Spoke last night to my sister Ruthie Leming, who, as most of you know, is battling stage four lung cancer. As ever, she is a marvel to me. I was just telling a colleague in the hallway here at work how much I admire the way she’s dealing with her cancer. “If it were me,” I said, “I’d be holed up in my darkened bedroom reading Dostoevsky.”
“You’d be kvetching,” he said.
“Right. And I’d be blogging it all too.”
That’s not been Ruthie’s way. At. All. I asked her last night on the phone why we don’t have any prognosis from the doctors, why they haven’t given any time lines, any percentages, that sort of thing. “Do you know all this and you’re just not telling the rest of us?” I said.
“No, not at all,” she replied. “I told them from the start I didn’t want to know those things. I’m a numbers person, and if I knew the numbers, I wouldn’t be able to get them off my mind. And there’s nothing I can do to change them anyway. I told the doctors to keep that information to themselves, unless they just have to tell me, and to just tell me what I need to do. I’m going to do everything they say to do, and stay positive, and live every day with hope.”
There’s wisdom in that. Me, I’d demand every bit of information possible, on the theory that Information Is Power. And then I would brood over it incessantly. Ruthie’s right: too much information could actually get in the way of the healing process, if it becomes a mental and emotional stumbling block to fighting the cancer.
We then got to talking about all the amazing things people are doing for her and her family. There are two firefighter cookouts this weekend to raise money for her cancer fight. On April 10, they’re going to have Ruthie Leming Day in St. Francisville, and our friend and neighbor David Morgan is going to play a concert with his band. All kinds of great things are happening. Just yesterday, my folks had a visit from a friend and neighbor who said that she had been estranged for a long time from her sister, but reading on this blog about Ruthie’s experiences and wisdom, she contacted her sister and rebuilt that burned bridge. Over the weekend, a couple of family members from whom my family has been distant for the past few years came by, and my folks had a great visit with them. Healing took place, and thank God for it — all because our family members read the stories on this site about Ruthie, and were moved to reach out, God bless them. We keep hearing these stories, and they’re golden.
“Remember how you told me a couple of weeks ago that you believe you’re standing right where God wants you to be?” I said to her. “We will never know in this life what good will come from the people you inspired to mend fences with their loved ones. We can’t see God’s plan, but He has a plan.”
“That’s exactly it,” Ruthie said. “Rod, it seems like every single day the most interesting people are brought across my path.” And then she told a moving story about a suffering man she and Mike had met by apparent happenstance. They spent an hour with him, just listening to his story, and sharing their story. The whole thing, Ruthie said, was a blessing. She said she probably wouldn’t have been able to meet any of these people if not for her cancer.
“Rod, look at all I have. I mean, look at all I have! ” she said. “Okay, yeah, I have cancer. But I also have God. And I have my family. And I have all these friends, and all this love. It’s unbelievable how blessed I am.”
She went on like this, not quite saying that the cancer is a blessing (how could it be?!), but conveying the sense that her suffering with cancer has brought about so many epiphanies in her life — and, I would say, in the lives of others. There my sister is, in the crucible between life and death, fighting for her life against long odds, and she’s on top of the world, beaming, for everyone to see. Just praising God and loving everybody with all her heart, and giving thanks. Miracle is too strong a word, but only just.
(That’s Ruthie and her husband Mike, in a pre-chemo photo by Jeannie Frey Rhodes).