Flori won the hearts of all who knew her. In her memory, we search for answers to preventable deaths from cervical cancer.
What a bittersweet day! Flori left Detroit airport this morning at 6AM and is in Guatemala with her husband now! The last few days, she has been smiling, laughing and even eating! To think that her ordeal might actually be over forever is almost incomprehensible.
Mom and I feel like we have lost a daughter/sister though we know we'll see her in the future.There were some really gut-wrenching sobs all around when we said good-bye. Hard to believe that someone can become such a part of your life in just 72 days.
I will keep you all posted about Flori's future but for now, I thank you all from my heart for all that so many of you have done to be God's hands here on earth. You all know that there were days that we wondered if this had been the right thing, but at this moment, I know it counts as one of the greatest miracles I've ever witnessed. Flori's future, as with any of ours, is up to a much Higher Power but without all of your help, she would not be with her children now. We have all given her hope and maybe in doing that, we've given ourselves hope. This was an adventure I'll never forget.
Hard to imagine that we are nearing the end of Flori's stay here. While she may be returning, I know that this is only the beginning of the next adventure. Flori and I have promised each other to become sisters in this fight against cervical cancer in Guatemala. She is a powerful speaker as she so clearly speaks from her heart. This has been an especially tough week for her. She has lost 27#, she is weak, the vomiting continues on and off and now she struggles with bloody diarrhea. But we both now that these are just the results of the powerful drugs that may ultimately heal her.
She is so anxious to return to her children but I know she must wonder how she is going to survive back in Guatemala where she will have to work day in and out just to get enough food for her family to eat.
Our fundraiser for this project is this Friday at Olander Park at 7PM. Please email me if you'd like to join us. This really, truly is a cause worth fighting about!
Sorry for the delay in keeping up this blog. So much has happened since the last entry. When I think of the days that Flori was in intensive care, it seems like years ago....
At this moment at least, we have so much to be grateful for. Flori is eating, walking, smiling and once again laughing at my pitiful Spanish! When she had her radiation treatment last Monday, the doctor said that he can no longer see the tumor! I remember the day that I sat holding her hand when she was unconscious wondering if she would ever even make it back to Guatemala. And now, it seems there is a reasonable chance of a cure!
Last night, I booked her ticket back to Guatemala on Sept 28. To think that 59 days ago, she arrived here. We barely knew each other - we were all a little terrified. It was a downhill battle after that until this week. And now, she will be returning to Guatemala with at least a hope for a life with her children. I cannot express my gratitude to all of you who have made this happen. Most of all, I cannot give enough thanks to my mom who day in and day out, took care of Flori like she was her own. She had to be her mom and her nurse throughout the most difficult days. I see my mom as being the example of everything that Jesus described in the Good Samaritan. And we all see Flori as an angel sent from the heavens.
Yesterday, we were talking about her return trip. Dr. Coral and my mom had bought some clothes for Flori's children and her new niece. Flori looked at me with a wink and said that she wants my mom to be the one to give it to them! She always talks about how her mom wants to know my mom. How much more like family can you be?
I hope that any of you reading this will join us for our celebration for Flori on Sept 24 at Olander Park. It will be a time of great joy and thanks. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to join us.
Flori is staying with Dr. Coral Matus and her family this weekend. They are such a beautiful example of all that God asks us to do with our lives. Like so many other people I've come to know with this organization, I feel God's presence in them. I was reading Galatians this morning and there's a beautiful verse in chapter 5, verse 13-14. "You, my brothers were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature, rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single comman:'Love your neighbor as yourself.' If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other."
Throughout these weeks with Flori, so many people have stepped up and shown me God's presence. I keep seeing miracles all around me!
Flori had her small surgical procedure on the 3rd. The doctors told us that they are "amazed" at the great response of the tumor to the treatments! Dr. Phibbs told Coral that he is very optimistic for a complete cure!!
I could cry thinking of this. Just last week, I was sitting next to her bed in the ICU stroking her face and wondering if she was ever even going to make it back to Guatemala alive - now I'm seeing a real possibility of being her "sister" forever! She has been so much better this week - her sense of humor has once again surfaced! She announced to me the other day that my mom is now her 2nd mom which makes me her sister! So I told her that then means that my other sister, Clare, is also her sister though they've never met! And she told me that her sisters and brother are my siblings now too!
This seems like such an easy way to understand what it means to be a "family" in Christ. Sometimes that term seems so "corny" and yet, this really is what it means, isn't it? You just struggle through life together - lean on each other in the tough times, encourage each other, love when you feel like running away and take chances for each other. And then, there you are - a new family!
