Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Our beautiful, horrible cancer day

Back home in the country from a long day at the hospital. The word from the oncologist was pretty grim. Ruthie is in Stage Four. They rushed Ruthie into radiation therapy at once after he read her latest MRI results. We have to hope and pray they can knock out the cancer in her brain so they can start with chemotherapy to work on the cancer elsewhere. The oncologist was staggered by how aggressive this cancer is. Five weeks ago, there was scarcely a sign of this on her MRI. And now, it’s in a number of places.
I wish I had the words to express how brave my sister is. I write this through tears tonight — tears not of sadness for her, though God knows that’s there, but tears of admiration. Who among us could get such news today, and react with such evenness? Not me. She apologized to her husband, saying softly, “I’m sorry, I was hoping for better news.” Later in the day, I spoke with Dr. Tim Lindsey, her GP, and we talked about how astonishingly courageous she’s been throughout this short, terrible ordeal. He went on about how she’s not wanted to hide from anything, and how she’s withstood horrific blows without bowing. Dr. Tim and I agreed that there is something miraculous about the witness she’s showing to the rest of us, in how to suffer. He said that however long she has to live, whether it’s weeks or years or decades, her children will always remember the courage under fire — Hemingway’s definition of grace — that their mother showed in these days.
But you know, she’s not the only one. I am glad you were not there in the hospital today when Ruthie and Mike told their girls the news. You can imagine how heartbreaking it was for everyone. And yet, the moment passed. The children’s father, Mike, is hurting hard, but he’s also holding up his little family. This is the man who got the Bronze Star in Iraq for the incredible work he did supporting fellow troops logistically. He is tempered steel. These three girls — Hannah, Claire and Rebekah — are ravaged by grief, but they are also rallying to their mother’s side. The way that family is coming together for each other now is so beautiful and poignant it hurts to look at it, but you can’t look away because there is a lesson in truth and love, and indeed in life, playing out for us all.
If you don’t believe in love, you should come to Our Lady of the Lake hospital, and to this community, to see what I’m seeing. I won’t even start listing the people who have poured themselves out for us, because I’m afraid I’ll forget somebody. If you can judge a person by the quality and devotion of their friends, then surely Ruthie and Mike are among the finest people in the world. Firefighter friends, National Guard friends, schoolteacher friends, family members, neighbors — all helping, all loving, all saying, in their own way, what do you need? what can we do? let us help you through this, please. Even the nurses in this wing of the hospital got together and bought the little girls presents, and told them, Come talk to us anytime. A nurse named Chantina is the primary nurse caring for my sister, and look, after only three days, she’s like a member of the family. Really and truly. My mother hugged her and kissed her on the way home tonight. When we got home, there was waiting for us an icon Philadelphia friends had overnighted us: St. Ruth and St. Naomi, “for your Ruthie.” I showed it to my dad, who wept that strangers would do this for us.
How is it that people who barely even know us can be so good to us? Ruthie’s suffering is calling forth all this love. Tonight as I kissed her and told her goodnight, she told me how much she loved seeing me get closer to her girls. I’ve never had the opportunity to spend much time with them, because our visits here in the past have been so short. This is a small thing, but not a trivial one. God knows we would all rather this cup pass by Ruthie, but it must be said that even as darkness increases, the light increases that much more.
I read this post, and I think it must sound like I’m emotional, and laying the sentimentality on thick, because we’re going through a stressful time. Like I said, I don’t want to discuss this in detail, because I haven’t seen everything, but I will let one example speak for the kind of thing we’re witnessing here. Ruthie’s general practitioner, as I’ve said, is Dr. Tim Lindsey, whom she began to see at the beginning of this ordeal in January. Tim is a local guy who returned to St. Francisville to set up a medical practice with his friend, Dr. Chaillie Daniel. What kind of young doctors are these, and what kind of town is this? Look at this excerpt from a 2005 New York Times article about how St. Francisville stepped up to help Katrina refugees who showed up in town:


At Fred’s Pharmacy, the Police Jury picked up the tab for filling prescriptions for the week until a foundation took over. The sick turned to the splendid new clinic of Chaillie P. Daniel and Timothy R. Lindsey, young family doctors.
“Everyone was seen,” Dr. Lindsey said. “In September we saw 250 evacuees. Of the 250, about half could not pay and had no insurance. For the most part they were people running out of medicines or needing preventive care, routine labs, tetanus, hepatitis.”
Dr. Daniel said, “We treated postoperative people.” One lady had had two knees replaced 48 hours earlier. “She had no follow up,” he said. “She came in in a wheelchair. We had a lady with acute pancreatitis, in a lot of pain. She definitely would have required a hospital. She wanted to fly to San Francisco. We looked up a doctor in San Francisco, and she had surgery the next day.”
As for the payments, Dr. Lindsey said: “We have kept track of it as office overhead. We will probably turn in some charges to FEMA, but we don’t know if we will be paid.”


