Episode 97: The Summers family on finding healing comfort by trusting God’s plan amid continuing medical trials
Despite debilitating illness, the Summers family has found joy by serving in the Church and their community
As Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared in his April 2022 general conference talk, “No matter what our mortal experience may entail, we can trust God and find joy in Him.”
This episode of the Church News podcast features a Latter-day Saint family from Box Elder County, Utah, who have found healing comfort in serving others and trusting in God’s plan amid personal trials and debilitating illness.
Stan and Jennifer Summers’ lives have been altered by their son Talan’s illness, Jennifer’s recent medical issues and other sorrows. The Summers have found joy by serving in the Church and their community and by sharing their testimonies of the restored gospel of Christ.
Jennifer Summers: The tests of life are tailored for us and I feel like anybody else that has their trials as tailored for them, whether it feels big or small. So, we have to just keep moving on and have faith in the Lord that it’s all going be OK and all will be well. One day, I won’t be held with this sickness, and one day my son won’t be held with a sickness. You just have to have the attitude that you’ve got this. I can do hard things, but I also know that trials are meant for us. Elder [Jeffrey R.] Holland says the tests of life are tailored for our own best interests. We can be reassured that our challenges will be the ones we needed, and conquering them will bring blessings we could have received in no other way.
Sarah Jane Weaver: I’m Sarah Jane Weaver, editor of the Church News. Welcome to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The Summers family of Box Elder County, Utah have found healing comfort in serving others and trusting in God’s plan for them amid personal trials and debilitating illness. Stan and Jennifer Summers’ lives have been altered by their son Talon’s illness, Jennifer’s recent medical issues and other sorrows. As Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles declared in his April 2022 general conference talk, “No matter what our mortal experience may entail, we can trust God and find joy in Him.” The Summerses have indeed found joy by serving within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in their community and by sharing the restored gospel of Christ along the way. Stan and Jennifer, welcome to the Church News podcast.
Stan Summers: It’s good to be here.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Let’s just start today, Stan, with you and have you introduce yourself and your family and maybe tell us a little bit about your journey in recent years.
Stan Summers: I was born on a small dairy farm in East Fremont, Utah and I grew up knowing that work was a blessing and a curse, and it seemed like family meant everything to us growing up, and family still means everything to us now that we’re older. We seem to have had trials from a young age. I lost my mom on my birthday back in 1984, and it just seems like we’ve had trials ever since then. I met my wife and got married to her. She was my high school sweetheart’s first cousin, which made it kind of awkward, but we got married in 1988 and have been married for almost 33 years. I can’t do math, and it just seems like we have had our share of trials ever since we got married. We lost our first son, Skylar, who was born too premature, and I’ve met my out-of-pocket maximum deductible, I think, 30 out of the 33 years we’ve been married. It seems like we’ve had our share of trials. People tell me that if we did our genealogy, we would go back to Job, but knowing what I know about Job’s first family, I tell them, “Well, we’re probably from Job’s second family.” So, that’s where we all started. Talon’s our oldest son, and he’s kind of the reason we’re talking today about the things that have gone on in his life, but we have a beautiful daughter, Jandy, who has three beautiful sons.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And can you give us a little history on Talon and the issues that he faces?
Stan Summers: When he was born, he was born at 29 and a half weeks, and he had heart surgery when he was 10 days old. There’s a bunch of stuff that happened when he was born. It was much like months in Utah where it was storming and snowy and Jen was life-flighted from Brigham City [Community] Hospital down to the University of Utah. And when he was born C section, you know, I was 25 years old and scared to death and I was there alone. I was able to get down on my knees and, of course, I’m gonna start crying, so, I got down on my knees in the side room. My mom had passed away six years prior, and I just told Heavenly Father I couldn’t go through this alone, and my mom whispered in my ear and said, “What makes you think you’re alone?” and I was carried away in a vision and saw me blessing my son in the Bothwell Church, and I know, and knew, as soon as I saw that, that he was going to live.