The thought that we'd all really know and love each other in 10 years gives me such joy. Thank you ALL for so many things you have done to make any of this possible. Thank you, Tim Phleghaar for fixing the ultrasound machine so we had in Guatemala (which is what brought Flori there in the first place!). Thank you John DeKeyser, for sending it there in the first place. Thank you Chetti Smith for making this cervical cancer program possible. Thank you Anne Conklin for making this diagnosis! Thanks to all of our supporters, to all the people who have been touched by this, to the people who took time to care for Flori. SPECIAL thanks to Ismael and Orphe who have watched over her family in Guatemala and who helped get her here. Thanks to Dr. Conway for working with the U.S. embassy to get her visa. Thanks to Marcy Kaptur's office and Dan Foote for hearing my plea for help and working with the embassy. Thanks to my children for giving up a lot of things that we had planned so this could happen. I know you must sometimes wonder! Thanks to my office staff for all the extra work! Thanks to the pastors who have loved and prayed with Flori. Thanks to each person who has offered so many encouraging words and financial support. THANKS to the thousands of people who have prayed - your prayers have been heard. Thanks to the medical staff at Flower Hospital and to Dr. Phibbs for your wisdom and for generously and lovingly caring for Flori. Thanks to Kevin Webb, president of Toledo Hospital, who gave me the initial consent to bring Flori here for treatment.
Thanks to Flori's family in Guatemala for trusting us and for caring for each other while she is gone. Thanks to my mom for not only caring for Flori so lovingly, but for making her now feel that she is truly her daughter. I know I'm forgetting so many but that's for another blog day!
Please don't hesitate to write on this blog if you would like to contribute anything. Your words are so encouraging!
Flori came home from the hospital on Sun, Aug 29. She has had no further seizures, is actually eating a little more and has a little more strength. She restarted her radiation on Monday and had chemo again yesterday. Turned out that she had a serious infection in her GI tract so we have her on antibiotics now. Tomorrow, she'll be having a minor surgery to put in a small "stent" inside her uterus that will be used for internal radiation that will start next week. We're hoping that all the treatments will be over within 3-4 weeks.
We talk to her family often and they miss her greatly. It continues to be a long road for her - please keep her in your prayers. We try to smile and anticipate a day long in the future when we will look back and think it was all worth it.
It's Friday night. Mom and I said good-bye to Flori at the hospital this evening. We both left with tears in our eyes. Hard to believe that it was just yesterday morning at 6AM that Randy said to me as I was brushing my teeth, "Anne, Flori is making funny noises." I came running down the stairs to find her having a major motor seizure. We called 911and an ambulance came within minutes....another testimony to the successful system we have here in the U.S.
The paramedics were kind, competent and very concerned. They even expressed interest in joining us on a mission trip in the future. It was all very surreal. We arrived at the emergency room where she quickly had another major seizure. It was hard for me to watch as I have grown to consider her part of my family. But the doctors stepped up and had everything under control within minutes. We then had her admitted to the Intensive Care Unit and the nurses there treated her with the kindest regard. I continue to be amazed at the number of people involved in her care and I pray,ultimately her healing.
I asked Dr. Debbie Guntsch, a family practice doctor,if she would manage her care in the hosptial. Debbie, without hesitation, said absolutely yes. You could sense her deep care for the most vulnerable and needy. Within minutes, I realized that Dr. Guntsch had a great knowledge of the diseases afflicting developing countries and so, she knew all the right tests to order. Another very kind neurologist, Dr. Saraya, also became involved and has been managing Flori's seizures successfully.
So tonight , after receiving all the results of the tests, we really are not sure why this happened. My theory is that it was the culmination of just too many things - her chemo and radiation, too much vomiting and diarrhea, inability to sleep, too much stress, God's plan?? Why???
I often feel frustration and even anger in Guatemala that there is so little medical care and the people suffer so profoundly. Yet, I look at this situation. Despite the best doctors and nurses, the best technology, the greatest research, unlimited generosity and dollars, Flori still suffers and we are still not sure why a girl of 27 would get cervical cancer and why she is having seizures. Melinda and I were down with her on Wednesday night when she was receiving her MRI. She had to lay in that loud tunnel for 90 minutes. All I asked her was not to move and she did so without complaint - no questions, no challenges - just did as asked. While we didn't have the radiologist there, the young man who was doing the test was very knowledgable and so kind. We watched as the films came up on the screen. There was that lump in my throat that you feel when you're hanging on for an answer that you know will change the course of your life. I almost felt as if I was watching a slot machine! Are the results just random? Why do some people who have cancer treatments live and some die? Is it a role of the dice? Was she going to have metastatic disease in her brain? Was there going to be signs of parasitic disease from living in a developing country? Was the tumor in her pelvis bigger?
I was amazed at the knowledge of anatomy that the technician had. As doctors, we often don't give enough credit to all the other health care workers! As the pictures rolled in, we realized that for at least this night, we could still have hope. Her brain was clear, the tumor in the pelvis is still there, though smaller. No obvious lymph node involvement. But what will the ultimate outcome be? Will she struggle along here during the next few weeks and then ultimately be well and return to raise her beautiful children? Will we all have a day in Antigua where we'll share a glorious meal with her family and give thanks to God for healing?
