Mother of 9 fights aggressive lung cancer

Janice Gumbs is surrounded by her six children as they watch television together in her bedroom in West Palm Beach. Gumbs, a former school teacher was diagnosed with lung cancer that has spread throughout her body.

Janice Gumbs doesn’t have much to give in terms of money, possesions or time, but she gives freely, visiting older friends and neighbors.

She talks little, listens more.

“They don’t have people to listen to them,” Janice, 36, says of those she visits.

That Janice still finds time to listen to others is remarkable. Few are better acquainted with life’s cruelty than Janice, a single mother raising six of her nine children.

In February, she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She recently learned it has spread throughout her body.

The cancer has only punctuated a series of setbacks in Janice’s life. She has long struggled with seizures, high blood pressure, heart problems and diabetes. The seizures got so bad she was unable to continue working as an elementary school teacher.

Two years ago, an electrical fire destroyed the home she shared with her children, including newborn twins.

Struggling with depression, unsure where she might live, Janice asked a relatives to care for the twins. They and their oldest brother now live in Kissimmee with loved ones.gumbs-1

For a time, Janice lived out of her car, moving it from place to place, fearful police would discover the packed car and her children. She was afraid authorities would place the children in foster care.

For months, Janice said she used bottled water to wash the children before sending them off to school.

“Even though they had to sleep in a car, they never complain,” said Janice, a native of the U.S. Virgin Islands who has lived in the continental U.S. for the past 10 1/2 years. “They’re amazing because they don’t complain.”

The children — Dejanique Williams, 10, Kevon Augustine, 9, Makonnen, 8, Janea Williams, 7, Shamara Williams, 5 and Shamyra Williams, 5 — take care of her and one another. They help with dishes, sweeping and dusting. They are a tight unit, spending afternoons together, practicing math with flash cards or running through the stream of a garden hose outside. At night, they snuggle up in Janice’s bed.

There is love, learning and enforced courage. Janice has given the well-worn home Adopt-a-Family found for her in West Palm Beach a special nickname: the “no-cry zone.”

That message became much harder to enforce after Janice’s lung cancer diagnosis. To make matters worse, she recently learned it has spread throughout her body.

“I don’t smoke,” she say. “Never smoked a day in my life.”

Janice has been working to stay strong in the face of unrelenting horror. Doctors have not given her a specific timeline.

Not long ago, shopping at a discount store with her two closest friends, they all came upon a painting. It was of three women, their hands clasped, their arms stretched above bowed heads. Janice and her friends each bought one of the paintings and each have placed it on their kitchen table.

Every morning at 5 a.m., they hold a joint telephone call. They call themselves sisters, prayer warriors.

“We call each other and we just pray,” Janice says. “We pray for other people We pray for ourselves and our families.”

The painting and the prayers have been a comfort.

“It’s been helping,” she says. “I’ve learned that, if I can’t make myself happy, I can’t help anyone else.”



Janice Gumbs still tries to find a way to help others, despite the cruel obstacles life has hurled her way. Earlier this year, the 36-year-old was diagnosed with lung cancer and learned it has spread throughout her body. Janice is terrified not only for herself, but for her children. She’s a single mother raising six of her nine children. On most nights, there is not enough food and the family must share small portions. Help with grocery expenses would be a tremendous help. As Janice battles cancer, her family also could use assistance with rent and utilities, and clothing, shoes, books and toys for the children, ages 5 through 10. Janice has Medicaid, but it does not cover some out-of-pocket medical expenses — she could use help with those as well.

Photography by Greg Lovett / Staff

Nominated by Adopt-A-Family of the Palm Beaches

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