Cultivating a Survivor’s Instinct with Jeanette “the Black Widow” Lee (Part 2 of 3)

April 6, 2024

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Jeanette Lee is an American professional pool player. She was nicknamed the Black Widow because, in spite of her sweet demeanor, she would “eat people alive” when she got to a pool table and always wear black when playing pool.

The Black Widow: A Memoir

A candid and moving autobiography by the ‘Black Widow’ of billiards. Pre-order your copy on Amazon today and be inspired by the definitive tale of a true icon.

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John: Jeanette, again, the story repeats itself. You set a goal for yourself and you go get that goal with focus, with purpose. You always wanted to be a mom, and you now have six beautiful children. You could be called now what I call a super mom. Talk a little bit about the physicality and the challenges you face, genetically speaking, to become a mom and what you did to overcome, and now actually have six beautiful children to show for it.

Jeanette Lee: So, I’ll tell you very quickly, I have a big family. I have five daughters and a son. When I married my husband, he had two daughters from a previous marriage, Morgan and Olivia, but they were only six and seven. Now they’re 33 and 34. So, I’m their mom. I’ve been there. They have their biological mom also, but I was also right there from the time that they were six or seven. And so, I love them. They’re my babies also.

John: Right.

Jeanette: I just have to share with another mom. But Morgan and Olivia are my first babies. And so, immediately from marriage, there was a little bit of that stepmom, filling that responsibility. But they’re already getting eight, nine years old, 10 years old, seeing them through those ages while I was in my mid-20s, mid to late 20s. And then after a few years, it was like, I want to have a baby. George knew I wanted to have babies, a lot of babies, and he was okay with it as long as we could afford it. And I was making good money. He’s like, hey, you know. It just didn’t happen. Well, he had a vasectomy from a previous marriage because he had two daughters right away, but very young. I think he was under 20 years old.

John: Wow.

Jeanette: And so, he had gotten a vasectomy. So, now here we are later and it had been a number of years that he had to undo it, right, and get those boys swimming again. And so, between that and maybe me, it just was not happening. And so, we tried injections, we tried in vitro, which was 28 grand each time. And at that point, it was like less than a 14% chance of success.

John: Oh, wow.

Jeanette: Now, it’s a very high chance. It’s like 45, maybe 55% chance of success.

John: Right.

Jeanette: They just have the technology to really make sure that they truly are whatever.

John: Putting it all together.

Jeanette: Yeah. So, anyway, after about 10 years, finally I was like, I’m just going to adopt. Let’s just adopt. I actually went to a Bible study, and everybody’s praying at the end, and they’re like, everyone talk about what you would like prayer for, and everyone’s like, oh, pray for my uncle. He’s suffering. Pray for all these bad things that are happening. And then it came around to me, and I’m like, I know this sounds really selfish, but I want a baby. I want a baby, and I don’t know what to do. I did have a couple of miscarriages, so I can get pregnant, but they just don’t hold through.

So, I can keep trying, or I can do in vitro again, or I can adopt. What should I do? What should I do? Anyway, so everybody prays and as I’m leaving, one of the guys, he said Miss Jeanette, because it was at one of our tournaments. The Christians sometimes have Bible study in the morning. Anyway, so, he said I really felt God talking to me, and I wanted to tell you that if you have tried naturally and it hasn’t worked and you’ve tried to do it with in vitro and it hasn’t worked, and the only thing left is adoption. He said I think it’s time for you to go ahead with the adoption, because either those doors will be shut to you and something else will happen, or the floodgates will open and this is what you’re meant to do. And that was on a Sunday. Yeah, that was on a Sunday.

So, the following weekend is my friend’s sweet 16, okay? And the girls are older. They’re all teenagers, middle school or something, Morgan and Olivia. And I’m at this sweet 16 in Carmel, and I’m exhausted, and I’m like, I’m so sorry I’m late. When it was Sunday, I made the calls on Monday. We got the packets on Tuesday. And to adopt from Holt in Korea, a Korean adoption agency, we were going to adopt a Korean baby. It was like a stack this thick of just paperwork. And also, it was a Christian.

So, now it’s all these questions about your faith and your finances, and your physical history. And so, finally, by the weekend, I was like, George, I want to get this done. Let’s just get this done. So, we worked on Sunday and I said I’m putting this in the mail no matter what, let’s finish. So, we finally finished, but after that, George is like, my head is pounding. I’m not going. So, he stayed home. I went on to the Sweet 16 party, and I said I’m sorry I’m late. I’ve been working on this whole thing, and we’re going to adopt, and whatever. And then at that living room, that dining table that I was sitting at, two chairs over, happened to be in front of me there was a white guy, and he introduced himself as Cot.

And the birthday girl came over and gave me a hug and I was just resting because I was coming in from the rain, and I heard, did you say you’re going to adopt? And I turned to her and I said yeah, we just finished out all the paperwork. I’m going to put it in the mail tomorrow. But, yeah, we’ve really been trying to have a baby, and I just so desperately want one. I know that I’m meant to be a mom. I know it, I know it. And she said well, because I was thinking I would put my baby up for adoption. And I said wait, what? That was one week from that Bible study.

