Journey Among Angels
By: Judy Ware
When Vicki asked me to write a small story about myself for the site, I struggled to think of one special occasion or event that stood out from all others. Then I realized that probably the best contribution I could post would actually be a letter that I wrote 15 years ago to my family and friends. It sums up quite nicely a lot of “who I am” and also gives me the opportunity to (once again) thank a lot of very important people in my life.
In January of 1995 (at the age of 43) I was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. With only three months to live, my options were limited. I didn’t have a match in the bone marrow registry, so I decided to undergo a rigorous regiment of chemotherapy instead. For the next four years (yes, every single day for four solid years) I turned myself into a walking neon sign. To say I “glow” is the understatement of the year. If you prop me on the front porch on a dark night, I still believe I could light up the neighborhood! It always felt a little strange to have the nurses (wearing all kinds of protective clothing and gloves) shoot the very stuff that they didn’t want to even touch right into my veins. It worked though!! Here I am, fifteen years later – – as ornery as ever. The REAL medicine did not come in a syringe or pump though. It came from the love and support of so many wonderful people around me. I wrote this letter for them. Although it has been 15 wonderful years in remission, every word still rings true. Therefore, I thought I would share my thanks once again and my story – with you – now.
Dearest Friends and Family,
I’ve been trying for months now to write this letter. For once in my life, I find myself totally at a loss for words. Please bear with me as I attempt to put my thoughts on paper.
January found me headed into some pretty unchartered waters in my life. There wasn’t a lot of time to prepare for this trip, and the things that one would normally take along suddenly seemed unnecessary and worthless. The “essentials,” however, became very clear and unmistakable. I tried to stock up on my supply of humor and laughter – they make a good life raft when the waters get rough. I also tucked inside a magnitude of memories – reminders of all the blessings and wonders I’ve been allowed to experience. I found these invaluable because (at times when one is tempted to mourn for “what might have been”) it is such a boost to rest in those golden moments of blessings that have been and can never be taken away. It also helps us to recognize the new blessings that come every day if we only stop to see them. I took all the humor and memories and blessings and carefully wrapped them up in my satchel of “HOPE.” Each item could be pulled out as needed and they have been needed often.
Tucking my treasures close to my heart, I put on the only garment I needed for this particular trip (or any trip) – an armor of faith. I have never questioned God’s hand in all of this. He continues to be my guide and I know that there is no part of this journey where He will not be there to offer me help and comfort. As the saying goes, “I do not fear tomorrow – God is already there.” When my little boat gets tossed around a bit, I’ve found that faith is the one, true, safe harbor.
Cancer is not a respecter of the human spirit. It seeks to bring out the most vulnerable, frightened side to us and it often strives to diminish us into mere numbers or statistics. That is where all those “essentials” play such an important part. Humor, memories, and faith have enabled me to acknowledge that yes, I have cancer, but cancer does NOT have me.
And so, armed with my best weapons, I set out on this journey into rough seas. I knew from the very beginning that this would be an interesting trip because, ironically, my first obstacle was to face one of my great fears – the fear of being alone. That sounds so simple, and yet it is quite complex.
There is the “loneliness” that exists just from living in a military lifestyle. Family and friends are scattered all over the world, and although you know they are there in spirit, miles and money often prevent them from being there in person. The medicinal benefits of a smile or hug cannot be measured.
There is also the isolation that can come simply from having an illness. Some friends stay away because they honestly don’t know how to deal with it. Rather than say something wrong, they choose to say nothing at all. Others are uncomfortable around it because it hits too close to home and brings out their own fear. Whatever the reason, many patients find themselves missing human contact at the very time they need it most.
This is where you all come in. In my fears of loneliness, I had not taken into account the incredible blessing of family and friends like you. You have been there for me from the very first day of diagnosis and every day since. There are no words to ever thank you enough for that. You can never fully realize the impact that you have had on my health and healing, and it is no exaggeration for me to say that I literally feel like I owe you my life. I have been so upheld by your prayers and your good wishes, and you have “been there” for me at times when you probably didn’t even know it; always adding sunshine to my days.
At times when the mirror has not exactly been my friend and I have been tempted to feel a little war torn, you have always managed to look beyond the wig, the scars, and the bruises – and somehow make me feel whole; even pretty. Your acceptance bolstered my ability to takes risks with others. When the “normalcy” of my life has been replaced by doctors and tests and blood counts, you have allowed me to step back into the circle of your love and friendship. You’ve let me “join in,” work, feel useful and productive.
You have prayed with me, you have cried with me, and you have laughed with me. It has been virtually impossible to ever feel sorry for myself with such a cheering section behind me. I am truly awed and humbled by your kindness. Thank you for making my “trip” a little easier and for the unique way each and every one of you has touched my life. I feel like I’ve already gotten a glimpse of Heaven, for I have truly trod among Angels.
I love you all,
I have been blessed with fifteen remarkable years since this letter was written, but not a day passes that I don’t remember (with great love and gratitude) all the angels in my life.