So, coming out of that room and watching what happened after that for three and a half months, even though we had struggles and trials, there were miracles that happened almost daily to keep Talon and Jen here at that time. There was a point where he was doing really well and I was staying at my Aunt Margine’s in Bountiful, because it’s such a long drive between here and the hospital. And the doctors called us one morning when me and Jen woke up and said we better get there quick because Talon had seven holes in his lungs, and we got down on our knees as soon as we found that out and asked Heavenly Father that He could intervene. Then we got dressed and drove to the hospital and we seen all these people running in with equipment and different things and nurses and doctors. Our neonatal nurse came up to us and said, “We don’t know what happened. We don’t know if it was an X-ray problem or what, but your son’s saturations have started being normal about five minutes ago.” So, they went and took a X-ray, and all the holes in his lungs had disappeared.
So, we knew from a young age that Talon was supposed to be here, and he’s to the point now that he says God is going have to come take him because he won’t give up. And that’s the premise of his Facebook page is Talon’s fight — never give up. For the people that he’s been able to touch in his 31 years has been pretty, pretty special. Even though he’s struggling, and he says he’s struggling luxuriously, because we’ve built out a room for him, but to watch this kid’s love for life and his love for his family is pretty awe-inspiring. And when we talked through this last conference, I hate to hear everything start with, you know, “Dear Stan, dear Jen, dear Talon, dear Jandy, are you listening?” because it just seems like every talk is specifically to us. You talked about Elder Christofferson’s talk. It hit us very, very hard to think that the Lord knew what we needed to know that day. I know that billions of people that heard that message, how many people it must have struck in our same way.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Now, Talon is fighting an autoimmune disease. Can you tell us a little about what that is and how that impacts him?
Stan Summers: Most of it is called IgG4 systemic sclerosing disease. If anybody knows what scleroderma is, scleroderma is the outside of your skin gets hard to the point where it suffocates you. His is going hard from the inside out, and we kind of found out about it when he broke his back in 2007 playing football, and his scar would just never heal on his back. And they went to go put a pain pump in him, and the guy was supposed to have been in 45 minutes, and it was three and a half hours later. He comes out and said he’d never cut into skin like that before. It was like cutting through Kevlar. So, they actually had to cauterize, or burn, a hole in his skin to put this pump in, and it hadn’t affected his lungs or organs or anything for quite some time, but in the last four or five years it started getting into his esophagus and his lungs and his GI tract. And so, the interesting thing is that a year ago, we all got COVID, and it was really bad. So, we expected to lose Talon a year ago, but the kid, just like I said, doesn’t know how to quit. Had a fever of 104. He’s on five liters of oxygen, and Jen and I both had COVID bad, and we took turns going up to see if he was still breathing. So, you know, that that’s how it’s affected him and us and, you know, we don’t go anywhere much without Talon, and if we do, I’ve got a sister that comes and stays with him or a nephew that comes and stays with him, because his biggest fear is dying alone. So, we want to make sure that somebody is here with him at all times, but that’s kind of how that’s affected us.
I’ve got to meet with presidents and prophets and other things because of his disease and the things that we’ve been able to do. We’ve brought spotlights to rare disease and rare and undiagnosed diseased people because of this, these things, and met hundreds of thousands of people that share our same concerns for their family, and a big thing that we’ve tried to help with was just the prevention of suicide. We’ve had a lot of people reach out to Talon and ask him with all of his struggles why has he never thought about suicide, and he’s very blunt and tells him that he doesn’t want to die. So, even with all his problems, it seems like he’s got things in perspective. He loves to listen to conference. He loves to listen to Elder [Jeffrey R.] Holland and the Prophet and those types of talks. I just sent him the one from [Sister] Amy A. Wright, in the Primary presidency, about Christ can mend all broken things, and that one hit us hard, hit me hard, to be able to know that the refiner’s fire is sometimes a day in some people’s lives, and sometimes a month, sometimes a year, and then some people, the refiner’s fire is a lifetime.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And that sort of leads us to the next part of your story, which I’m hoping Jennifer can share with us, because you also fight a rare disease.