John: Oh, my gosh.

Jeanette: And she turns and she pulls her seat out. She’s 80 pounds soaking wet. Just a little bitty Korean girl. Little bitty, skinny little Korean girl. She looked 12. She was 17 and very, very deathly shy. But I think that she maybe wanted to keep the child, but she had no means to keep the child. And she had the whole church community, because this was her sweet 16, but, Gabby, it’s like, Koreans they go to a Korean church and that’s how they all know each other. My sister went to that church, and so I knew them. Anyway, the church thought she was keeping it, so they were starting to gather all these baby things for her, and Cot, the youth pastor, he had been trying to get her to fill out the singles moms, like welfare, apply for welfare.

I think she suffered from deep depression. She was not moving. She was not doing the things that it would take to be a mom. And so, toward the end, I think she was realizing, and her close friends were realizing, maybe she’s not up to that task mentally. But she went to some other adoption place and looked at the folders and it didn’t feel right. So, she could not pick a adoption family to adopt her baby because she went to the Children’s Bureau of Indianapolis or something like that.

John: Right.

Jeanette: I meet her on Sunday. One Sunday from that Bible study. Tuesday, she calls me. She asked me if my husband and I want to meet her boyfriend, the father of the baby.

John: Okay.

Jeanette: And I said, absolutely we’re interested. I wanted them to get to know us. I wanted her to say, yeah, I’ll give you the baby. You know what I mean? Here I am, I’m married to a white dude. She’s Korean, going out with this white, teenage, pimply-faced boy. And so, I’m going to adopt the girl that’s half Korean, specifically half Caucasian, handed to my lap. So, we meet them on Tuesday.

John: I mean, come on, this is incredible.

Jeanette: We meet again on Thursday. We get a call on Friday saying, well, I think we decided we want you to be the baby’s parents. And I was like, okay, hold on a second, I need to tell George. And I’m, like, so excited. After everything calmed down, I told George and I was kissing and I was crying, and I was saying, thank you. Then when is the baby due? Sunday. Sunday? I don’t have any time. I don’t have anything. But you’re so small. She carried it all right there, just a small, little baby.

John: Oh, my gosh.

Jeanette: And then next thing you know, we’re trying to figure this out, and I always thought if I had a baby, I’d have nine months to start reading up on parenting and mommy. You know what I mean? I had never gotten to that point where I really studied long because I always figured I’d have nine months.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Well, nope, baby’s coming, and I’m going to get her. And what do I need to legally adopt and make this final? Oh, you need to find a family attorney, adoption attorney, whatever.

John: Oh, boy.

Jeanette: Coincidentally, the youth pastor, Courtney Campbell of this church, when he was not a youth pastor volunteering at this Korean church, he’s a Caucasian married to a Korean. So, they were attending the Korean church. He spoke a little bit of Korean. But anyway, really nice guy, Courtney. But when he’s not being a youth pastor, he’s a family attorney.

John: Come on, talk about it.

Jeanette: So, I’m sitting at this table and Courtney, being the youth pastor, had been kind of kind of looking after Min-young, who basically was told, to get rid of the baby or don’t come home. She was not supported by her family with this baby. She wanted them to get rid of the baby and have nothing to do with it. It was like that. So, she was staying with friends. She was living at different places. She hadn’t really been going to the doctor.

John: They ostracized her because of her pregnancy. It’s sad. Okay.

Jeanette: Her parents.

John: Didn’t understand.

Jeanette: It’s kind of a very shameful thing. A 17, Korean daughter to get pregnant.

John: It’s hard. It’s a hard deal. I get it from the parents’ perspective.

Jeanette: Korean culture but I thought it was harsh not to still support her. But she also had some emotional issues that were very clear. So, anyway, yeah, he said I’ll do all the paperwork. And so, he said I just need the $200 filing fee for the home study something papers.

John: Right.

Jeanette: So, normally, within Holt, it was going to cost $18,000 and $2,400 was for the home study. Here I am with Courtney Campbell, and he charges me 200 total. That’s all I spent. $200 total and that was just because, by law, we had to have a home study where somebody came to the house.

John: Right.

Jeanette: But that only cost $200 for real. So, I guess everybody else was making a whole lot of money, but he only charged me $200 for that. He said he wasn’t going to charge me for anything else. He helped communicate because he knew Min-young a little bit more, and then next thing you know I’ve got all this stuff. I’m like, what is all this stuff? This is stuff that the Korean church had gathered for her. So, I have this baby that’s half Korean, half white.

John: Like you and your husband were at that time.

Jeanette: Right, and we have this baby, and we have no adoption legal. Oh, and because she was still 17, just shy of 18, even though she was estranged from her mom, she was still covered under her mom’s insurance because she wasn’t 18 yet.

John: Wow.

Jeanette: I had no medical bills, none. I didn’t have to pay for any of her medical bills. If I could have adopted, how could you have something more gift-wrapped? When that Christian brother said, Jeanette, either the floodgates will open or that will also be shut and you’re meant to not have children. You know what I mean? And it was like that when he said maybe you should try adoption. I said you know what? I will. Because that is the one thing I haven’t tried. But I really wanted to try naturally first, obviously.

