Offering Hope and Encouragement in the Midst of Sorrow

                                 Breast Cancer

  

My name is Gary and I have two daughters Melissa 6 and Megan 4. I have been widowed since Aug 19th, 2001 when my best friend and lover quietly slipped into the arms of her Savior. Melanie valiantly battled breast cancer for 21 months before being healed eternally. In 1999 Melanie first noticed a lump in her breast shortly after she had stopped nursing our youngest daughter. At first we didn't think much about it, but decided to get it checked out just to be safe. We were living in Rwanda where we are missionaries so we didn't have access to much medical care. Fortunately we were able to find a doctor who told us there probably wasn't anything to be concerned about because of no family history, but she suggested we have a mammogram done just to be sure. That was good advice, but where do you get a mammogram done in Africa? After a week of searching we finally located a clinic in a neighboring country that could do the mammogram. It was a long drive up to Uganda, but we really weren't concerned as we went and we were looking to a few days away. Our anticipation of some R&R was quickly shattered when the mammogram results came back positive and we were advised to get back to the States on the next available flight.


After a few frantic days of searching for airline seats and closing up our
house in Rwanda we arrived in cold Minnesota with no winter clothes for our
girls or ourselves. After only a day of catching our breath it was off to
Mayo Clinic. There the cancer diagnosis was confirmed and surgery was
scheduled for 2 days later. Three weeks after surgery Melanie began her 6
months of chemo treatment, and just like they had told us, she lost all her
beautiful hair after only a few weeks. Following chemo she was given a few
weeks break before starting radiation therapy. At first radiation

was a breeze compared to chemo but towards the end of the radiation therapy
Melanie began developing sharp neck pains. She was put on medications, but
they only helped minimally. We then tried chiropractors, physical
therapists, and message therapists, none of which helped for long. We
began making monthly visits to Mayo Clinic. They did repeated tests and
they assured us all along it wasn't cancer and their conclusion was that
Melanie's severe neck pains were psychosomatic because she really didn't
want to go back to Rwanda. After 9 months of frustration and excruciating
pain we went back to Mayo for yet more tests. The day before we went to
Mayo this time, it was if the Lord was beginning to prepare me. I began to
sense that things were not ok. On that fateful day, May 16th 2001 we got
up at 5 am to get to Mayo early for them to do a CT scan. After we
finished the tests we killed some time while we waited for our appointment
with our oncologist. Our appointment with the Oncologist was at 2:15 p.m.,
and at 2:35 our oncologist came in and simply said, "the news is not good".
He went on to tell us that Melanie's cancer had metastasized and was in
her lungs, brain, and it had nearly totally destroyed her top 4 vertebrae,
and there was no hope of curing her, only of slowing the cancer's growth.
He went on to say that they were so concerned about her neck breaking that
they wouldn't even let her get up from seat. She was immediately fitted
with a neck brace and wheeled off to a hospital room so they could begin 10
days of radiation to her neck to try to slow the cancer's growth.

That night as I sat with Melanie in her hospital room of course we cried
lot, but then God gave us a special measure of grace to accept and begin
planning for her death. That night we made out a list of things we wanted
to get done before her death. Some of the things were to make a scrapbook
for our girls, make videotapes and to write letters from mom for them at
major milestones in their lives. God in His mercy allowed us to accomplish
every thing on that list. Because of the severe deterioration of her
vertebrae Melanie was fitted with a halo to totally immobilize her neck.
That was a hard day for us as our youngest daughter wouldn't get close to
mom because she looked funny with this metal thing screwed into her head
and metal rods coming up from a body brace. Ten days later I got a special
birthday present in that I was able to take Melanie home from the hospital.
One of the things that we had talked about in the hospital was Melanie's
dream of one day having a home of her own. Having spent all of our married
lives as missionaries she had never really had a home of her own where she
could do as wanted. The day following her release from the hospital was
Memorial Day and we called down to the local realtor to leave a message
that we were interested in looking at some houses. He just happened to be
in the office and took us and showed us two houses that very afternoon. We
fell in love with one of the houses, made an offer on it the next day and
by evening our offer had been accepted. The owner also agreed to let us
move in right away and rent till the deal closed. So 3 days later Melanie
was able to move into her very own home.

For the next three months we had a steady stream of visitors coming to stay
with us and help take care of Melanie. Even though it was hard to watch
Melanie deteriorating, God still blessed us with three wonderful months of
transition. On Sunday morning August 19th, two ladies from church and a
missionary colleague stayed with Melanie so I could go to church with the
girls. Melanie was so weak now that she had to be carried everywhere.
Just before I left for church I had carried her out to the living room and
propped her up on the couch. At 11:30 the ladies were just finishing up a
prayer time with Melanie and when they opened their eyes Melanie breathed
her last. At exactly the same time, we were singing the closing hymn and I
stayed seated with my daughters as one of them was fussing. At that moment
while were surrounded by our church family singing, Melanie slipped into
the presence of her Lord. As people started leaving the sanctuary the word
came and so everyone went back into the sanctuary to pray for us while I
rushed home.

One of my concerns following Melanie's death was that my daughters aged 5
and 2 ½ wouldn't be able to sleep at night and would be crying all the
time. In reality there hasn't been a single night that the girls haven't
been able to go right to sleep. Since Melanie's death we have experienced
God's Grace in ways that we have never experienced before. I really
believe that having lived in a hard country like Rwanda and having gone
through the 1994 genocide really helped prepare me for Melanie's death.
During the hard times in Rwanda I saw very visibly that extremely bad
things really do happen to good people. Following Melanie's death I really
didn't struggle with the "why" question, God helped me just accept it. One
of the things I discovered was the importance of perspective. I also began
to realize that if God is really the awesome God that I sing about, then of
course there is no way I can ever begin to figure out His ways.

This last August God allowed my daughters and I to return to Rwanda where
we are continuing my ministry of Church Development. One of my goals here
is to fulfill Melanie's dream of getting an Awana program translated into
Kinyarwanda and started for the Rwandan kids. There have been challenges
in being back here, but overall again God has been very gracious in helping
us with all the adjustments to living and working here in Rwanda.