Thursday, Feb 23, 2012
Last day of “our trip.” My mom used to say, “We looked forward to it for so long and now it’s over!” Well, yes, I looked forward to it but it was really with true trepidation that it would ever even happen! Just a few days before we left, I was in tears whining to my poor husband that it looked liked some of the crucial parts of this trip might not come to fruition despite all of our greatest efforts.
And now, it’s over and unlike many times in life, I can say without the slightest hesitation that this experience went far beyond anything I could have ever dreamed of. The lives that were touched, the people that were given a chance at life, the connections that were made, the friendships that were forged, the hope that was given were more than most could hope for in a lifetime.
Actually, it was almost surreal. Puja and I looked at each other at the end of the day yesterday and said “Did this really happen or are we just in a dream?” While I’m sure that as with everything else in life, we’ll be brought back to reality quickly but for at least this moment, everyone involved in this effort can really smile with real tears of joy and say “Yes, job well done!!”
One of the last patients of the day yesterday broke down in tears after her “LEEP” cone biopsy. For those of you who don’t know what that is, I think Puja explained it best to the patient when she said to her, “Don’t worry…..it’s just a little electricity!!!”
As I watched this patient cry, I wondered if she was in pain so I asked her what we could do to make her feel better. She then threw her arms around me sobbing and said, “ I will never forget all of you for the rest of my life; your group, your team, all of you – I will ask God to bless you every day. Thank you for curing me!” She couldn’t stop sobbing.
It wasn’t her thank you that I needed; none of us needed any thank you. But this wasn’t a “thank you”. It was this mutual exchange of love. While I can’t speak for the others on the team, I would imagine they would know what I’m describing. It was this very deeply emotional sensation, almost as if I was in whatever heaven is. The love this woman was giving me was the same love I was giving her and we were both meeting each other’s greatest needs. Yes, maybe all these efforts from so many people will give this woman many more years of life, but more importantly these acts of selfless love do so much to bring goodness. We can only hope that those many, many acts of kindness will be given forward and the great injustices these women face every day will be made a little better.
So in our 1100 “pap smears”, what did we find and what did we learn? Too many cancers…. lots of “near-cancers”….. but more importantly, at least 24 cases of “just this close to cancer” that we were able to “cure” so easily. At least 24 women will get to live out their lives and raise their children, not being victims of a disease that could have been so easily prevented.
But perhaps even more importantly, we were able to really begin to know what it means to have absolutely no rights as a woman. We heard story after story of women telling us that they were “taught” about sex from their father, their step-father or their grandfather; stories of women murdered because they didn’t do what a man wanted; stories of women who had their “tubes tied” because a doctor thought it was best for them without obtaining their permission. It wasn’t until half-way through our trip that we even realized that women didn’t “count” abuse when it is from their husband. We began to understand that the answer to preventing cervical cancer in Guatemala or anywhere in the world is not about training cytotechnologists, or about having a sophisticated lab or about money (although those are absolutely crucial). It is about accepting the reality that woman and men are born equally in the eyes of God and that we are ALL entitled to the most basic of human rights. In the U.S. we have had a history of very brave people who stepped out against discrimination of ethnic groups, of women, of homosexuals. We may think we have made great strides and yes, we have in comparison to countries like Guatemala. But every time any of us think we are more deserving of anything because we are in the “majority”, we are no better than those who abuse these poor hopeless women.
To say “thank you” to all of you that changed the course of so many lives seems so small. If I even tried to list all of you, I would surely forget someone who might have been the key to it all. So rather than listing people or departments or names, I only want to thank each and every one of you. I have had many great joys in my life – most of those were in relation to my husband, my parents, my sister and my children. I have also had the incredible privilege of working with the poorest people of Guatemala and knowing the joy that they know – which is to live simply and at peace with God. But this month was perhaps one of the most powerful of all the events in my life. It was a time when I truly experienced everything I have ever studied about being “one with God”. And it happened because of the great efforts of so very many people who chose to take a minute, an hour, a day or whatever to stop and just do something because they knew it would be a blessing to someone else. There were so very many people at Promedica that spent so many hours giving of their time and talents; the pathologists, cytopreps, cytotechs, histologists, secretaries, couriers, biomedical engineers, office managers. Thanks to the Cytology and Anatomic Pathology departments and the pathologists for helping us prepare our supplies for the trip, for processing and reporting the biopsy specimens and for answering our many calls from Guatemala. Without your help and speedy responses we wouldn't have been able to correlate some our findings and treat so many patients.The collaboration with so many at the University of Toledo is a testimony to the power that can be had when people work together. There were so many individuals who so generously donated financially to make this work happen. Thank you to Zonta International and to the Rotary Club of Toledo.
During this time, I was still very much “human” with all my usual personality flaws of which I am so very well aware of. But the difference was that I could forgive even myself for being so short of the greatness of a God who has all the power in His hands. And I could feel that greatness every day. What a joy to work with a very gifted and passionate group of people who wanted nothing more than to rise each morning with the sole intent of making someone else’s life a little better.
We now have great hope that our research and findings will make contributions to eradicate this very curable disease. Last night, Randy and I had the great fortune to meet with Dr. Michael Dean of the NIH as well as a group of very committed and influential Guatemalan people who also want to stop this disease. They were so excited about our findings and they have high hopes that things will change in the near future. I also give great thanks to Nate, Chad and Brian who took a week away from their families to start working on a documentary that will vividly portray what we are up against. Thank you Lisa and Lisa and Mani and Chetti and Lauren and Puja for your tireless efforts and love for these women. Extra special thanks to Orfe and Ismael who have the love of God in their hearts and the know-how to have put this all into place! And most of all, thank you Randy for walking with me in all of this and for having so much kindness in your heart and wisdom in your mind.
And here are the players!!!