John: Right.

Jeanette: I had all these supplies, and it was going to be an open adoption. She still wanted to be able to see the baby, so she didn’t see the baby for six months, but I kept sending her pictures. And then after that, I would just constantly call her hey, Min-young would you like to see? And I always told Cheyenne that Min-young was God’s angel and that I had prayed for Cheyenne. You know a lot of times baby comes through the belly and you get what you get. But Cheyenne, you were the one I prayed for. But mommy’s belly was broken.

So, God sent an angel, Min-young, to care for you and when you were hungry, she fed you in her belly. And when you were scared, she would hug her belly. And when you wanted to go to sleep, she would rub your belly. But she made sure that she took care of you for the whole time because mommy’s back was broken. Just so that I could be your mom. God sent you to be my baby. So, Cheyenne, to this day, knows Min-young. Min-young is still shy, not as shy as that 17-year-old, she’s 35. But they still know each other. Cheyenne does call Min-young her birth mom.

John: She has the best of both worlds. She had you to raise her and be her mom, and she still has her mom.

Jeanette: Knowing she was loved. She grew up knowing that Min-young just couldn’t really. She sees me as mom that she never felt empty. She never felt given away. She always felt special, Cheyenne. And I was very open about the fact that she was adopted. I didn’t want any lies or secrets.

John: A beautiful thing. In Christianity, that’s called like a God thing.

Jeanette: Yeah.

John: What’s the word in Korean, unmyeong, like it’s fate, providence? I don’t know.

Jeanette: I think so.

John: It must have been.

Jeanette: I almost didn’t go to that Bible study. They did it at 8:30 in the morning and I’m like, I’m a pool player. Why would you have an 08:30 a.m. Bible study at tournaments? And it’s because all the matches start at 10:00.

John: Right.

Jeanette: So, they wanted a meeting where everyone could make it because all the players compete. So, they made the Bible study early and I just happened to wake up at 8:15 and it was right downstairs from my hotel, coincidentally, where they chose the site. And I had gone there and then I said that prayer thing and then whirlwind. And next thing you know, she’s in my arms and she didn’t have a single blemish, nothing. And she was the sweetest, quietest baby, most tolerant, never had terrible twos, terrible threes, terrible fours, terrible anything.

John: She was a gift of God on every level. And just think about it. Like you said you almost didn’t go to that Bible study. But then again, when you filled out that stack of papers and George opted out of the sweet 16, you could have easily said you’re right, I’m tired, too. I’m not going to go either. I mean, right?

Jeanette: Absolutely.

John: What had to happen to make that happen? I mean, incredible.

Jeanette: Well, God, in my opinion.

John: It’s a God thing, come on.

Jeanette: Yeah.

John: So, now you have six children.

Jeanette: Oh, wait.

John: Yeah, go ahead.

Jeanette: I wanted to mention that for me, from my experience, Cheyenne is the best, kindest, smartest, most loving, most empathetic child. And actually, she was reading at the age of three.

John: Wow.

Jeanette: I took her to the library for the first time because I was always buying books from bookstores. When she was five, the first three books that she took out, I took her to Annabelle Fancy Nancy and all that. She took out the biography of John Adams.

John: Oh, my God.

Jeanette: The history of the Seminole Indians and the Center Phases something, something of the moon.

John: These are heavy topics for a kid.

Jeanette: Yeah, and she was five and these books are like this. I said Cheyenne don’t you want to have something more fun? And she said no, that’s not real. We should know about our real history, because if it’s our real history, then we could make a change for tomorrow. And I was like, okay, we’re going to learn our history. She’s like, how can we know tomorrow if we don’t know where we came from? She was five.

John: What kid says that?

Jeanette: I know and I taught her sign language, which I didn’t know, but I learned that babies can communicate before their vocal cords develop. Like you know when you say babies blow kisses.

John: Right.

Jeanette: So, if you can teach the babies to blow kisses, you can teach the babies to do this.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Which means milk. I want milk. You know squeezing milk.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Water is actually a w here. But baby signs it’s like they’re just putting a finger.

John: Right.

Jeanette: I started doing baby signs with her when she was four months old. They cannot even hardly sit up. My best friend Marlene was like Jeanette, you’re ridiculous. And I was like, well, it’s all going in. I would read to her all the time, but at eight months old, she did this. So, whenever I would feed her, I would feed her to a certain point, and then I would stop, and she would go.

John: This is more. This means more.

Jeanette: And I would go, more?

John: More, right.

Jeanette: You want more? So, eventually, instead of going hmm, she would go like that. And when she wanted her diaper change instead of crying, she would just smack her side which meant change my diaper. And so, you have a calmer mom and a calmer baby because you’re not wondering what she’s crying about.

John: Right.

