Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher

Ruthie Leming: “Look at all I have!”

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).

Comments read comments(10)
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Caroline Nina in DC

posted March 17, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Amen, amen, amen. We are all praying.

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Franklin Evans

posted March 17, 2010 at 12:42 pm

Spider Robinson said it best, in my opinion:
Just as there are Laws of Conservation of Matter and Energy, so there are in fact Laws of Conservation of Pain and Joy. Neither can ever be created or destroyed. But one can be converted into the other.
— Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon (1977)
Shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased — thus do we refute entropy.
— “Callahan’s Law”, as expressed in The Callahan Chronicals (1996) [originally published as Callahan and Company (1988)]

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Grumpy Old Man

posted March 17, 2010 at 12:47 pm

I’m not certain we can discern “God’s Plan” in the details of one life–the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, after all, but your sister seems to have brought out the good in many people.
My wishes and prayers are with her, with you and your family.

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bill holston

posted March 17, 2010 at 3:09 pm

I just sent this link to the group of men I meet with on Thursdays at my church. We are reading Where is God When it hurts? by Phillip Yancey. (quite good I think). thanks Rod for sharing Ruthie’s story. People she’s never heard of are being helped by her words and life.

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posted March 17, 2010 at 6:49 pm

That is smart, not to ask for numbers. Then she gets, more or less, to live day to day like the rest of us.
Has anyone been able to determine or give some ideas as to why on earth she may have been stricken with lung cancer. I half think I should get my house tested for radon or something. It just seems so wildly unfair for non-smokers.

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Erica Robertson

posted March 18, 2010 at 8:51 am

Hello Rod! Just wanted to let you know how proud we all are of Ruthie, too. I am one of the firemen’s wives, Erica Robertson, wife of Jerome Robertson, who just loves this woman so much.
We see it.. Her immense love through her suffering and only hope that we would respond in the same manner….just to say whatever Lord! I hope that I would do that. Thanks for writing about her. I check your blog every day in hopes for an update (though I know the reality is that you don’t always have one). I was able to meet your sweet wife while she was down here. She is full of love…you can see it in her eyes. I am praying for you guys! Keep on keepin’ on!
Erica Robertson

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posted March 18, 2010 at 9:13 am

My best wishes for Ruthie’s recovery.

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Janice Fox

posted March 18, 2010 at 2:51 pm

My prayers for Ruthie and her family that they may be blessed with her presence in the years to come.

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posted March 19, 2010 at 12:22 pm

And my prayers that she find many, many happy days.

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Rawlins Gilliland

posted March 21, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Lovely. What a lovely person, a valuable person, Ruthie. Thank God this did not happene while Mike was in Iraq!
My sister Ann is my only sibling & out parents both died during the Nixon years. So to lose Ann would be to lose my family. She is of course also blessed to have her parents. Those who are middle aged, old enough to be grandparents themselves, still take for granted having their parents here on Earth with them when it fact it is a blessing more than they can ever know. By the time I was your age, Rod, my parents werre both dead more than a decade earlier.
As such I ache for what this is doing to your beloved parents. To see the life of their child threatened so severely is merciless. You are blessed to have Ruthie & she you because your faith bonds you more even than your DNA. In any case, I would love to meet her. She’s a delicious spirit who has her priorities lined up like Christian soldiers. God bless her and you all.

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