Friday the 13th is considered by many to be an unlucky day. I never really paid particular attention to the date until my life changed forever on Friday, May 13, 2011, with a cancer diagnosis — a cancer that was rare and difficult to treat.
Within less than a week, I had already been referred to a specialist at the University of Iowa Holden Cancer Center and began a round of chemo. Those early weeks were a blur to me as I began to deal with the implications of such a diagnosis along with family members and friends.
Seeing God in the midst of crisis
Even though I have spent almost twenty-five years in faith formation, walking with others in their faith journey, learning about our Catholic faith and teaching others, I seriously doubted my ability to handle this extreme crisis as a person of faith.
My initial reaction was shock and anger and I wondered where God was in all of this mess. I needed not to worry; God was fully and completely present in this terrible experience. God’s grace and love were visible in many tangible ways.
The Sunday after diagnosis was the fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday, one of my favorite Sundays of the Church Year, and my turn to be the Children’s Liturgy of the Word leader. As I prepared for the children, I drew so much comfort from Jesus as the Good Shepherd and this comfort sustained me through many difficult moments.
Peace from the communion of saints
Before undergoing surgery, I was lying on the operating table as the O.R. team was getting ready. I looked up and could see my reflection in the large, overhead light fixture. My arms were strapped to two boards to keep my IVs stationary and I gazed at my reflection, cross-like, before I drifted off to sleep. My final prayer was: “God, surround me with your angels and saints.” I was at peace.
Offering our suffering for others
I kept a list of all the people diagnosed with cancer since my own diagnosis. That list accompanied me to all of my radiation treatments. As I laid there waiting for the radiation beam to blast the cancer within me, I prayed for all the cancer patients on my list.
The litany of the saints was my favorite method of prayer especially when the pain was too much and I couldn’t even remember the simplest of prayers. It helped me to offer prayers for others, but I also found in that radiation room the power of others’ prayers for me.
Joy in the darkness
Life slowed down greatly when I was in active treatment radiation. I moved to Iowa City and lived at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge and couldn’t work for six weeks.
Even through this dark time, I found a sense of joy and gratitude bubbling from deep within me. I became aware of all life in a very profound way. It was as if a camera lens was suddenly in sharp focus and I could see the world, God’s creation, in new and brilliant ways.
Counting my blessings
As trite as it sounds, I counted my blessings as I moved through each day. When the pain became intense and all I could do was lay quietly on my bed in the Hope Lodge, I spent hours in the stillness, sometimes listening to music, mostly looking out the window at the glorious fall sky and trees as they changed colors.
I still keep my list of cancer patients though some have now passed away. Most are still alive and hanging in there as I am.
My life was forever changed on Friday, May 13, 2011 and it some ways I don’t ever want my life to be normal again. I want to live fully present to God’s grace all around me, aware of that great gift that is given to all, grateful for the love that defines my life as a child of God.
(Mary Green, Former Director of Adult Faith Formation, Our Lady’s Immaculate Heart Parish)