Jeanette: And George, one time, he was like, baby, he said I got a pounding headache. And I said what’s the matter? He said I’ve done everything. I have changed her. I have bathed her. I have tried to play with her. She will not stop crying. He said what is this? And I said what do you mean? And he said she keeps doing this. What is this? What does she want? And I said that’s a doorknob. She wants to go outside. And he’s like, are you shitting me? He takes Cheyenne who was still crying. I hadn’t come home, and he’s like, wait. And so, we step outside, and she goes from crying to huh. And George was finally like, okay, I’m learning your sign language.

Because at first, he was a mess with it. So, it became fun. So, I ended up learning a whole new language just to have this fun thing between my daughter and I so we can sign across the room before she could talk. You start talking fairly clearly, by the time you’re two, right? A year and a half to two years old, you’re saying Mama, Da-da basic stuff. But she was already signing the alphabet, she was already flipping flashcards, and she already knew where all the states went on a map before she was one. So, she was really, really bright. But she ended up having ADHD, which made it very difficult for her in school to stay on task or complete work. And she would forget to bring it home, or she’d do it at home, forget to bring it to school. It was very annoying.

I was like, what’s going on? She’s always been an angel. She’s not rebellious, but what’s going on Cheyenne? Pay attention, come on. So, I was getting frustrated. I just didn’t understand. And then later on, she got diagnosed with ADHD. And then it made me realize, I do all that. I’ve got ADHD so that’s how I got diagnosed. I went and got diagnosed after she did. So, that helped me in the future in any case. She eventually developed severe anxiety and depression. She was so young when we lived in Indianapolis.

John: Right.

Jeanette: But I think she was in middle school when we moved here to Tampa. And all three of my children have been bullied badly here in Tampa at A-rated schools, and they just couldn’t do anything about it. Bullied, knocked over, books shoved on the ground.

John: In this day and age it’s still going on.

Jeanette: It’s so sad, and if you saw my children, they’re beautiful. They’re just good, nice, smart kids. If I knew what was going on, but I didn’t know until Cheyenne was already a senior in high school how badly she got bullied. And she said mom, you were so sick. You were going through so many things, which I was. When I got here, I was going through a divorce. We had just finished divorcing. I was taking on a new business that I bought here in Tampa, Tampa Bay APA Pool Leagues.

John: Okay.

Jeanette: And now running, and I’ve got, like, 1100 players, all have my cell phone number. I’m like, oh, my God.

John: Oh, my gosh.

Jeanette: It was the work cell phone.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Normally, the normal pool player would not have such access to me, but I bought this business. But it makes sense. All these people love pool, so it’s easy for me to sell because they’re like, I’ll pay for the black widow and it’s fun and it’s affordable. But anyway, I had to learn a new business because my health was declining. By then I had been just diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis there in Indianapolis.

John: Right.

Jeanette: And that was kind of the deciding factor. George, he’s a good man. But toward the end, I realized that so much of our marriage I was alone. I felt alone. I felt invisible. And as I got sicker, I realized he’s not going to be there for me. He’s not supporting me. When I’m sick he’s not nurturing. My mom would have to come and take care of me or another friend or somebody. And so, I was like, it’s late, and I’m scared, and I’ve got AS and I’ve got all these children, but I got to get out of this. And so, I was dealing with all that. So, she never told me that she was getting bullied. And then we found out because she was really struggling. I found out she was autistic. So, Cheyenne is autistic.

John: How old was she when you found that out?

Jeanette: I think she was 14.

John: Wow.

Jeanette: Here.

John: Right, in Tampa.

Jeanette: Yeah, because she had been getting medication for her ADHD, which originally, I didn’t want her on medication, so we started with therapy, trying to teach her different techniques and things like that to handle ADHD. Me not knowing anything about the anxiety and her autism, but just teaching her tools and then we tried different medicines, but some of them she didn’t take very well. And then now she’s on Vyvanse, and she feels like it works really well. I don’t know if she’s just got severe anxiety and depression because it was genetic, because I later went to Min-young, and I said Min-young, do you have any health history? I said I just realized Cheyenne’s 14, and I’ve never asked you your medical history. And she’s like, why are you asking? I said well, there’s just some things about Cheyenne. And she said I had really bad childhood depression. I said you did. And she said and I’m pretty sure Robert was bipolar, which was the boyfriend.

John: Right. How is she doing now? How is she today?

Jeanette: Cheyenne graduated high school when she was 16, still being bullied every year. But she did make a couple of friends who she’s still staying in touch with. And she has become an avid writer, and she has her own blog, and she makes these AMVs, but she is home a lot. And we just got an interview with the vocational rehabilitation. So, it’s a program here in Tampa where they will take people that are autistic and help them through the next stage.

John: Right.

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Jeanette: Because she won’t go to college. She has a full ride. She did struggle with getting work done because she would forget. I would even have it labeled and everything in her backpack, and she would still forget to take it out and give it to the teacher. I was constantly chasing and communicating with teachers and all this stuff, and her kind of going off in La La land, and she would do this moaning or skipping and these different things that I just thought were, like, weird little things, but I never imagined autistic. And so, I had to learn a lot about that. This is while I’m still trying to tour, still trying to learn this business. Single mom, I’ve got three girls. My younger ones are five and six, and they’re little menaces. I love my little girls, but they were into everything and I had a lot of stuff.

