I will never forget the moment I heard the news. “What! No way! You are joking right?” But she wasn’t. “No, Andy, Betsy was just diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer.” I was shocked. How could it be? Betsy was only 32 years old. She had finally met the man of her dreams after years of wondering if she ever would. They had married only 3 months before! This could not be happening. This is Betsy – the young, energetic, loving, caring, smiling nurse with whom I had served so many times on medical missions. She was healthy! She had no risk factors - no Inflammatory Bowel Disease, no family history. The reality finally began to set in – chances were she would not live another 1-2 years.
She was determined to beat this and thus began what has been a 1 1/2 year battle that continues to this day. Unfortunately, it is a battle she is losing and she knows it. Yet, she has continued to fight heroically, with the loving support of her husband, as she has sought out the latest treatment options. She has tried every experimental protocol for which she qualified. Some have slowed the disease briefly but most have only caused severe, incapacitating side effects.
I stay in close contact with Betsy especially through the “Caring Bridge” web site. Betsy routinely provides updates on how she is doing physically but she also speaks openly about her emotional and spiritual struggles. My heart aches for her as she has more recently written about the increasing reality of her soon to come death. She knows she has very little time left short of a miracle from God (and she is a strongly faithful person). She writes of the heartbreak, profound sadness, and the overwhelming grief she feels to the depths of her soul.
She grieves that she will not have a long, full life with her husband – the man for whom she had prayed and waited all those years. She grieves that she will never have children and she loves children. She is the best aunt ever to her nieces! She grieves that she will not get to see them grow to adulthood. Most of all, she grieves the loss of what could have been, should have been….
Yet, through this all her faith remains the foundation upon which she lives. As a result, her life has become an inspiration to those privileged to know her. She is a constant reminder of the beauty that surrounds us every moment of every day in the world; of how blessed we are to have the life we have; and that every day is to be cherished for what it is, a gift.
I remember the last time I saw her. Many months after her initial diagnosis, followed by multiple surgeries and intense, debilitating chemotherapy, a close friend and I flew up to visit Betsy and her husband. We wanted to see her. We needed to see her. At that time, it was uncertain if she would live another 6 months. We did all we could to make it as special a weekend as possible – dinner at a fine restaurant, a comedy play (where I vividly remember her holding her husband’s hand, laying her head on his shoulder, and actually laughing!), providing prayer, words of encouragement and love. Most of all we listened to her as she poured her heart out to us.
When I left, we hugged and said, “I love you”. As I turned to leave, the storm door closed behind me. My last image of Betsy was her standing there smiling through the sun – glared glass. We waved one final time and as I walked away it suddenly hit me that this may be the last time I see her. I began to cry. Life is too short and relationships with others too dear to let the busyness of life and work keep us from remembering this. When you are having the inevitable “horrible, terrible, no good, very bad day”, remember there is still much for which to be thankful. Each day is an opportunity to bring healing and hope to those in need. You are making a difference in their lives. You are living a life that counts. Thank you for being that person.
Andy Lamb, MD