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Mary Jacobus stands in her living room after surviving acute respiratory failure and spending weeks in the intensive care unit. Julie Havlak | Collegian

When Mary Jacobus tells the stories about how she almost died, she peppers them with laughter and praises for her family, her community, and her God.

“See, this is very good because I was supposed to be dead,” Reading resident Jacobus, 60, said. “As of today I’m here peeling potatoes, I’m back to work, I feel fine. I have no complaints. God is good.”

Now, Jacobus is back to babying her grandchildren. Less than four months ago, though, she was in a coma in intensive care, with acute respiratory failure and a wall of tubes feeding into her veins. She died once, twice, three times.

Her family prayed for a miracle, even as doctors told them that if Jacobus ever woke up, she would be brain dead.

Before her illness, Jacobus raised three children and ran a foster home for the elderly.  The business was her dream ever since she was a small child who took care of her elderly neighbors. That dream was dealt a blow four years ago, however, when Jacobus discovered that she had stage four lung cancer. With very little hope for a cure, she opened her Bible.

“I flipped open to Isaiah: ‘Whose report will you believe… No weapon against you will prosper,’” she said. “And I thought: cancer is a weapon. It’s not going to prosper or live in this body. It can just get out.”

So she started a grueling routine of treatments: dark mornings, long drives to the hospital, radiation, hours and hours of chemotherapy. Even as her days grew longer and she grew weaker, she still kept her sense of humor and joy. She’d crack jokes with the nurses, grouch with her fellow patients, tease her drivers.

“Things go on hold, and you have to reinvent yourself. The things that you enjoyed or were able to do aren’t there anymore,” Jacobus said. “You have to look for different ways to be productive. You have to turn things around.”

A year and a half later, things did turn around for Jacobus: she was cleared of cancer.

The side effects, however, remained. Curing the cancer had damaged her lungs and immune system, leaving her body’s defenses weakened and susceptible to diseases.  And when she got the flu, she fell into a coma.

When Jacobus surfaced from the coma, her sister heard her muttering something. Jacobus did not know she had only been out for three days, and she was telling them she wanted to die.

“I popped up and interfered. I told her, ‘You are going to survive this. Don’t throw in the towel yet. You can make it,” Jacobus’s sister LouAnn Sansord said. “You have to fight this battle. If you fight, you will win it, but you have to fight.”

Jacobus agreed to fight, but two weeks later she was in an ambulance, heading home to die.

“On my 40th birthday I lay awake crying,” Jacobus’s daughter Arlene Mason said. “I was afraid I was going to lose my mom on my birthday. That was the hardest part. She’s my mom, she’s helped me raise my kids.”

But even as Jacobus was in the ambulance, her community was organizing a benefit to help her. Over 75 people attended the benefit, which raised roughly $2,400, including direct donations.

“It’s just a giving community — they don’t mind giving to someone if there is really a need,” said Randy Cole, who helped organize the fundraiser for Jacobus. “They don’t mind helping, and this is how they help.”

At the time, Cole thought the benefit would help with funeral expenses. However, Jacobus was discharged from hospice on Jan. 17. She was the one-in-a-hundred, the one her doctors called the “miracle baby.”

“I was starting to sink because of financial and medical bills. And this community just embraced me,” Jacobus said. “You hear of so much bad in this world. But there was so much good that came out of this. It restores your faith in humanity. People are still good, life is still good, God is still alive.”