John: Well, wait a second. Single mom, recently divorced, new entrepreneur. Entrepreneur is different than being a professional athlete. Different mindset.

Jeanette: Yeah.

John: Your child is diagnosed with autism and ADHD, two younger ones and let’s now talk about 2021. You’re diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. So, all of this is on you at once.

Jeanette: Yes.

John: We need to really go into this Jeanette. Where did you find the wherewithal, the moxie, the resilience to see the light at the end of the tunnel? Is it your Christian faith? Is it your Korean heritage, your ability not to ever give up? Or a combination of all? Where did you go in your darkest moments to see that there’s a way through this and you were going to find it?

Jeanette: I get so much credit, and people go, wow, you’re so strong. You’re so brave. And I would say, I can’t really take any credit. The reason why I kept going, the reason why I never quit is because I didn’t know that was an option. And maybe I would have quit, but then what? Who’s going to pay my bills? So, I would just go and go and go as each thing would come my way. Whatever would hit me, I would figure it out. I’m an independent person, who’s going to take care of me?

I did not know quitting was an option. And so, I would push through it. I would recover as fast as I could. And the entire time that I was laid up in bed, for every time that I had back surgeries or anything like that, I had started buying videotapes, these Accu-Stats videotapes, cassette tapes of matches by a company called Accu-Stats. And this was Pat Fleming Hemet and his couple of his buddies there at Accu-Stats, this business, they would travel with the men’s tour and sometimes to some of the women’s pro events, and film and then they would sell videotapes and give a couple dollars commission.

John: Right, of the event though.

Jeanette: So, that’s where, like, when I was laid up, I would do my mental imagery and imagine playing pool, but I would also watch these tapes. What would I do? Why did he do it? What happened to the cue ball? Where do I think the cue ball is going to go? Oh, the cue ball went there. Why did it? Come on, zoom in. And I was very analytical, but I did not want to waste any time just being a victim. It was like I was going to make the best of whatever I had.

And I was scared at every surgery that I would never get my game back or that I would never get the fame that I had built that level to where I could command the kind of sponsor contracts that I had. So, my income would it go back up again? And you always doubt. You always wonder, but you don’t quit. So, you just keep going and you keep going and you find out, oh, I made myself back up there again, and it’s just so much didn’t go away. I just have to really work hard again and put in that time again. Except my body is much more fragile, and so, I can’t just play 20, 30 hours all the time. I have to play smarter. It has to be more quality practice.

I have to make time for physical therapy. I also have to make time for speech therapy because, after the cancer, I had two major accidents with a vehicle where I flipped and landed headfirst down the stairwell. And so, after that, this is within the same year that I got diagnosed with stage four ovarian cancer. I was mainly home fighting, fighting cancer, doing chemo. But by that winter, I wanted to see my family. So, I had gotten a boyfriend, the first and only boyfriend, my ex-boyfriend. I think George and I were divorced five years before I went on a single date. And it was with a friend of mine and he was convincing me that I was crazy about it. So, eventually, he wore me down, Gene Allan. And he’s a wonderful man.

John: Right.

Jeanette: But anyway, he had a motorhome, so he drove me and my girls to New York to visit my family. And it was in that vehicle where a car swerved in front of him. He had to step on the brakes. I had just gotten up to say something to him because normally, we’re all seated in the back safely.

John: Right.

Jeanette: But this I just happened to go there at that exact moment when he stomped and I flipped. When you take that giant 39-foot motorhome, it’s like a bus stop where you pull this lever to close the door. And the stairwell that is so steep, it just shrinks down and becomes a short, tight, very steep stairwell, because normally it would slide open, right?

John: Right.

Jeanette: So, yeah, I flipped, landed headfirst. I was rushed to the emergency room, and this is during the pandemic. A couple years before that, I had gotten diagnosed with fibromyalgia, because I was getting all this nerve pain up in my armpit, like brachial plexus. And it turned out I had a rare syndrome that they called Parsonage-Turner syndrome. And I think it says it’s a syndrome that causes pain and weakness in your upper extremities. In my opinion, that means you don’t know what the problem is, because I saw so many specialists, and two of them came up with the same thing, Parsonage-Turner syndrome.

And when you look it up, and I have a feeling that inside my armpit, which the doctor called my brachial plexus, it feels like someone takes their hand in there and is ripping and tearing it out. So, my arm, I constantly have to, like, hold it up because the weight of it just hanging is constantly tearing and it caused weakness. More and more weakness till eventually I couldn’t lift my left arm at all. And that was the first time in my life I thought, because George said one thing about it, even if you’re 80 years old, you’re so big you’ll always be able to get at least a thousand a day doing appearances, doing a trade show, because Willie Moscone, Minnesota Fats, they did signings till they were in their 80s.

John: Really?

