Coping with cancer became part of our Catholic DNA.
"What about me? I got a sister," my friend chimed in.
"Yeah, you do," my classmate said. "And she’s ugly. You better stay."
May was the first in both of my parent’s families to go to college. This was a new benchmark for our family, one of which we were all proud.
After college, May did what most women in the Midwest do; she got a good job, worked it for a bit until she met and fell in love with a man. She then gave birth to four children while working part time. Life for May and her family was good. They had a big house with a pool. Vacationed in Florida once a year. Had nice things. It wasn’t always perfect. Her youngest had been born with Down Syndrome. Economically, things were getting a little tight in the Detroit area. And generally, life isn’t always a joy ride. But still, May’s life had a rhythm. It had joy. And most importantly, it had meaning.
But life changes. Suddenly. Radically. Nobody needs to teach us this. In fact, most of life’s "event" changes are what we’ve come to expect from our unpredictable journeys. And most of the time we regard this change as good. We change jobs. We fall in love. We have children. Other times, change is difficult, challenging. We lose our job. We get divorced. We give birth to a special needs child. And then there are those other times where life takes us in a place we didn’t expect to go. Sometimes it comes with a phone call about the sudden death of a loved one. Or sometimes it’s a horrible accident that touches someone close to us. Or sometimes we go see a doctor for what we think is just a sore throat and we find out it’s something different. Something that we hadn’t seen coming. Something that might take our life. May received such a call almost five years ago when she was diagnosed with esophageal cancer.
It was Christmas Eve, 2009.
From the very moment that May was diagnosed with cancer, she was absolutely convinced that she would beat it. The prognosis wasn’t good. Though doctors did discover the cancer at a relatively early stage, the disease was located in a very precarious place just on the border of her esophagus and stomach. This meant that spreading would be more dangerous, effecting two major organs instead of one. Doctors recommended aggressive chemotherapy and radiation.
May refused. Instead, she chose a different path; a path that included a small amount of holistic medicines and a heavy amount of prayer. May wasn’t entirely certain of her holistic path, but she was no dummy. After an exhaustive study of all treatments related to her cancer, she hand-picked a variety of medicines tailored to her particular goals. She calculated the odds, took into consideration the quality of life each treatment would come with and stood by her decision. Everything else she put in God’s hands — and this she was absolutely clear on.
For a brief time, May’s path seemed to be working. The prognosis of her cancer didn’t burden her. In fact, it seemed to invigorate her. She became more active in her community. As a professional child advocate, she doubled her workload. And after four children, despite being in excellent physical condition, she even increased her exercise. The results were impressive. Within a year of her diagnosis, she looked better than ever, was happier than I’d ever seen her, and she never, ever even mentioned the fact that she still had cancer. Because for May, her mind was already made up. She didn’t have cancer. Her faith told her so. And May knew she had beaten cancer because of one simple reason: May believed in miracles. Always had. And not the Hallmark kind; sunsets, caterpillars changing to butterflies or childbirth. May believed in big miracles. She believed in the supernatural, larger than life, dead rising, blind seeing, crippled walking kind of miracles. Her God was a great and powerful God. And her faith in Him was unrelenting, more passionate than anyone’s I’ve ever witnessed. So curing her cancer was nothing for May’s God.
A Question of Miracles
While our entire family was thrilled with May’s health, behind her back, many of us shook our heads. Midwest culture doesn’t foster "holistic." We like our drugs made. And if something isn’t working, we remove it and put in a new part. So even though May seemed okay, we wondered why she continued with her life as if that phone call had never come. We wondered why she never returned to a doctor to see what had happened to the cancer. And we wondered why it didn’t feel like a miracle. There was no manifestation of a divine act – or at least proof of one. We all wanted to believe that a miracle had happened, but mere belief in a miracle alone does not produce one, does it? I didn’t think so.
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