The battle began in 1976. Ann entered the hospital to remove a benign cyst, and instead had a radical mastectomy. The innocent-looking cyst hid a developing cancer. She recovered with no further treatments, except therapy exercises. We rejoiced in her cancer-free status until a day in August, 2008, when Ann called me at my job and invited me out to dinner.
We were settled in, dinner orders placed, before Ann broke the news. A doctor’s appointment had revealed a mass—probably cancerous—in her abdomen. Surgery was scheduled for August 29.
She asked, “How do you feel? What do you think?”
Despite my shock and alarm, I held her hands and said, “Honey, I love you. We are in this together, but whatever we’re facing, the decisions are yours. It’s your body, and whatever you choose, I will back you. You are the one in charge. Your choice will be my choice, with my full love and support.”
We prayed together, trusting ourselves to the Lord of Love and committing our will to His. We also made the decision to move up the date of my pending retirement from December 31, 2008, to October 13, so I could support Ann as she dealt with the effects of her decisions.
Ann chose surgery. Pathology said ovarian cancer, and the battle was on.
Her doctor was not only a skilled surgeon, but also a close friend. He recommended Ann work with a gynecological oncologist. In spite of Ann’s weakness, the oncologist recommended more extensive surgery, and on September 16, doctors removed more cancer. On September 18, Ann required an emergency procedure, during which she aspirated fluids. She was placed on life support.
A few days later, her doctor reported, “It looks like she’s developing an infection and may need more surgery.”
In the hospital chapel, I cried out to God. “Lord, she can’t stand another surgery. Please, heal her. Use medicine or take her Home—wholly healed.”
The worrisome site on her body began to disappear. On October 2, the hospitalist told me, “She’s back!”
The doctors discontinued life support. On October 10, 2008, we returned to the home I’d feared she’d never see again. During Ann’s long convalescence, God’s Family immersed us in love. Along with other care, they provided so much food, we gave much away. As Ann regained strength, she began followup treatments. After a round of chemo, there was no sign of cancer. How thankful we were!
I rejoiced to the oncologist, “She’s cancer free!”
Her response reinforced reality. “NO! Once you have cancer you always have cancer. She’s in remission.”
That proved true. With another round of chemo and one of radiology, she seemed to make good progress for several years. Then, in 2013, her health deteriorated—again. The oncologist requested a family conference with Ann, our children, Scott and Pam, our son-in-law, Todd, and me. During the conference, the doctor recommended an entire-family vacation—a strong hint.
Pam and Todd had reservations for a house on North Carolina’s Outer Banks, and invited us to join them. What a refreshing time! I think we sensed it was our last hurrah as a family.
Arriving home from vacation, Ann began suffering effects of the cancer’s return. She was so sick. I would hold her and pray, “Lord, please don’t let her suffer. Take her Home where she can be whole.”
But, Ann was a fighter. She’d battle back, although a little weaker each time.
Then came the oncologist’s words, “. . . nothing more we can do.”
One more procedure offered to alleviate some suffering. We headed to surgery on August 6, 2013, unaware Ann had spent her last night at home. The operation was long and difficult. She came from OR on life support—again.
One blunt doctor said, “You know, she’ll never leave the hospital alive.”
I shared this with the surgeon who replied, “He could be right. Then, again, he could be wrong.”
The blunt doctor was wrong! Ann fought her way back and on August 22, she left the hospital for the healthcare center, to receive therapy and recovery. She seemed briefly to be improving, but then, I saw her weary, embattled body gradually winding down. On March 28, 2014, she won the battle, and went Home to Heaven—completely healed.
Do I miss her? Oh, how I miss her. Would I call her back from her new home and healing? Never! I will live as long as the Lord wills, nourishing and cherishing her memory alive in my heart, and greeting each day with wonder at what the Lord still has for me.
After Ann’s death, I found a Gaither song on the piano—one of the last Ann ever played. I’ve kept it and often find myself singing its words:
My faith still holds on to the Christ of Calvary,
O, blessed Rock of Ages cleft for me.
I gladly place my trust in things I cannot see,
My faith still holds on to the Christ of Calvary.
Until then . . . .
— Rev. Don Gllenn