A Story of Courage and Hope
I love Christmas stories with a good, old-fashioned noble message, like George Bailey, who fought the evil Mr. Potter in “It’s A Wonderful Life.” and Bing Crosby as Father O’Malley in “Going My Way” and Cary Grant, as the angel, Dudley in “The Bishop’s Wife,” who taught David Niven and Loretta Young the true meaning of Christmas and love. This Christmas, I have a real-life story that I want to share with you, that illustrates those same, lovely virtues that you and I long for.
My daughter, Kelly, is a three-and-a-half year cancer-survivor who exemplifies all the best qualities of a courageous woman. After enduring and conquering the devastating regime of chemo, surgeries and radiation, two years ago, she enrolled, with a renewed spirit of victory, in graduate-school to receive her master’s degree with highest honors to become a school-counselor. Just this September, Kelly began her new career at a middle school in St. Cloud, working with sixth graders. Her heart is happiest when she is encouraging children to live their lives with hope, dignity and courage.
In September, Kelly flew through her biannually exam and was poised to begin a marvelous school year with her new coworkers and children. In late October, she stopped at a wellness clinic to seek medical attention for a sinus infection and expected to leave with an antibiotic prescription in her hand. The doctor on call wanted to take a chest X-ray, which Kelly considered unnecessary, but she dutifully acquiesced and left promptly with her meds, giving it little or no thought. Later that week, her doctor called to tell her that something suspicious was detected in the X-ray and thus began a series of tests, consultations and scans that confirmed Kelly’s cancer had returned. Disbelief, anger, heartache and tears ensued and she rapidly found herself again in battle with the foe. As she began her first of three rounds of chemo, Kelly swiftly became entrenched with all that cancer treatment entails.
This is precisely when Kelly became keenly aware of small and great blessings that were regularly occurring in her life. She has promptly given them the name “tokens of hope.” The following is only a partial list of those tokens of hope that Kelly continually receives: The actual profession of the doctor who insisted on the X-ray of Kelly’s lungs was a midwife. She was Kelly’s first token of hope. Then, Kelly began to document daily tokens, including: Kelly’s friend, Kristin who was waiting at the hospital to give her info and support on the first day of diagnosis; two cancer-survivors asked Kelly to join their prayer-group, who meet weekly to offer intentions for others battling cancer; the Poor Clare cloistered nuns who invite Kelly into their monastery chapel any time of day, where she sometimes lies on the chapel bench to listen to those lovely, heavenly voices singing vespers; Bonnie who regularly brings a meal or small gift of friendship and comfort; countless texts and emails from friends and relatives, overflowing with encouragement and solace; colleagues who have given their extra hours in lieu of Kelly’s missing an occasional day at school; seeing Laura Story, in person, sing Kelly’s favorite “Blessings” song that queries “What if your healing comes through tears.”
Kelly continued to recognize countless blessings in her life and she was incredibly touched and grateful. The tokens of hope encouraged her to be more than her usual positive self. She asked people to pray specifically that the cancer would leave her body and that she would, in the future, be an encouraging spokeswoman for cancer victims and survivors. Her enthusiasm was infectious. Her oncology staff announced that she was an inspiration to the entire department, with her optimistic and cheery disposition.
Then, came time for Kelly to don her newly acquired wig. That morning at school, while her coworkers admired her new “hair-style” she humbly admitted it was not just a new cut, but her cancer wig. They exclaimed at once, they loved it. She quickly replied “No! You aren’t allowed to love it; you can like it. And, don’t get used to it because it’s only temporary.” They were amazed at her candor and light-hearted demeanor.
Her low immune system from the chemo began to plague her with a series of colds, flu, infections and weight loss; Kelly was due for her next chemo, just weeks before Christmas. She realistically expected a delay and when her oncologist confirmed it, Kelly could only quietly inquire about the postponement that would drag out her treatments. Her doctor’s astonishing reply, “Kelly, you don’t fully understand. We aren’t only postponing this round, but we are reducing the number of treatments altogether, because the cancerous mass under your arm is completely gone!” Kelly was incredulous with joy! No round of chemo that day, just last week, meant she would be able to really, truly have a blessed, memorable, “normal” Christmas. She could write those Christmas cards with joy, she could relish baking those Christmas cookies with her daughter, Michaela, she could shop for the perfect tree with her family and spend nights sitting by the fire with her husband, John, and she could look forward to singing in the choir at Christmas Eve Mass.
I can picture my daughter this Christmas Eve, along with her inspirational singing ensemble, at her parish church, sweetly decorated with fragrant evergreens and red flowers. She will be standing next to her daughter, wearing her new hairstyle and she will be beautifully dressed in Christmas splendor. She will sing Alleluia songs of praise and worship and before she leaves, she will quietly approach the stable with humble reverence and gratitude, kneel and touch the hand of the little Babe. With great loving kindness, she will give Him her heart, in return for the tokens of hope she has received this Christmas.
Submitted by Mary Jo McCarthy, biographer and short-story author.