Jennifer Pixton knew something was wrong late last year when she began losing weight and she wasn't looking any slimmer.

In December, she changed her diet and exercised more and lost seven pounds. But her stomach continued to grow and she eventually appeared as if pregnant, her belly protruding to 46 inches around.

"Around Christmastime in Utah, my stomach hurt a lot and was swollen," the 37-year-old stay-at-home mom said. "And I knew something was wrong. I had to wait to get back here to go the doctor."

What doctors found was a football-sized germ cell tumor growing out of her right ovary. On Jan. 18, she had the tumor and her ovary removed. Because the tumor was cancerous and leaking, her uterus, appendix and some lymph nodes were removed as well. She lost 33 pounds.

Jennifer and husband Jim Pixton say they were shocked by the ovarian cancer diagnosis but knew how to handle it. Jim and their youngest son, Porter, each were diagnosed with blood cancer in 2004.

Jim, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, has been three years in remission and has been told by his doctor that he can tell people he's now "cured."

For 4-year-old Porter, who was diagnosed with juvenile myelomonocytic leukemia, there's a chance that he'll grow out of it. Porter now goes in for blood tests and sees the oncologists twice a year.

"They haven't told us that yet (that he's cured), but it's certainly what we're hoping for," Jennifer said.


When Jim and Porter were diagnosed with cancer, the family received a lot of emotional and moral support from local residents. With Jennifer in the hospital this time, the community response has been almost overwhelming to the family.

Anonymous donors paid for medical bills and for Porter to attend extra days of preschool. Jennifer estimates that they've received a total of 50 meals delivered by the members of the women's group at their church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints on Grand Street.

They've also received a number of anonymous cards from local Alamedans.

In addition, close friends of the Pixtons have set up a Jen Pixton Cancer Relief Fund. Donations can be made payable to that fund and mailed to P.O. Box 6001, Alameda, 94501.

Jim Pixton said the outpouring has been particularly welcome during Jennifer's treatment as she is the "center" of the family and essentially keeps the unit functioning.

"People in the community have stepped in to take care of the kids, feed the kids," he said. "It's been a very moving experience. We're really grateful for the expressions of love and concern people have demonstrated."

On Feb. 4, Jennifer underwent the first of six eight-hour chemotherapy treatments. If all goes well, she will be finished with her treatment by April 1.

The Pixtons feel somewhat fortunate because the tumor grew so quickly and was easy to discover. In an e-mail he sent updating family and friends on Jennifer's status, Jim Pixton wrote that often ovarian cancer often is not diagnosed until it has advanced to its latter stages, making it more difficult to treat.

"If it is indeed stage 1, then Jen's prognosis should be very good," Jim wrote. "I have assured Jen that if the chemo causes her hair to fall out, I will happily shave my own head without hesitation in a show of solidarity."

The Pixtons say they use humor to get through. For their children, they say they want to appear concerned but also give reassurance that "things are going to turn out OK."

Four-year-old Porter, they said, isn't very aware of the circumstances. They have three other children, but it's their oldest -- Parker, 11 -- who is taking it the hardest.

"He did really well with my cancer and Porter's cancer," Jim Pixton said. "For a 7-year-old, it was a really stressful thing. At 11, four years later, he's living through it again with his mom. He holds up really well, but you can kind of see a sad look in his eyes."

For the Pixtons, to have three members of the family with cancer is simply a baffling coincidence. Porter's leukemia, Jim said, is related to genetics, but his and his wife's cancers are environmentally related.

When they were growing up in Utah, they lived near cherry orchards that were sprayed with pesticides every year. Jim Pixton speculates it may be what's affecting them today.

"We eat healthy, we exercise," he said. "We don't work where we're exposed to dangerous chemicals."

When Jim Pixton was diagnosed with cancer in June 2004, the family characteristically attempted to turn the situation into a positive one. In September and October of that year, they led three Light the Night fundraising charity walks in the Bay Area.

He also threw out the ceremonial first pitch at a Giants game and, being an avid cyclist, joined the American Cancer Society's Team in Training program. He has ridden in five 100-mile Team in Training events.

However, while he and Porter are still honorary members of Team in Training, Jim Pixton said he will miss the next ride scheduled March 8 near Santa Barbara because of his wife's illness.

In the meantime, once a practicing attorney, Jim Pixton is now working on building a business that provides security guards for commercial buildings.

Alameda residents for 10 years, the Pixtons have considered moving back to Utah to live with family. They've nixed that idea because of the potential loss of medical coverage.

Overall, Jim said, the family takes things as they come.

"I don't know what we're going to do," he said. "It's true, we're taking it day by day."

Reach Alan Lopez at 510-748-1659 or e-mail