Jeanette: Mm-hmm. And Willy Moscone, he was healthy enough. He was actually doing grand openings and shows. And I would nod, yeah, you’re right. I’m going to be playing for the rest of my life. Now, here I am and I’m about to move to Tampa. So, this is like just before I moved when my left arm, I can’t even move it. I can’t lift it. That is terrifying and no one could figure out what it was. I had some pain in my neck.

John: Worse than terrifying.

Jeanette: And then I have this excruciating pain out of my armpit. I’m talking like, it’s almost like a migraine where you’re just like, aargh, it’s so tearing and it won’t stop and you can’t escape it. It doesn’t matter if you’re lying down or you’re sitting. You can’t massage it. So, it’s a nerve pain, right? It’s not a muscle pain. It’s not a joint pain. So, anyway, they diagnosed me with that. And then I also had some weird syndrome that if I swallow when I’m talking or swallow anything when I turned to the left, this whole side of my face will feel like my skin got peeled off. And it’s just right here on the right side and across my neck and the front part of my shoulder. It’s crazy.

John: So, have they helped those issues resolve now?

Jeanette: Ask Danny to postpone or that I’ll be late.

John: Okay.

Jeanette: Yeah, ask Danny to postpone or tell them I’ll be late.

John: Thank you. So, have they resolved these issues yet under your arm and on your face with medicine or anything like that?

Jeanette: Okay, so this is crazy, but eventually they said that hopefully, it’ll go away. It’s a virus that attacks your body, and eventually, it’ll go away.

John: Okay.

Jeanette: The pain did. Eventually, the pain got better and better and better. For sure every time I lift and stretch out my arm, that’s when that nerve, it goes from my armpit, right across this arm, right into my third and fourth finger. And it’s a very specific line of the kind of pain that radiates starting from the armpit, and it’s a ripping feeling, right? So, it started with neck pain and then pain and weakness and eventually I started being able to use this left hand, but my two-handed typing, it’s not my dexterity and my fine motor skills on my left hand is not what it was because I was pretty a fast typer. And right now I can but not like the way I was. And I could carry, like, a pencil or do some little things, but I couldn’t reach up and grab a bottle of water, right? I could not grab a bottle of water, but I didn’t have that much strength for the next, I don’t know how many years. I go to New York. Remember, I said New York.

John: You’re on the way to go visit your family.

Jeanette: Yep. Went to the hospital, nearly died. I was diagnosed with cauda equina because I landed head first, my neck, and my spine. And so, they had to have an emergency laminectomy on my spine.

John: During the pandemic?

Jeanette: Yes, and we’re on the road, and we’re scared. And my ex-husband is scaring my children to death about the vaccine. Do not take the vaccine.

John: Oh, okay.

Jeanette: Don’t wear a mask. It’ll ruin your respiratory problems. And I’m like, I have two autoimmune diseases. They’re my children too. Stage four ovarian cancer, I can’t have these girls bringing home COVID.

John: Right.

Jeanette: I have so many players. While my business was shut down, one by one, they were dying here in Tampa. People were just dropping, different ages, not just older people.

John: Right.

Jeanette: And here I am with two autoimmune diseases plus stage four ovarian cancer, and two girls that are going to school full of germs. And then every other week when they’re with their dad, they’re not wearing masks.

John: Oh, my God.

Jeanette: They think all the healthy people, they shouldn’t be wearing masks. Let everyone just get it, whatever.

John: But you can because you didn’t have that.

Jeanette: No, my house was sterile. We had a sign on our door. Please knock quietly when you’re entering. As soon as you enter, go directly to the laundry room and wash your hands, and disinfect. And we had people change their shoes. Our house was sterile. We could not risk me at stage four taking chemo with two autoimmune diseases during a pandemic. And I’m in the hospital by myself, no one could visit because of COVID, right? So, I can’t see anyone, and I’m just there, and actually, I didn’t even get a hospital room, by the way. I was in the PICU.

John: Come on.

Jeanette: Because all the bedrooms were taken by COVID patients.

John: Oh, my gosh.

Jeanette: So, they did the surgery. Normally, they did the surgery and they take you to the PICU where you wait till you wake up from anesthesia and then somebody takes you. They take your vital, make sure you’re good. They take you to your hospital room.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Hey, you’re awake. Let’s get you to hospital. Oh, we don’t have any rooms available. So, next day, next day, next day. I get moved from this curtain to that curtain. But there was all these hospital beds and only between them, there would be a curtain. In this whole room, the entire floor was just curtains and hospital beds. In the middle was the nurses’ center and the elevator. The next day came. The next day came. No visitors. I can hear this guy Italian. Hey, Mama. And then further down, Margie. Margie, come here, Margie. Margie. And I’m like, oh, my God. So, this was 13 days. I was in the PICU.

John: By yourself.

Jeanette: By myself with all these other people trying to recover. Every hospital was swarmed with COVID patients. And they have COVID floors. It got to the point where they had COVID-only floors.

John: Right.

Jeanette: And people were being moved around because, oh, here’s another one. Oh, here’s another one. And then you had all the nurses and doctors, they’re wearing two, three, four masks. I don’t even know how they breathe, but you could see the masks that they would put on. There was multiple. But when I got home, my girls they’re like, I don’t want not be able to breathe. And this isn’t to speak badly about George, because George really, truly believes this. So, I disagree. He’s still a good father. But while I have stage four ovarian cancer, no matter what risk you think wearing a mask could bring to these children for this temporary time, doctors have been wearing these masks for hundreds of years.

