I couldn’t take it anymore. The constant fatigue. The muscle weakness. Needing everyone to care for me. I was supposed to be the strong one. The mother. The woman who helped everyone else. Anger burned inside me. I had to get out of the house. It was a beautiful night. The Farmington River ran nearby—only 300 feet away. It might as well have been miles. What used to take me seconds dragged on for nearly 15 minutes as I walked step by step from my back door. I was exhausted from radiation treatment for lung cancer, and my COPD made it difficult to catch my breath. I felt emotionally and physically spent. Even if I beat cancer, COPD was a life sentence, a disease without a cure.
I collapsed onto the rocky shore. Why me, God? Why are you cutting my life shortly after I’ve served you all these years? All the resentment that had been building since my diagnosis exploded. “I’m not ready to die!” I shouted to the river, but I was really talking to God. Where was my miracle? I picked up a stone and threw it as far as I could into the water.
I’d seen God perform miracles while serving as a medical missionary for such organizations as Kids First, Red Cross and FaithCare. We’d escaped bullets in Rwanda after the ethnic cleansing. In the 1990s, we’d saved lives in Haiti, Sri Lanka, and Guatemala. I’d been at it for 25 years—and loved every second—until it came to a screeching halt in 2016.
The year before, I’d been working with Kids First at a children’s orthopedic surgery clinic in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, when one day I noticed myself getting winded. I was walking uphill, and we were more than 6,000 feet above sea level. It was hot and humid. I’d been on my feet for 16 hours straight. I was 74 years old. Of course, I was winded!
Still, it bothered me enough that I called my internist when I got home.
“I’ve been having trouble catching my breath,” I said.
She knew I’d been a smoker for 50 years. What did I expect? I’d started my pack-a-day habit back in my twenties. Everybody smoked in the 1960s—it was a social thing. I smoked all through raising four kids on my own after their father and I divorced. I’d worked grueling shifts as an ICU nurse. Had smoking really caught up with me?
“Let’s try putting you on Wellbutrin,” she said. “It helps people quit. Then we’ll reevaluate.”
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