A mother of sixteen children has revealed the devastating moment she was diagnosed with cancer, leaving her husband fearing he would have to raise their huge family on his own.
Jeni Bonell, 49, opened up on the “shock” moment she discovered seven lumps in her throat were actually thyroid cancer in an emotional interview alongside her husband Ray, 50, on Channel 9’s A Current Affair.
The parents of what’s been dubbed ‘Australia’s biggest family’, from Queensland’s Toowoomba, said the news came as a shock to them both, and left many of their kids – aged between four and 28 – crying.
“You sort of always feel like you’re bulletproof but obviously getting that news from the doctor did rock our world quite a bit,” Ray told the show.
“It’s very scary knowing you may lose your life partner to a terrible disease like this, and then on top of our situation to have to raise 16 kids on your own is very, very scary. I definitely need her around to do that.”
While Jeni said she had only visited her GP for a routine check-up, it ended up turning into four hours of hell, and she added: “It was a bit of a shock to go to a specialist and have them say the word ‘cancer” to me’… You just never think it’s going to be you so I was just really unprepared for that.”
Then came the couple’s most difficult challenge of all – breaking the news to their children.
“When we spoke to the kids, we had some that went really quiet, some burst into tears and some that weren’t angry with me but I think they just wanted to push it away, they didn’t want to know,” Jeni added.
She eventually had her thyroid removed and was given a good prognosis following the complex surgery. However, she must now undergo tests every six months for the next 15 years to ensure the cancer doesn’t return.
It’s given Jeni determination to carry on, but also to take extra care of her own health, and she explained on the show: “I’ve learnt that I’m loved, I think as mums we spend all our time serving other people and some days, not always, we feel unloved and taken for granted.”
The pair haven’t officially ruled out having a 17th baby – and in fact a lot of their fans often urge them to keep trying – but they joked they may be ready to welcome “grandchildren” next instead.
The whole family have made a name for themselves on social media, building up a huge following thanks to their incredible size. Praising the Channel 9 film crew shortly after their TV interview, they wrote on Facebook: “It is a very personal family journey and the story was handled so beautifully.”
The story got overwhelming support from fans, as one commented: “Glad you are now well I pray for your ongoing health.”
Another added: “Many Blessings praying you are able to have more children,” and one wrote: “You definitely are very LOVED! I’m so glad you were blessed with good health! You both are so so blessed.”