Mom called me on Tuesday, December 12, 1978. I had taken my family to Paxton to visit with them the previous Friday. She sounded a bit weaker than usual. First, she reported that Dad had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, but not to worry, his doctor was very encouraging. No surgery, just hormone treatments.
Then she dropped the bombshell. She was in Burnham City Hospital, recovering from a complete hysterectomy. Her doctor had found cancer in her as well, and they had scheduled the surgery immediately. “I am fine,” she said.
“Why didn’t you tell me Friday?” I wanted to ask, but knew better than to say it.
She continued anyway, “I knew you were busy getting everything ready for services and lots of people needing you. I wanted to be able to tell you about this when everything was settled. The doctor gave me the good news—he thinks they took care of it with the surgery.”
“That’s good to hear. I’ll be there in two hours,” I said.
“You don’t need…” she started.
“I’ll be there in two hours. I love you,” I said, firmly. The conversation went on for a few more moments, but apart from her “I love you, too” response, and her apology for not being able to gather the family for the holidays, I do not remember more.
When we met in her hospital room, she still wanted to talk about the family gathering. “I was ready for everyone to come. Maybe we can get together later, maybe in March.”
I tried to reassure her that March would be fine. Jesus was born in the spring or summer anyway, when the shepherds were in the fields with the sheep. We prayed together for her and Dad’s healing and for some of the other people who always were her concern. I saw her again before her discharge, and everything was going well, except for her sadness about the family get-together. On the next Friday, the 22nd, we went to Paxton again, carrying a small Christmas tree and a small Hanukkah menorah. We started lighting the candles. “A great miracle happened here,” we said on the first candle, “You both found the cancer early and have done quickly what you needed to do to treat it.”
The family gathered around the tree in March and celebrated Christmas. For the next Christmas Eve, their 45th Wedding Anniversary, we celebrated with a surprise reception in their honor, with many friends and family members coming together. Mother lived twelve more years, Dad another twenty-seven, in relatively good health.