blog was her mission. 

Through her blog she inspired thousands. She was never afraid to say the hard things, or speak the truth. She refused to give-in. “I do hard things, but I'm not doing them alone. The Lord has blessed me with so many tender mercies through this trial. The medicines and everything may be healing my body but I know it's through Him that we are truly healed.” Rachel’s life was a testament to faith and a wonderful example of perseverance and strength. 

After her diagnosis Rachel did not slow down. She not only continued to do the things she loved to do, she focused on improving her talents and learning new skills. Besides returning to school and earning a promotion at work, she was an avid reader and a prolific writer, who pursued numerous hobbies including: sewing, quilting, playing the piano, and watercolors among many other things. With a close friend, she also made a business called Mindless, selling sewn goods to raise money for childhood cancer research. Although her illness presented challenges, Rachel faced them with the same tenacity and high spirits displayed throughout her life, turning challenges into opportunities.  

Rachel attended Foothill Elementary, Canyon View Junior High, and graduated from LDS Seminary and Orem High School in 2013, where she was awarded “Most Inspirational Senior”. Rachel loved being outdoors. She ran Varsity track and cross-country for four years, and in 2012, she helped the team win a state championship. Known as “Big Rach” to some, her personality was as big as her love for family and friends. 

She is survived and missed by her parents Chad and Diane Stratton, brother Devin Stratton, sisters Lauren Stratton, Heather Hafen (Cody Hafen), and identical twin Jordyn Swenson (Cooper Swenson).

Rachel’s family would like to thank IHC Homecare & Hospice, St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Primary Children’s Hospital, Make-A-Wish Foundation, and doctors Jim, J. Clark and Bradley Anderson.

A viewing will be held the evening of Friday, August 28 from 6 to 8 pm at the Walker Sanderson Funeral Home located at 646 East 800 North, Orem, UT. An additional viewing will be held prior to the Funeral Services on Saturday, August 29th from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. at the Orem Orchard Stake Center. Funeral services will begin at 11:00 a.m. in the Orem Orchard Stake Center on 600 North 800 East, Orem, UT. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to in Rachel’s name. 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

August 23

After a long and hard week, around 1:07 this morning we had the sacred experience to be with Rachel as she transitioned from her broken body to a beautiful world free from the pains and sorrows of this mortal life. She was surrounded and held by our family as she received the best early Christmas present she could have ever asked for. The heartbreak we feel is accompanied by both peace and happiness. We are ecstatic that she is no longer bound and trapped inside her physical body, free from the suffering and misery she has endured. 

I will continue to update her blog as I have promised, and will make sure to post her obituary and information about funeral services. Thanks for all of your comments, love, prayers, and support over the last three years. 

(photo credit: Jane Groom)