Tim and his wife Laura are Christians active with the Young Life group in town, to which my niece Hannah belongs. Someone from town who came by to visit the hospital today said, “Oh, you can’t imagine how lucky we are to have Tim in town.” I know that Tim has been an incredibly calming influence on Ruthie and everyone in my family through this. He’s given them the gift of time and attention, even after hours. You hear the stories about this guy and his compassion, and you can’t believe they make doctors like this anymore. But there he is … and there he was today, all six-foot-four of him, when I got back from taking a walk with my mom. He had been on the phone with the oncologist, and was gently and thoroughly explaining what it all means to us outside Ruthie’s room. Then he went into Ruthie’s room to talk to her children, who were still distraught. I don’t know what he said to them, but after he left, they were okay. Before he left, he hugged Hannah, gave her his private cellphone number, and told her if ever she was scared for her mom or needed to talk, even if it was in the middle of the night, to just call.
“Half the town has Tim’s personal cell phone number,” someone told me later. “That’s just the kind of doctor he is.”
I walked out with him to the parking garage to tell him how much his care for Ruthie and her family meant to all of us, and what a comfort it was being so far away in Philadelphia to hear from my parents all the time how safe they all felt in his care. He was very modest about it all, and said that this is the privilege of being a small-town doctor. You don’t see your patients as clients. You see them as people. You know their histories, you know their suffering takes place within a personal context, and you can treat the whole person — not only their body, but also their heart and soul. He said he wouldn’t trade it for anything.
“Not all doctors are healers,” I told him. “You’re a healer.”
(No surprise there; look who his father was.)
Something beautiful and important is going on in all this pain and grief, a drama that may well turn out to be a tragedy, but which will also be a triumph. We would not choose this, but in time, we may count ourselves blessed to have been witness to it, and a part of it. Grace abounds, in the love and fidelity of family and friends. As Ruth said to Naomi:


“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

We are all going with our Ruth, all of us, and with our Mike and our girls, too, right through that fire. Believe me, not every miracle is the one you ask for, but that doesn’t make what you get any less of a miracle.

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posted February 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Thank you, Rod, for posting these updates. We are long time friends of Ruthie and Mike’s. We love them dearly like everyone who has ever met them loves them. They are wonderful people and are truly a blessing to us. We are heartbroke for them, and are praying earnestly for Ruthie’s healing and the family’s peace and comfort. Thanks again for keeping us updated. Tell them we love them and are praying.

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Jennifer Bickham

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:26 pm

I have been patiently awaiting this blog entry all evening. Rod, you have such a way with words….I feel what you say and I know where you are coming from…..when you speak of your precious sister.
I teach with Ruthie….well really she teaches me…with her kind, caring, gentle, fun-loving nature…….
Fighting back tears…I have been through the whole spectrum of emotions in this past week…..sadness, anger, confusion. Aside from all of this, there is one common thing…PRAYER! And that is just what we have done! Our whole school system is prayerfully rallying behind Ruthie and her precious family….we just wish there was more we could do….until there is… we will continue to PRAY!
Ruthie has been a source of strength to me on many occasions….I ran my first 5K with her… the last stretch of the run, I fell…..she didn’t let me stay there and feel sorry for myself…she said, “Jen are you ok?….you worked too hard…you have to finish this….I’ll help you…” and she did…we crossed that finish line together. No, we didn’t win….but I won a true friend….an angel who picked me up and encouraged me when I was down!
And that’s just want I want to do for her…I want to help her up and be with her at that finish line……conquering the “Big C” that is ravaging her body and plaguing her family.
Thank you Rod for the updates and words of comfort and joy. Please continue…we’ll be reading them at school as well.

