BY FORREST FENN
When Renelle Jacobson stepped out of her car in my driveway, and walked toward me, I was charmed at first sight. Her smile telegraphed a timeless message: “Look out world, because here I come.” She had read about my hidden treasure in Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine for United Airlines, and, she said, “I ripped out the pages, stuffed them in my bag, and told the passenger sitting next to me, ‘Oh, I am SO going to find this when I get home.”
With a treasure-hunting partner, she soon hit the road for Yellowstone. “I was bouncing off the walls with an overload of excitement. This adventure is for every little girl and boy who have desperately wanted to look for a hidden treasure. I know I’m silly, but some of us are lucky enough to never completely grow up.” She returned from that first road trip empty-handed but, “We had a blast. I’ve since gone back 3 or 4 times.”
However, there is one small problem; Renelle, 41 and single, has a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma. A few years of chemo and several surgeries didn’t kill the disease, so, in 2011, her left leg was amputated above the knee. She has a prosthetic leg but the ongoing cancer changes her limb shape. “Sometimes I can walk quite well and sometimes I can’t.”
A friend loaded her in his Bell helicopter and they searched the far reaches of Yellowstone Park.
“We discovered some top secret waterfalls (at least that’s how I romanticized them in my mind). They were out in the middle of nowhere.”
“We also flew over Hebgen Lake and had lunch in West Yellowstone. What a grand day for a cancer patient who is trapped inside most of the time.”
Renelle, whose constitution is made of sinew-tough fiber, is now in her 5th year of chemotherapy. With an expression that reflected her longing, she said to me, “I’m sick 3 to 4 days a week, have low energy the rest of the time and my sleep schedule is often turned upside down. Working on this treasure hunt has given me a way to occupy my time when I’m awake after midnight. When I work on your puzzle for an hour, I can say that I worked toward a goal.” She added, with a voice as soft as her eyes, “I’ll keep working on the poem every night until the moment when I can call my hunting buddies and say, ‘let’s hit the road.” Imagination is her pleasure and faith is her nourishment.
Renelle Jacobson inspires me in a singular way; her spirit holds me in thrall. Each day she tests the extremes in ways I can’t even imagine. To know her even a little bit, as I do, is to love her a lot.
To paraphrase Charlotte Bronte:
Her human heart has hidden treasures,
In secret kept, in silence sealed;
The thoughts, the hopes, the dreams, the pleasures,
Whose charms enrapture when revealed