John: Right.

Jeanette: They’re still alive.

John: Right.

Jeanette: So, let these girls wear a mask so they don’t bring COVID home to me.

John: Right.

Jeanette: I don’t know. That never made sense to him somehow. The healthy people should wear masks, and the people that are not healthy should just stay home.

John: The country got so polarized and I’m not making excuses for anybody, but unfortunately, like, you and I know, we created such a divide of people being so far on one side and so far on the other, it’s sad. But you avoided the COVID let’s just say, you avoided it.

Jeanette: Oh, thank God. And actually finally it did get brought home. But not from my children. It was from their aunt who was living with us. Who was basically helping me with the house and taking care of everything and helping with the girls and stuff like that. And she had gone out and I guess she had caught it and then gave it to one girl. And then she was sick and then we tested again. Long story short, I took the only daughter that never had COVID and she and I went and stayed at a hotel for 13 days. No, 12 days.

John: Until everybody got better.

Jeanette: That’s how long it took but it was that serious. Total of second time that we got COVID in this house, it was my daughter. It was my youngest daughter that brought COVID probably from a friend or school or a juniors’ camp, I don’t know. And at that point, yeah, one by one everyone got it and I was so careful. I wore my mask. I washed my hands and I did everything. But dang it, I got it. I got it during the time when the film crew from ESPN, from Words and Pictures, a production company, had flown from New York to film me for three days. And on the first day, I started feeling a sore throat.

John: Oh my gosh.

Jeanette: And I didn’t have any other symptoms. Every child and nanny, they were all quarantined to their bedroom. They couldn’t come out. I Lysol everything and whatever. But still, they all flew in on day one. I said I think I should take a COVID test because I had to take it before they came.

John: Right.

Jeanette: All of us had to take it. That’s when we found out they had it. But I didn’t have it. I was the last one to get it.

John: Oh my Gosh.

Jeanette: Because I was protecting myself.

John: Right.

Jeanette: But I thought that I had gotten away with it again. But no, it got me. And so, the production crew, on the day that they had arrived, they had to leave. So, I felt bad for them.

John: Let’s talk a little bit about that. First of all, I want to go back to the cancer in a bit. But let’s go back to the production crew. ESPN did a 30 by 30 on you called Jeanette Lee Vs. How did that come together? Where did that come from and when did they start filming it? And I know it just premiered last year, November, and then December again. Talk a little bit about that process, how it came together and things of that such.

Jeanette: So, throughout my career, I had this relationship with Octagon, which was the largest sports management company in the world. It was second to IMG until IMG kind of split into parts, which made Octagon number one now. I aggressively went after them. I was like, here, I’m a pool player, represent me. They’re like, we don’t represent pool players. We do tennis and basketball whatever. But I was persistent and got Tom George to take me on, and I said you know what?

I don’t even need you to be proactive in getting me deals. I’ll bring you the deals. I just want an agent to negotiate it because I believe we’ll get more money than me representing myself because by then, I was into the six figures. And I was talking about bigger contracts and things like that. And so, Tom always laughs about how I dressed up, and I flew out and I met with them and I convinced them why they needed to represent me. And when I told him he wouldn’t have to do anything but book the deals that I hand-delivered to him.

John: You’re a dream client. That’s a dream client. You’re a dream client for an agent.

Jeanette: Yeah, he was amazed because every time I went to a charity event or anything, I came back with all these business cards. Bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam. And it was either some kind of PR or some kind of appearance or some kind of endorsement and it was everywhere I went. I got business cards and he followed up, and he was like, wow, okay, this we can do. And, of course, I did get some backflow from some of the other basketball players or whatever doing a show.

He would throw my name in there, and sometimes I got booked from the other things. Octagon and I have had a longstanding relationship throughout my career. Tom’s always thought somebody’s got to write your story. Your life has been incredible. And so, the people at Octagon and Tom negotiated with a group that they knew, Words and Pictures, which is a production company, and partnered with them to take a chance and put stuff together and work collaboratively to get a movie deal. And they pitched it, and almost immediately, ESPN went hoop, we want it for a 30 for 30 series.

John: That’s great.

Jeanette: And we were like, yeah. It was almost immediate and it made so much sense because if it was any other network, they would have to be buying so much content from ESPN.

John: Right, your career was there.

Jeanette: Yeah. Everything you saw of me was on ESPN or ESPN2. I was in two ESPN Sports Center commercials. I was in Bass Pro commercials. But everything was on ESPN. And so, I was glad ESPN did it. But yeah, ESPN picked it up, and they third partner. So, it was me, ESPN and Words and Pictures, and obviously Octagon and Tom George.

Interviewer: Right.

Jeanette: And it was so nice because I was looking at my life. I was stage four.

John: Right.

Jeanette: We did the PET scan and when it was time to see the PET scan, which is a clearer vision than a CAT scan, right?