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Meleia McLean

posted February 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Thanks for your blog! I had no idea all this was going on! Ruthie was my daughters 6th grade teacher. My daughter is now in her 3rd year at LSU and yet I remember it like it was yesterday! She was so willing to make sure my daughter thrived yet she did it in a very loving, compassionate and caring way! I think she was one of my daughters favorite teachers because she cared so much! Please keep us updated and know that our prayers are with you all.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 12:56 am

Unlike the people above, I do not know either you or your family, but I’m very touched by your sister’s courage and what you’ve written. Your writing is not too emotional or too sentimental; it’s honest. I think it’s some of the best you’ve written. My prayers are with you and your family.
On another note, nurses are amazing. My grandmother’s care, two weeks ago when things started looking bleak, never failed to be amazing. We became close to them as well. It takes a special kind of person to do what they do.

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Rick Supplee

posted February 19, 2010 at 6:16 am

I so admire your strength in the face of Ruthie’s trials. How hard it must be to see the cancer spreading. I admire your willingness to support the doctors caring for her and to open up your trials to the communith.

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Tamie Miller

posted February 19, 2010 at 6:32 am

Having been a member of this community for over 15 years I am amazed…too often it seems…how this parish will rally together when one of our own is struck with unseemable obstacles. Everywhere I go and everyone I talk to the question is the same, “Why Ruthie”. I guess our God has heard that a million or more times in the past couple of days. Thank you for your blog posts. These updates are a wonderful way to keep us all informed. Ruthie has a wonderful family and vast network of people who love and adore her. She and the family will pull strength from that network over the weeks and months to come. God Bless Ruthie and her entire family.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 6:33 am

Rod, just reading the comments above, it makes me smile to know that so many of Ruthie’s friends are reading your beautiful words – maybe some for the first time. Your musings and grapplings with the “big questions” have been part of my day for years now – one that I look forward to and depend on. But it occurs to me that these updates about your sister may be some of the most important work you’ll ever do. While you’re there in your hometown, marveling at the love of family and friends, please know that your blog “family” is out here, too – reading and praying. You have many, many people who care.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 7:09 am

Dear Brother, shedding tears for you and Ruth and your whole family right now. Thanks for sharing your pain. I will remember this whenever I am asked to pick up a cross as well….

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posted February 19, 2010 at 9:27 am

Thank you so much for the update.
I don’t know why but your words are very comforting to us at a time when there is a feeling of not being able to do anything, but do not doubt prayer is ongoing.
Much love to Ruthie and her family!

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posted February 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

I lost my mom to cancer two years ago. I know what you’re going through. You’re in my prayers.

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Clare Krishan

posted February 19, 2010 at 11:05 am

Prayers from PA: I made a holy hour last night in front of the Blessed Sacrament for y’all and inscribed your intentions in the chapel prayer book. Truely, Ruthie is “gleaning” many graces … and not a “kernel” of his Truth is being wasted, thank you for letting your readers share in this very personal trial.

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Beth Adams Lindsey

posted February 19, 2010 at 11:29 am

Rod — Ruthie, Mike, the girls, your parents, you, are all in our prayers constantly. Like everyone else here in St. Francisville, we are all searching for something tangible to do for all of you but it seems that the most important thing that we CAN do is pray and let you all know that you are loved, supported, and that we ARE praying, not only for her healing but for all of you as you watch her face this so courageously.

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Jim H

posted February 19, 2010 at 11:35 am

What MargaretE said ….
You are so right that there is a beauty and goodness that can come out and make itself manifest in these terrible moments, and make one cry simply for the generosity and caring of so many people.

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Jeff Sullivan

posted February 19, 2010 at 12:14 pm

Just to reiterate, Rod, the prayers are flying for Ruthie up here in Canada as well. And I agree with Sherry, above: I think this is the best writing from you I’ve ever read.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Your blog is a blessing for me. The wonder working Icon, “She Who is Quick to Hear” will be in St. Herman’s Church in Gradyville PA on March 20 and 21 and I will bow down to Our Lady to pray for your sister, you, and all your family.

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Chuck Bloom

posted February 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm

The best writers are able to take us inside their hearts and sould, to feel the pain and blood roaring through their body. These words makes one cry for you, your sister – both in sadness for the crisis and for the bravery exhibited.
At some point, you need to re-gather all these blogs/words and put them into book form – proceed to some worthy charity fighting this disease or to help families cope. I’ll be the first to buy.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 12:47 pm

Rod, My heart goes out to you and your family. May God be with Ruth and her family throughout all of this….through the prayers of the Theotokos, Lord Jesus Christ bless Thy servants with peace and love.

