Jane Jayroe holds three titles, Miss. America, Miss. Oklahoma and cancer survivor.

by Mark Beutler

Jane Jayroe was in disbelief when she heard the announcer call her name. The young girl from rural Laverne, Oklahoma, was standing on stage in Atlantic City as Bert Parks began the first few bars of an old familiar song.
“There she is, Miss America,” Parks crooned.
The image flickered on black and white television sets across the country as Jayroe accepted the crown and took her first steps as Miss America 1967.
“A wave of emotions swept over me,” Jayroe recalls. “The audience rose to its feet, while what seemed like flashes from a thousand cameras began going off simultaneously. I could not believe it, even after I heard my name it still seemed unreal. Here I was, this shy, 19-year-old girl from Oklahoma and I had just been given one of the most recognizable titles in the world!”
Jayroe spent the next year traveling in a whirlwind of public appearances, which included entertaining the troops in Vietnam. The schedule was grueling but paved the way for the bright future that lay ahead.
She finished her reign as Miss America, and then continued her education at Oklahoma City University. Her career led her to Dallas where she was news anchor for KXAS-TV before moving home to Oklahoma City, where she worked as prime-time anchor for both KFOR-TV and KOCO-TV. In 1999, she ventured into public service and held the cabinet position Secretary of Tourism and Recreation until 2003.
But for all her titles and accolades, Jayroe holds one more title and that is cancer survivor.
“I have always been very faithful about having the medical checkups that are recommended,” she says. “As a result, I went in for regular breast exams but in 2003 I was very surprised. One of the spots my doctor had been watching for years was different. We checked it out, and the result was a very early breast cancer diagnosis.”
It was fortunate, Jayroe says, that the cancer was caught early.
“To hear the word ‘cancer’ was terrifying,” she said. “I didn’t think of death, but I did think of months of chemotherapy and being sick. I was so scared. As it turned out, I had a lumpectomy.”
A few years went by and life was good, but in 2007 Jayroe was diagnosed again with cancer– this time it was uterine.
“It took a long time to get that diagnosis,” she says, “Which was really frightening to me because I had symptoms for more than six months before I had the diagnosis. I had a full hysterectomy with additional lymph nodes removed. The surgery was on a Tuesday and the test results came back on Friday…actually, Friday the 13th! Lymph nodes were clear, no follow-up treatment was needed.”
During her journey, Jayroe says what helped most was her faith.
“It was everything to me,” she said. “My faith was the rock upon which I stood. It was the Hand that held mine. It was the Light when my night was dark. And having a community of support like the American Cancer Society is so important. Cancer can be such a lonely fight and such a life-altering experience. To have help in those practical ways is really crucial.”
Today Jayroe is a best-selling author, helping others find their way on whatever path their life takes them. Her most recent book, “Practice: Unleashing the Power of Faith,” was released in 2018.
“My words to those who are going through a cancer journey is first, try not to jump into the pool of fear,” she says. “Instead, lean into faith. With the internet, it’s good to have information and learn about things but I don’t think it’s helpful to start thinking the worst scenario when you don’t have all the information. Take someone with you to appointments if possible and start gathering facts, not fear.”
Using the ACS helpline and website is a good place to start. {1-800-227-2345 or www.cancer.org} It also helps, she says to be around people who are hopeful and positive.
“After my diagnosis it seemed everyone wanted to share the story of their friend or family member who died and who had such an awful journey,” Jayroe said. “I realized how terrifying that was for me. So, I reached out to friends who had survived cancer and asked to hear their stories. I was suddenly encouraged! I bought books that told stories of cancer survivors and how they focused and worked hard during their time of treatment.”
Coming from a strong faith-based community and upbringing, Jayroe turned to the scriptures for inspiration, and found a favorite: “The Lord is my strength and shield. My heart trusts in Him and I am helped.” Psalm 28:7
“When I was recovering at home after the uterine cancer, I started walking in the backyard and I would say this scripture out loud repeatedly,” Jayroe said. “I claimed it. I was indeed helped!”
At age 72, the former Miss America lives a peaceful life surrounded by friends and family, her husband Gerry and faithful pup Maggie, and all around her are mementos of a life well-lived.
“Age has brought me to this statement,” Jayroe says. “‘All of us will die, but not everyone will live fully until then.’ That is my goal; I want to live with gratitude, joy and purpose for as long as I can. Hard times come to everyone and something will take us down. But there really is a lot of beauty in the world if we have eyes to see and ears to hear it”
This summer, Jayroe got to hold the newest member of the family, baby Henry who was 12 weeks old. “When I held him close while he was sleeping, our hearts kind of beat together” she said with a smile. “It was awesome. And nature gives me peace, too. I don’t have a green thumb but last spring, just outside my backdoor, roses grew up the wall. Their perfection left me in awe. And this summer I sat outside in the mountains with friends and heard music that was so powerful and then so tender, I was moved to tears. While I try to find purpose and serve God and my neighbor, I’ll accept the gifts given that give life joy and meaning, and I will be grateful. Those are my words to others who are on their own cancer journey, and I wish for them many blessings.”