Jennifer Summers: Yes, I do. A little bit over a year ago, I noticed that I was not able to eat very well, and I was starting to have neurological problems with my hands going numb, my feet going numb, off balance. I would be in the middle of a conversation, and I’d start slurring my words and lose control of my thoughts, and then all of a sudden, I’ll just go out, like I was either passing out or a mild seizure, and not really known that I did until I wake up. A few of my friends had noticed this was happening, because they were trying to help me through the conversation, and then all of a sudden I’d just go out. And when I woke up, I look at them, I’m like, “What did I just do?” and sometimes it’s a few seconds, sometimes it’s a few minutes and sometimes it’s like 20 minutes. The ones that are longer, it’s like I fall asleep and then I wake up and wonder what in the heavens I just did. So, that started to happen. I started not being able to eat well. I would bloat like I was six months pregnant and feel like I was choking on my food. I just didn’t feel right. And so, because of Talon’s rare disease, I had his doctors I could turn to that have helped him before.
I ended up having a spinal tap, and it showed that I had antibodies in my spine that said I had MS. And they told me that I actually do not have MS, that it is more of the rare of the rare. So, whatever that means, I don’t know, but I do know that I am neurologically affected, which in turn, has messed with my digestive tract. It has started to try and shut it down. I have been to a lot of doctors in the past year and a half. And that is when COVID just started to surface, and they started taking all the elective things out, and people couldn’t go to the hospitals and have all this stuff done. Me, on the other hand, they were throwing me in for test after test after test. So, I knew that something was not right.
So, I had been pushed to a GI doctor after the spinal tap, and they found that I have what’s called esophageal esophagitis, which is where your esophagus turns kind of hard and food gets stuck going down. You don’t have motility, and then your food gets impacted. I was not able to eat, and we ended up having to do a feeding tube, and I got my feeding tube and then I got COVID, and then everything really snowballed after that. But I want to say that in 2017, I had a tooth go bad, and it made my whole side of my face swell to where I was unrecognizable, and I went septic four different times in four months. They ended up pulling two of my teeth and also found that I have what’s called mast cell, that causes you to swell like an allergic reaction, and it can make your throat close off real fast. So, I, now, have to be somewhere where I’m close to an ER, because I can have a reaction anytime, and there’s really no rescue med, so sometimes they have to intubate you quite quickly. So, that is something that’s always in the back of my head. Anyhow, with the feeding tube, my stomach has not wanted to work really well with the feeding tubes, and you’re supposed to have a feeding tube. Once you have one, every six months, you’re just supposed to have it replaced. Well, I have had 14 feeding tubes in a year, because they have malfunctioned. I have two tubes in my stomach that are not working right now, and I’m using a PICC line right now, and that’s how I’m being fed, for now.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Well, that just feels overwhelming when we think about all you’re doing as a wife, and a mother, and a caregiver to your son, and then to deal with your own health problems. So, tell me, and I’m hoping to hear from Stan on this as well, but Jen, let’s start with you. Jennifer, how has faith helped you in this journey?
Jennifer Summers: I have literally had to lean on my Heavenly Father to help me through. It’s a very big mental, physical, emotional ride, and I have had to lean on my Heavenly Father to help me through, because when you don’t go through it, you don’t understand it. And so I’ve had to really lean on my Heavenly Father to help me through, to help me help others understand, and it’s been quite the journey, and I feel like I’m such a stronger person from it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And, Stan, you know, I was totally intrigued and touched during general conference, when President M. Russell Ballard, actually shared with the Church some of his health challenges and then talked about how that had defined his faith. How has this journey defined your faith?
Stan Summers: You know, they talked about the mustard seed and for a long time, that analogy, maybe, didn’t hit home with me. But being a farmer and knowing the things that happens with the faith when you put the seeds in the ground and, you know, you hope for rain, you hope for sun, you hope for these other things, but then when it comes, then I think that’s when you really understand that mustard seed analogy that, you know, what grows from a mustard seed is amazing. And so, the faith that we have had to start the journey, to keep going through the journey and to end up where we’re at is, once again, one of those things that I always tell people that, you know, the Lord said, “It came to pass,” He never said “It came to stay.” So, you can make it through all these things. In this journey, if you just understand and realize, you know, there’s a beginning, there’s a middle and the end of all things. Sometimes I’m not too impressed at the speed of those things, knowing that we’ve only been going through this trial, with Talon and Jen, now, you know, for 33 years, and it just seems like the Lord knows what He’s doing. I can’t wait to see what we end up, when we come through the journey, but we do know that there’s better times ahead and to think that, you know, we’re not the first people in the Church to ask, “Is there no other way?” So, I take solace knowing that, you know, between Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith that we sometimes ask, “Where is thy pavilion?” We get up and grab our handcart and we head towards the valley.
