I have observed many people fight cancer. It is a difficult thing to experience and it is at such a time that people lean most heavily on their family.
But what if you do not have a family?
Jo is such a person. Most of her family has passed away and what blood relations she does have are distant. She and her husband have gone through much of their life without family. They both struggled with a variety of disabilities, but somehow they have always managed to roll along in life finding people along the way to help them.
But when Jo was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, I wondered who would be there for her. Mike had been placed in a nursing facility with increasing dementia. As her pastor, I began to feel the weight of caring for a family-less woman.
She was scheduled for a double mastectomy. I battled my way through rush hour traffic on the way to the hospital with a big thick book on my side to keep me company in the waiting room.
I arrived at the nurses’ station to ask for Jo’s room number and there was a woman standing in front of me beating me to the punch. After exchanging surprised introductions we went together to a tiny room where Jo had been prepped for surgery.
Jo was so happy to see us. She said, “I see you’ve met each other.” Martha and I smiled and nodded. Before we could even take a seat, the door opened and a petite woman entered with a big smile. “I made it! Traffic was horrible!”
She looked at both Martha and I, not surprised at all to see a growing collection of supporters in the room. Jo introduced each of us to each other with great joy and pride. It was quite a full house.
We began to chat and keep Jo company. Jo asked if I would share some scripture. I did. As we were discussing a passage a tech came in to take Jo off. We all joined hands including the tech, Thomas, who Jo was already on a first name basis with, and prayed.
Thomas took her away and we all adjourned to the waiting room. We began to share how we will each knew Jo. Martha was a nurse assistant at the retirement building where Jo lives. Jo befriended her and had been a great spiritual support. They had become true spiritual sisters.
Kim had known Jo since 1992. She did Jo’s nails. At the time she was not a person of faith. She attributes her faith to Jo’s loving nurture over the years. She shared her own deeply moving story of salvation and forgiveness.
After talking non-stop for a few hours, Maggie, an elder from my church, showed up. Maggie, who has a real estate license, had helped Jo and Mike when their house had gone into foreclosure before she was even a member of the church.
We all shared our Jo stories. Some were funny, others deeply moving. My big, thick book sat untouched at my side. What a life this woman had had.
And what a family she had. A God made family.
Jo came through the surgery fine. 6 weeks later, I sat with Jo, Martha, and Kim in an oncologist’s office awaiting the results of her scan.
We were all very nervous and making small talk, when all of the sudden Jo burst into tears. She needed more than small talk, she needed prayer. Her family joined hands once again and prayed for healing and peace.
Though we are all people of faith who believe God can do anything, we were doubtful. It didn’t look good. The doctor had told us early on that if there were more than 4 cancerous nodes then it was likely that it had spread to other places in her body. The surgeon had removed 24 malignant nodes.
The doctor entered and took a seat. We braced ourselves. She said, “We found no evidence of cancer anywhere.”
We were all dumbfounded, not yet ready to celebrate. Jo looked like she might dissolve onto the floor. The doctor went on to say that she was as surprised as we were by the results.
After the doctor left the room we all smiled at each other. I thought Jo might get up and dance. We all joined hands and praised God family style!