"I made a complete commitment to be sure that my kids are compassionate kids," Jeannie Gaffigan tells PEOPLE

By Lindsay Kimble
May 12, 2017 10:51 AM

For comedian Jim Gaffigan and wife Jeannie, a terrifying health crisis has served as a source of renewed purpose.

“I made a complete commitment to be sure that my kids are compassionate kids,” Jeannie tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue as she recovers from a lengthy surgery that removed a six-cm. benign tumor from her brain last month.

The papilloma of the choroid plexus, which was wrapped around Jeannie’s brain stem and suppressing several of her cranial nerves, had been growing for likely over a year. Jeannie’s Mount Sinai Hospital neurosurgery team believes they removed it in its entirety.

The Gaffigans – who have been married for 14 years – share five children: Marre, 13, Jack, 11, Katie, 8, Michael, 5, and Patrick, 4.

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Jim, 50, says they were lucky to have Jeannie’s large family around to help look after their younger children during the ordeal, but they were candid with Marre and Jack.

“We knew that we had to explain what was going to happen to them,” he says. “You know what’s going on at 11. And so we explained the scenario that [surgeon Dr. Joshua Bederson] said, ‘Look, she’s gonna live but these are the possibilities.’ So what we presented to our two oldest were the facts: ‘Look, mom’s gonna live but she’s going to go through this. So let’s focus on the fact she’s gonna live.’ ”

  • For more from Jim and Jeannie Gaffigan, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands now

He adds of having help from family, “[The kids] were distracted by the fact that it was kind of, you know, nice to get picked up by an aunt or an uncle at school. Or have dinner with their aunt and grandma.”

Credit: JIm Gaffigan/Instagram

Now, as Jeannie recovers at the family’s New York City apartment, the couple is focused on moving forward.

“It’s very important to me to raise people who are of mercy,” says Jim of how the health scare has impacted his approach to parenting.

Adds Jeannie, 47, “When you’re in the hospital and you can’t take care of yourself and you see all these people who are just committed to being doctors and nurses and caregivers, it’s really unbelievable that people would dedicate their lives to taking care of other people. And I want children that are in touch with that kind of empathy.”

And the comedy writing duo are using their famous sense of humor to add some levity to the unimaginable.

“It’s like any tragedy or emergency in life, it’s not just unique to our family, you have to deal with some of this stuff with humor,” Jim tells PEOPLE.

Adds Jeannie, who says her husband has been playing a disinterested nurse to make her laugh: “We definitely have the tumor jokes.”