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bill holston

posted February 19, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Your words are a blessing to me Rod, and to many. there’s lots of love shooting your way, and the way of your family.

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Triche Aucoin

posted February 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm

Rod – Ruthie, Mike and the girls are friends of our family. We love them dearly and like everyone else are willing to do anyting that needs to be done for them at any time it is needed. Please just tell Mike or Hannah to give us a call – 784-8975 or 719-2321. Your family is in our thought and prayers. May god keep you all in the confort of his loving arms.

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Lindsay Dreher

posted February 19, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Please tell Ruthie, Mike, the girls, Aunt Dot & Uncle Ray they are all in my prayers. You too are in my thoughts. Please let me know If i can do anything, no matter how small.
With Much Love,

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Michelle Cutrer Vannoy

posted February 19, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I, my family and so many friends are so devastated to hear this most terible news about Ruthie. I just saw Ruthie and Mike at a football game between Parkview and West Feliciana and it was so nice to see them. Ruthie is such a beautiful person and always has been and the love that she and Mike have shared for so many years is something that one can only wish for. They and their girls are such a beautiful family and are so undeserving of such a harsh sickness. I lost my husband 2 1/2 years ago when our son was 2 years old so I can understand the grief that they are feeling. I am praying for Ruthie and all of her loved ones. God bless all of you and I will continue to pray for peace and healing.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I am a long time reader, and your writings on faith and life have long been a source of inspiration to me. I lifted your sister and your family in prayer during prayer requests in church during our Lenten service today, and I will continue to do so. My mother had cancer this summer, and I thought that there were no words for the experience. However, you have managed, with your gift of expression, to put some of the feelings I had into writing, and it is a healing experience for me to read them. I am blessed — my mother is cancer free today. I hope and pray for the same for your sister.

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posted February 19, 2010 at 6:58 pm

I’ve been trying to make an effort for Lent to cut down on blog reading, and so I didn’t know about this. Very sorry for this difficult time in your family. You will be in our thoughts and prayers.

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Colleen C.

posted February 19, 2010 at 7:15 pm

I’ve been a reader of yours for quite a while. My family is praying for your sister. She sounds like a wonderful person. Feeling so sad for her family too. Tearing up just reading your blog. Prayed for Ruthie at my local Adoration Chapel. God Bless. Colleen

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Susan Smith

posted February 19, 2010 at 9:01 pm

Ruthie, you are so strong with lots of people who care for you and your family. You and your family are in our thoughts and prayers.

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Paul Pfaff

posted February 19, 2010 at 10:27 pm

You are not having difficulty praying now, just difficulty recognizing it. Your gift of noticing the love and capturing it so beautifully in words is a prayer – a very important prayer. Blessings to you and your sister in such difficult times.

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Debbie (Jones) Roundy

posted February 20, 2010 at 11:23 pm

Thanks for the update. I have been where you family is and believe me it is not easy and it will be the biggest fight of her life but a fight worth fighting!! My husband was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer 5 yrs ago- with surgery, chemo and radiation he has been cancer free for 4 years now. I know how all of you are feeling! I have been right where MIke is and my girls have been where there girls are. Although it is not a nice place to be they will grow closer to one another and be stronger for it.
Find yourself on your knees frequently and it is okay to be angry and upset-it is part of the process.
Keep the faith and stay positive. Embrace each other and find strength in each other.

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posted February 22, 2010 at 1:56 am

Rod, I know Ruthie and she is truly an amazing person. She was my oldest son’s math teacher. I read your posts and of course your comments about Dr. Lindsey. I will say he is also a wonderful physician. I was also seeing a family physician in the area with symptoms that weren’t paid attention too. I got aggravated and did the same…went to Dr. Lindsey’s group for a second opinion. He and Dewana were both instrumental in getting me in with a specialist in Baton Rouge who ran the right tests and was able to diagnose me and put me on a regimen of medications. Ruthie making the decision to see Dr. Lindsey was truly a miracle in and of itself. She took control of her situation. Can you imagine the people who don’t? I will absolutely be praying for Ruthie, Mike, the girls, and your entire family.

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Shelley Abreu

posted June 23, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I was touched by your post. Three weeks ago I learned my six year old daughter has leukemia. We too are walking through a fire of both pain and abundant love. I’m a freelance writer and also keep a blog if you ever want to read about another family dealing with cancer. My prayers are with your sister.

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