William Clayton is my third great grandfather, wrote “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” and I have his ready reference journal that sits on my shelf when he served his mission in Britain. And I think a lot about the things that he saw, the things that he did in his lifetime and when he wrote the song and during that song is, “All is well, all is well.” And I think a lot about what happens when all isn’t well and how do you get to that point, to where you can say, “If I die before this journey’s through, happy days, all as well?” So, to everyone out there that’s listening to us, realize that I’m not an apostle. I’m just a man, and Jen’s just a woman, and we get down on our knees, and we ask that we can maybe make it through this next day, or this next hour, or this next minute, knowing that there’ll be better times ahead and that we can also say “All is well, all is well,” and that’s what gets us through.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Wow.
Stan Summers: I’m going to run out of tears.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Jen, do you find similar solace in those words All is well?”
Jennifer Summers: Yes, you really just have to have a better outlook and know that everything is going to be well. I don’t know when, I don’t know how. I just know that it will all be well. One day, I won’t be held with this sickness, and one day my son won’t be held with a sickness. My daughter, who has just recently been sick, we almost lost her. I found that having such faith and so many prayers got her through her sickness ,and it blessed me with having the strength and the health to help her at a time that she needed help. And you just have to have the attitude that you’ve got this, “I can do hard things,” and we just go literally day by day. And I’m just thankful that Heavenly Father blessed me with the health and strength to be able to help my daughter for about a month before I ended up having this last surgery a month ago that has hospitalized me four times since, and having Stan be able to be there to help with Talon, while I have been so sick, he’s taking care of both of us and you don’t know how wearing that is on me, because I’m the mother, I’m the mom of the home. I’m supposed to be able to do all of these things, and when you can’t, that takes a real toll on you, but I also know that trials are meant for us. Elder Holland says, “The tests of life are tailored for our own best interest and all will face the burdens best suited to their own mortal experience. In the end, we will realize that God is merciful. We can be reassured that our challenges will be the ones we needed and conquering them will bring blessings we could have received in no other way.” And I feel like that is where we are at. The tests of life are tailored for us, and I feel like anybody else that has their trials as tailored for them, whether it feels big or small, it’s a trial for you, and for them, for us. So we just have to realize we have trials in this life and we have to just keep moving on and have faith in the Lord that it’s all going to be OK and all will be well.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You know, I think the tendency, sometimes, when we’re going through hard, hard times, is to look inward. And you guys have done such a good job at also looking outward at saying, “We’re going to share our story. We’re going to serve. We’re going to see what we can do to help other people,” you know, “Learn from this journey with us.” Stan, what drives you to look outward at a time when you really could just focus inward?
Stan Summers: I hate to keep bringing up sayings and things, but I think if you looked about the eternal optimist or pessimist, and I think a lot of times we don’t understand and realize the lessons that we’re put through to be able to learn. And with all these things that we’ve been supposed to be learning, I have now realized that I’m a slow learner, apparently, and that some of the things that happen in our life are put in front of us to be able to help other people, and I would say 90% of our trials that we’ve been going through have not only helped us but have helped other people. And at one point, I thought I was going to lose both my son and my wife, and I was still working, driving the school bus, carwash, and politics and all this other kind of stuff, and I was being pulled in 100 different directions. And I came home one night after being with Jen in the hospital and I looked at Talon while he was saying his prayers, and he was openly talking to his God about saving his mom, and I have been accused of putting way too much personal stuff and spiritual stuff on my Facebook page. I took a picture of him praying, and I wasn’t going to post it ,and I listened to the still small voice in the morning and I got up and posted the picture with him praying with his mom. Didn’t think much about it. And I got home lunch and I jumped on Facebook and I have a private message from this individual that had told me that she was coming home to commit suicide. She had opened up her Facebook page and was going to tell her family how much she loved them, and Talon’s story about praying for his mom was the first thing that came up, and she told me that she thought at that time, if Talon could do it, she could do it.
