As I explained in my previous post, a mysterious encounter with a hospital staff member has prompted me to write about my experiences with major spine surgery. Following up on my promise, here is Part II of my series.
A week before my November 19 surgery, my husband’s sister was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. The entire family was in shock; they had lost another sister unexpectedly just three years before. Anne’s diagnosis was crushing news.
My husband mentioned that some of the siblings were having difficulty knowing what to say to Anne. She lived in another state and tumors in her lungs impeded her breathing, so the best option for contact was texting. But, what to say? How to say it? Anne was a quiet, reserved person as well which increased the challenge.
Then I had an idea. When a friend was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, I sent her one of the Our Lady, Undoer of Knots novena bracelets a young Catholic mom/artist makes for me. She designed it to double as a wrist rosary to go with my Our Lady, Undoer of Knots book. I sent it as a reminder of my love and promise of prayer, and it brought her great comfort. She loved taking it with her to chemo treatments and since it’s made of cord and the medal is detachable, she could take it with her to imaging, too. It seemed like a cancer diagnosis is a truly knotted affair, and who better to help than the undoer of knots?
I wanted to do the same for Anne. I discussed it with my husband and he agreed that it was a good idea. So, I chose one I thought she would especially like, packaged it up and included a note explaining the bracelet’s origin, meaning, and the experiences of my friend with breast cancer. But then I took an extra step. I picked out a bracelet for myself and included in the note a solidarity pledge of sorts, promising Anne that I’d wear my bracelet as a symbolic way of accompanying her through her recovery and a reminder to pray for her every single day. I mailed the package with hope that it would somehow do some good.
Anne loved the bracelet so much that she bought a copy of my book on Amazon (I would have sent her one for free, had I known!), and was praying the Our Lady, Undoer of Knots novena for… me. I was moved to tears when I read her text message. She was suffering terribly with the cancer and yet she spared precious time and energy for me and my recovery. Can you imagine?
Thus began a volley of text messages, sharing experiences, pledging prayers, checking up on each other and offering encouragement. I really think Anne was far better at encouraging me than I was at encouraging her. What started as my way of helping Anne ended up as Anne’s way of helping me and it was astonishing to see this normally-reserved woman blossom into a witty, wise, perceptive and insightful individual. It was a side of Anne I’d never seen before. What a gift.
Part of spine surgery recovery is walking. Every day. No matter how much it hurts. No matter whether you feel like it or not. Even though I knew it was the best thing for me, I didn’t feel like it and boy did it hurt! It didn’t help that the winter weather gave me one option: walking indoors, doing laps around our dining room table like a crazed mouse caught in a maze. For motivation, I decided to offer each walking session for Anne, praying for her as I hobbled along. Beginning with a few minutes a day, I gradually worked my way up to a few minutes twice a day, then twenty minutes, then 25 or more minutes twice daily, praying the rosary and Chaplet of Divine Mercy on my bracelet for Anne as I did my mouse maze laps. Offering it for Anne turned a dreaded chore into a joyful mission that I looked forward to. Frequently, I texted Anne just before walking, hoping to give her a boost. Frequently, I received a return text that boosted me even more.
One mid-January day, Anne experienced a complication and took a turn for the worse . A few days later, she died. How could that have happened? Her doctors were optimistic that Anne could beat the cancer.
At the funeral, her husband told me that my Our Lady, Undoer of Knots was the one book Anne had stuffed into her purse to take with her to the hospital on that final visit. She loved the book, re-reading it and praying the novena many times. He also pointed out that the scarf Anne was being buried in was one that my husband and I sent when she lost her hair from chemo. She loved that scarf.
Before the Mass began, the family was given one last chance to surround the casket and say their final goodbyes to that beautiful, peaceful face. Spontaneously, I moved forward, took off my Knots bracelet and laid it on Anne’s heart. I thanked her for all she had done for me and gave her one last pledge: I will keep walking for you, Anne, I promise.
Anne taught me how to suffer and recover well with patience, perseverance, one day at a time and by surrendering all to God. One of the last things she texted me was when I’d become discouraged over yet another setback. She pointed out that one day we’ll look back over our entire lives and see that every ordeal will have lasted only a little while. Don’t give up. One day this will all be behind you. Think Spring! she wrote.
Anne could have written that for herself, for soon her suffering would be behind her and she’d enter the Eternal Spring.