Thursday, March 25, 2010


I shared Elizabeth's story here a long, long time ago when I was a new blogger.  Here is what I said nearly three and a half years ago:

I met Jean ten years ago when I was part of a clinical pastoral education group and serving as a chaplain at a large inner city teaching hospital. It was my first day on the oncology floor and the last thing I wanted to do was to walk into the room that housed a 16-year-old girl, newly admitted. I'd expected the oncology floor to hold a much older population. But walk in, I did, and thus began a relationship that would be intense over the next eight months. Elizabeth had broken her arm in a car accident, and in the local emergency room in upstate Pennsylvania the x-rays had shown a bone tumor close to her shoulder. The tumor was malignant and would need to be removed. But first Elizabeth would need to undergo many rounds of in-hospital chemotherapy in an attempt to shrink the tumor before the surgery. In all likelihood, Elizabeth would lose her arm to cancer in an effort to preserve her life.

By way of an odd coincidence, I was connected to this patient and her family. They came from a "town that nobody ever heard of" that was about three hours away from Philadelphia. The same town where my father-in-law lived. Elizabeth's parents, Jean and her husband, were his veterinarians. They knew my father-in-law and they knew his Brittany spaniel and his spiteful cat even better.

It turned out that Jean, then, became my patient rather than Elizabeth. Every few weeks when Elizabeth would be admitted for her chemo, I'd pick Jean up and we'd go to the cafeteria where she could share her fears, her worries, without Elizabeth's having to hear them. During this time usually the social worker would visit Elizabeth so that she, too, could share. Jean and I became close.

On the day of the operation, I was with Jean and her husband when the surgeon came out to report to them. I stayed long enough to hear him say, "We were able to save her arm," and then I went back up to the oncology floor, happy to be the bearer of good news in a setting where there was precious little of that.

This wasn't the whole story, however.  When I found the chemo nurse on the onc floor and told her that Elizabeth's tumor was gone and her arm was saved, she wasn't elated.  Instead, she said to me, "Well, that may well be.  But that arm will be totally useless; it will just hang by her side and atrophy."  How quickly my joy turned to confusion.  I didn't really know how to feel.  I'd been praying for preservation of the arm; I guess I thought it went without saying/praying that the preserved arm would be functional. 

My clinical pastoral education experience came to a close that very week.  I never had the opportunity to visit Elizabeth or Jean on the floor again.

Six months later, at Christmas, I received a card from Jean.  "If you're ever in the neighborhood," she said.  But no mention of Elizabeth's useless, atrophied arm.  I guessed the family was thankful she was alive, thankful she had the arm.  The prospects at the get-go hadn't been all that optimistic.

The following summer my husband and I were invited to a surprise party for his father.  We needed a place to change into our party finery following a long car ride, and it couldn't be Pop's place.  I emailed Jean.  We followed her directions out to a beautiful property with an amazing view.  It was good to see her, to see her husband, and to introduce these important people to Joe.  Elizabeth had finished her first year of college and wasn't living at home.  But she had come by that day and was inside making lunch.  I felt shaky and nervous and my stomach was tied up in knots.  I didn't know if I could bear to see this beautiful girl with her useless limb.

And then the door opened.  And she came out.  Carrying a plate with a sandwich in one hand.  And a glass of milk in the other.  It was all I could do not to cry right then and there, with the joy of a year before now an honest-to-God reality.

Over the years the Christmas cards have continued with quick check-ins. Elizabeth graduated college.  She started a photography business.  Elizabeth married.  Life was good.

And today I received a most welcome message:  Two weeks ago, Elizabeth gave birth to a little boy.  And this time I didn't need to hold back the tears.  Tears of pure joy.


Karen said...

Praise God!
Your story has just blessed my heart this morning!

Penny said...

When I got to the end, my chest went thick, breathing quickened and my eyes burned. Lovely, lovely. Thank you for that.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

Jut goes to show that only God knows the future and that nurse isn't God.

Nancy said...'s all about faith.

Elizabeth had it... the nurse didn't understand.

carole ann said...

What a wonderful story, so happy for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing; the story made my morning.

quiltmamajb said...

Thank you for sharing touched my heart.

creativedawn said...

I don't care what anyone says to the contrary...God works in mysterious ways ... his wondrous works behold! Awesome story! Thanks for sharing it.
God bless you..

creativedawn said...

I don't care what anyone says to the contrary...God works in mysterious ways ... his wondrous works behold! Awesome story! Thanks for sharing it.
God bless you..

altar ego said...

Okay, I am crying now, too. These are the best stories. Too often, it seems, we are afraid to tell them for fear of inspiring hope against the odds for others whose stories don't turn out this way. But Elizabeth's story is to be cheered and celebrated, and we should cry tears of joy. Thank you for touching my heart this morning.

StitchinByTheLake said...

Someone told me recently that God is in charge of the calendar, not us, and we might roll the dice but He controls where they land (Proverbs 16:33). I love this story! blessings, marlene

Annie of Blue Gables said...

Oh I DO love a happy ending. Thank you for sharing.
the only unclear thing was why your job there was so short.
Thanks for the uplifting and wonderful story.
I have a beautiful daughter who had cancer 13 years ago and still hasn't been able to get pregnant. But she is still cancer free. We thank God for her life.

Char said...

Thank you for sharing. I'm still crying. God is good!

Judi said...

Thank you, Nancy, for sharing this with us.

I'm now going to bed with a tear in my eye, and an uplifted heart.

anne bebbington said...

Never was a baby so precious - thanks for sharing Nancy - a lovely uplifting post

Liz said...

just the beautiful story I needed this evening, thanks for sharing. Hope you have a lovely time at the quilt show on Friday

quiltmom said...

It is very hard to think of a young woman on an oncology ward. What a touching story- Congratulations to Elizabeth and her family on the birth of the new baby. Thanks Nancy for sharing your moving story- Your eyes were not the only ones that were wet with joyous tears. Thanks for sharing...

AnnieO said...

You are a gifted storyteller, and the happy ending is definitely joyful! Glad you were able to be there for this family in so many ways.

Tanya said...

What a wonderful story. God does work miracles.

Lori said...

What a story! And she can hold her precious newborn using both hands and arms!!

Mimi said...

We are the ones who put limitations on God not the other way around. His miracles are all around us every day. Thanks for sharing this one.