John: Right.

Jeanette: You see all through the body, not just like slices of it. And they said just to be prepared, the lemonade that we had you drink and mix it, whatever those fluids are going to go search and attach itself only to cancer cells.

John: Understood.

Jeanette: So, when the PET scan comes up, wherever you see yellow patches, yellow groupings, which we’re expecting to be mainly down here because we already know that you have some kind of ovarian, uterine, some kind of cancer in the lower region. That’s what they were able to demise but without a biopsy and without this they were doing all this stuff. Anyway, they said we’ll get a sense of just how much on this PET scan. So, just wherever you see the yellow, that’s where it is, and we will target that. We already knew that I had to start chemo right away because my CA 125, my tumor markers were too high. They were over in the 10 thousands and you’re supposed to be under 14.

John: Right.

Jeanette: My CA 125 markers. So, anyway, the picture came up and you see this whole body and it’s like a picture of a body and then he like clicked and he’s like, okay, this is you. And it was from my collarbone down, solid yellow. There was no group or area of black. It was just yellow. It took my breath away. I was not prepared for that. I knew stage four meant you were pretty close to the end. It has spread.

John: Let’s frame this. This was 2021 with this PET scan, that was 2021?

Jeanette: January of 2021.

John: Wow.

Jeanette: Actually, that December was when they were supposed to start filming me for this ESPN movie. So, all of that had to get pushed. I also just had this big accident in New York. I was supposed to go to New York, visit my family, but also do a lot of film shooting with this New York production company, Words and Pictures, who are based in New York.

John: Wow.

Jeanette: And all that came to a crash because I was in such a sudden crash and I was in the hospital, they couldn’t film me. And even when they came, I was so full of drugs and tired and pumped up. But looking back, if you have stage four and you don’t know if you’re going to live to get an opportunity for a network like ESPN to want to tell your story. What a blessing.

John: Huge blessing.

Jeanette: I was so thankful. And everyone’s like, how can you be so thankful when all this stuff is, and I’m like because I just really believe that God has a plan. I just don’t know what it is. And after all this time, I just trust in him. And when I was 12, I didn’t trust in him. I had scoliosis. My back was split open. Doctors just told me that they were going to straighten my crooked back. They didn’t say anything about the pain, the recovery time, the huge brace I was going to have to wear in middle school when I was just starting to have a crush on boys. And I was concaved in this big white cast.

And then eventually it turned into these big hard rubber plates that were formed to your body, but they had metal straps. I mean, metal rings with Velcro straps that you would have to tighten these two plates together and you’d have to hold it up just to put your pants down just to pee. And by then, the front part, which went up to here, now it’s choking my neck because I got to hold it up so that I could pull my panties down. It was hell and I thought nothing good could come from this. Sorry, mom, not this time. No, God has a plan. You just have to trust him whatever. Nothing good could come from this. How can you tell me that God has a plan for me to suffer through scoliosis? How does that help anyone?

John: Right.

Jeanette: What great plan would that be? And I never questioned that there was a God. I don’t know, I just always believed. But that doesn’t mean I liked him. I was a kid. I was young, and I thought God was stupid. I’m like, why are you doing this?

John: Right.

Jeanette: So, I just truly believe that some things, nothing good comes from it. And it turns out I became number one in the world. I ended up becoming the national spokesperson for the Scoliosis Association Inc.

John: And you’re still a spokesperson for that association, right? You’re still a spokesperson.

Jeanette: Yes, and I would go and meet with them, and they invited me to medical conferences, spine conferences, where I would talk to young kids with scoliosis. And had I not had scoliosis, I would meet them, but they wouldn’t care about my story. What story would I tell?

John: Because you wouldn’t have the street cred. You had the cred. You had the street cred because you went through it yourself.

Jeanette: Exactly, and because I went through it, I had a voice that empowered me and other people through my suffering because I never gave up. And then with every surgery, I’m literally like, God, really? Another one. But with each one, it was like different things happen where a member of family had to move in. And I wouldn’t have otherwise had time that wouldn’t have happened had I not stopped to have this surgery. When they hit you hard, you’re going to get knocked out, right? And you’re down on the ground. And I say if you’re injured, get down there, take a rest, and when you’re ready, get the heck back up and keep going. But no matter what, we all fall.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Right? But I believe that as long as you don’t quit, right? And when I say don’t quit, I don’t mean you don’t quit taking chemo or you don’t quit going to work. I mean you don’t quit on yourself.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Because you can keep going to work and quit on yourself.

John: Right.

Jeanette: Let everything die in your heart because you’ve had a tough time because you have a heart problem or anything that I’ve dealt with. But it’s because I went through those surgeries, and I didn’t just stay depressed, but I looked out and I was like, okay, what can I do with this time?

John: This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by Engage. Engage is a digital booking platform revolutionizing the talent booking industry with thousands of athletes, celebrities, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Engage is the go-to spot for booking talent, for speeches, custom experiences, live streams, and much more. For more information on Engage or to book talent today, visit This edition of the Impact Podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy, and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit

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