It's been an eerie feeling, listening to the reports of Senator Kennedy's diagnosis, in Boston and just before Memorial Day.
On 21 May 1997, my pregnant wife called me at work from her work to say she had had a moment or two of paralysis in her arm on one side, had called her ob/gyn who said something like that is not a pregnancy thing and get to the hospital right away for some tests. That was about noon.
By late afternoon, the diagnosis was in -- three cancerous brain tumours, an aggressive adenocarcinoma, about three months to live, meaning an unusually early artificial birth for our second son who would likely have serious developmental difficulties if he even survived.
You really don't need days like that in your life. Those who've had them know.
As it happened, there was a radiation oncologist from Massachusetts General Hospital doing a locum (a temporary period at another institution) here, who said the treatments available here though very good would not do much, but if we could come to Boston, a place I have known and loved for years, there was a treatment they could do, available in only one other place, that would kill these tumours though not cure the cancer, which would add another three months giving time enough for a reasonably normal birth. He was a Christian from China.
So we did. And it unfolded exactly as he said. The tumours were killed by proton therapy and the Summer passed fairly well considering the circumstances. Then in late August, about five to six weeks before the expected due date, she stopped making amniotic fluid, for reasons medically inexplicable. So our son was born by Caesarian section, came along quite well in neonatal intensive care, and went home about his due date at the start of October. Then within a week or two of that, the cancer began to spread everywhere, and she died the night before Thanksgiving, 26 November 1997, six months almost to the day from diagnosis.
Pretty amazing timing in those six months.
Even more amazing, I did not curse God and turn my face to the wall. I've been me for a while now. That is what I would do. After all the religious upheaval in my life, now this last insult from a God who doesn't exist anyway. That's me, but that isn't what happened.
When they say faith is entirely the work of the Holy Ghost, they ain't kidding. That's for real, as real as it gets. What has happened in me is entirely beyond my ability to produce.
What happened in her was beyond her ability to produce either. I remember at the hospital our vacancy pastor came by to call on her. She didn't particularly like him, found his preaching and pastoral style wooden and formal. I watched him head off to her room thinking of all the guys we get this one -- no rapport, not particularly liked by the person, not even clerical garb as a prop, nothing that is but fidelity to his call. Turns out, that was enough; she later said his visits to her in the hospital really turned it around for her, and she was ready. Hmm.
And I heard at her funeral sermon the most magnificent Gospel proclamation I think I shall ever hear -- from our new pastor just out of sem. You could not possibly have missed in that funeral sermon that the only dead people at this funeral were the ones not alive in Christ.
The sermon concluded with words I will always hear as if just spoken: a few days ago most of us celebrated a thanksgiving that lasted one day, but Nancy began one that lasts an eternity.
That's a miracle, both in that God has done this for us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in that I believe it.
I wish you well, Senator. There is not a better place on earth than Massachusetts General Hospital if you're ill, and this from a guy who about grew up in the lobby of Mayo Clinic.
The doctor from China is no longer there. His English first name became our second son's middle name -- Calvin. Probably the only cradle Lutheran kid in the world with Calvin in his name. Got nothing to do with theology.
Oh, and don't worry about calling a new sem grad. On anything that really matters, he'll be just fine. I hear we got a bunch available.
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