So, another one of my favorite sayings is, “What’s a coincidence? A coincidence is God’s way of staying anonymous,” and on that day, our struggles saved another life. There’s I don’t know how many of these kinds of stories we could probably tell, that we have been able to affect other people’s lives, in and out of the Church and especially our lives, as well. You know, the people we’ve been able to meet, the people we’ve been able to contact with, the people that we help them serve us. That’s a tough thing for me. You can ask Jen, I don’t like the meals to be brought in. I don’t like the people to come do my yard work. I don’t, like, she’s the mom, I’m supposed to be the guy that does all that, but it’s hard for me to let go and let other people have the blessings. But I think that’s what helps us look outward is a plain fact that, you know, what did Christ do? He visited the sick, He blessed the poor, He washed the feet. You know, He was humble enough to know where His position was in the world and yet, He still asked if there’s no other way. And after getting His answer, He stood up and went on His way doing good things continually. So, with Him as an example, I think that’s the story behind our story, is that we will just continue to try to do the best we can, knowing that Heavenly Father’s by our side and that other people beyond the veil are there, pushing our handcart to the valley with us.
Sarah Jane Weaver: And, Jen, that has to bring up emotions. How do you feel about all the people that have helped in this journey?
Jennifer Summers: I love to serve people. So, I am a welcomer of the help that is offered. Yes, it’s hard to be on the receiving end. I don’t like to have to ask too much for help. Sometimes, there’s not a lot of help that we can get. We’re just kind of in that position where there’s nothing anybody can do, but just prayers, but there are those times that you know, meals or like helping me clean the house. That one is a hard one for me. I just felt like, even when Stan helps me with the house, I get mad and upset, because I feel like I should be able to be doing those things and I can’t, and my independence is being taken away, in a sense, and it’s very hard to accept that. But I also know that there are blessings on the other side of that. I just have to trust that the Lord knows why all of this is happening and that we are letting blessings happen to other people that need them and so, I try to stay open-minded about that, because there’s a lot of times that I have served others. I’ve went and put groceries in one of my friend’s refrigerators when she wasn’t home. They didn’t have money for groceries. So, I went and put the groceries there, but at that time, I felt like I needed blessings to bless our lives with the trials we are going through. It’s a catch-22, you know, you just have to find that happy medium and know that you’re doing the best that you can and you can’t deny other people that want to help too.
So, to me, it’s been a blessing to have people offer free meals and, because right now, I can’t fix meals, I’m too weak, and I can’t eat and it’s hard for me to fix a meal. I’m allergic to a lot of things now, and I can’t touch it. I can’t smell it. And so, I’ve really welcomed people to bring meals, and they’ve all been so good to do that. And it’s really just Stan and Talon that can eat, and my daughter will come and help take care of Talon while we rest or she’ll come and fix the meal and — bonus for us — we get to see the little kids, and I just really appreciate her for coming in and having a family of her own and then going to school, and her husband is going to school and working as a nurse and being able to come up here, just drop what they’re doing down there and come up here. It’s not easy for her to do that. And so, it’s just really hard when you have to ask for that help, but yet there’s always a positive side to it.
Sarah Jane Weaver: Isn’t it remarkable that, how, as we all serve and strengthen and help one another, we all grow closer to the Savior in the process? Which brings us to the point of every Church News podcast that is my absolute favorite, because we always give our guests the last word, and we always ask them the same question. The question that we always ask is, “What do you know now?” and so, Stan and Jennifer, you’ve had incredible challenges and received incredible service and weathered it all with incredible faith and what do you know now? Stan, let’s have you go first and we’ll end with Jennifer today.
Stan Summers: Wow, that’s kind of a loaded question and if you ask everybody that — I know now that I’m not alone, that the Savior lives. He mends broken things and that through Him and His sacrifices, we will all live again. And no matter what we go through in this life, will be strengthened in the next. And I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt that the prints on His hands mean that much more to me, knowing that He had to go through what He went through so we could all live. That’s what I know now.
Jennifer Summers: What I know now, is how to bear a storm with faith, knowing it is going to be OK, no matter the outcome, whether it be we stay here on this earth or we’re called home. Because of Jesus Christ, we are able to live as a family forever. No matter how broken it gets, with having trials or worse that from this earth to the other side, what I know now is even [in spite of trials] I still have a husband that loves me and will always be there for me, that we will all be there together in the end and that we can get through these trying times.
Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe to this podcast and if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests, to my producer KellieAnn Halvorsen and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channel or with other news and updates about the Church on thechurchnews.com.