Or will all her suffering be for nought? Perhaps the answer to that question is the crux of our faith. Sometimes we believe that if the outcome of our efforts is not what we want - possibly death - then "we" have failed and God didn't hear Our prayers. It's easy to think that if Flori does not survive, then none of this was "worth it." We could argue that she should be home with her family now. Those of us involved in her care could be doing other things for our own families. But as I live through this, I would argue deeply that yes, it is all "worth it". Through this time, I continue to marvel at the presence of God in every moment. I see His peace in Flori's eyes and she is teaching me what real peace and faith in God is all about. I see God's presence in the hearts of each person who cares for her. One of the nurses who has been caring for her has shown such love for his work. He has all the skills to manage her high tech machines and yet, he humbly helps her through her episodes of diarrhea and vomiting.
I've come to know and love Pastor Lupina Stewart through all this. She is a missionary from Mexico who is working here in Toledo to unite Hispanic and "mainstream" churches; helping each to realize that they will come closer to God in working together. She is such an image of God's love. Somehow, she always knows exactly the right words to help Flori and all of us. Like Flori's, her faith is so beautiful and pure. In days when I begin to feel defeated, I receive a message from her that feels like it is God whispering in my ear.
I've also come to know the Pastor and his wife from the local Latino Church, Torres Fuerte. They came and prayed with Flori in the hospital and have been by her side all along. Their words always remind me that we can find the beauty and goodness of God everywhere - even in suffering - if we only seek Him in every situation.
Flori never stops amazing me with her fortitude, her patience and her humility. She has all the qualities I wishI could have! Whatever the outcome, I know that she has changed my life forever. Thank you all for your support and loving prayers.
You wonder how much more suffering can she endure? As if leaving your family at a time when you are most vulnerable is not enough, she has to deal with the constant diarrhea, vomiting, headace and cramping. We've tried every medication; sometimes they help but at other times, it seems as if she is under attack. I tell her that it is the cancer that is under attack and it is slowly being destroyed which is why she feels the way she does. Fortunately, we been able to keep IV fluids going over the last few days. Once again the staff at Flower hospital has been wonderful. They spent 2 hours with me today coming up with some new ideas to improve things for her.
And then Pastors Lupina and Elvira will be visiting with her. They mean so much to Flori as they have been able to let her know that God is truly caring for her. They even anointed her last week. Karen, one of our strong supporters and encouragers sent me a beautiful email tonight reminding me of this passage in the bible:
“Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” James 5:14-16 I know that Flori will love to hear it.
Tomorrow she'll be receiving 3 units of blood since she has lost so much. 2 more weeks of radiation and chemo and then 2 more weeks of a different kind of radiation. Still a long road ahead. We try to just focus on one day at a time and dream about a day when we'll laugh and chat about some of the funny things that have happened here. Even today at the hospital, I had to smile. Flori takes extra precautions when using the public bathrooms to put the paper covering over the toilet Knowing the latrine conditions in Guatemala, this truly made me laugh! I do surely know in my heart that this adventure will continue to bring more souls to God and will show many of us here how we need to sometimes change the focus of our lives.
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Here's mom!! It's hard to describe the constant love that she shows Flori. She's being so challenged having to understand someone who doesn't speak English, to care for someone with advanced cancer and to juggle all the hospital and doctor visits. But she's doing it with her usual humility and love for those in the greatest need. The 2 pictures above are from before Flori started all the treatments. Even though, she's so sick, Flori still makes mom laugh like she did in this picture.
"Angels of Mercy!" This morning I was reminded how when anything good happens, it is always because of the efforts of so many. Flori has had a very rough couple of days. She has a history of an ulcer in the past and because of the radiation, medications, vomiting and difficulty eating, the pain in her stomach has become so much worse. As always, all I had to do was make a simple phone call and there were the angels we needed. Melinda and Chris Rakesmith came over, put in an IV and gave Flori the needed medications and IV fluids. She started feeling better right away. Isn't it a shame that the rest of us would have to go to the hospital if we needed these things. As always, God has provided the people we need.
Thank you so much Melinda and Chris!
Flori and I went to a Hispanic church tonight called Torres Fuertes. I loved being there. The message was so pure. The songs were beautiful and it was all about having reliance on a God that is so much bigger than us and is so willing to guide us through the toughest times if only we will let him. My Spanish gets a bit better each day but for some reason I was able to understand everything at the service. The sermon was based on Psalm 27
"The Lord is my light and my salvation - whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life - of whom shall I be afraid?......
One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord...
For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling;.....
Hear my voice when I call, O Lord;
be merciful to me and answer me....
Teach me your way, O Lord, lead me in a straight path....
Wait for the Lord, be strong and take heart and wait....
I write this because the message was so powerful for me. Flori is so clearly being attacked at every angle.
Her husband, Herbert, was having abdominal pain yesterday and went to the same hospital that she went to when she was misdiagnosed. He ended up having an appendectomy last night; the same operation she had for her cervical cancer!
She cried all night knowing that her children were probably even more fearful. Not only was their mom gone, but now their dad was also sick. They are now staying with distant family.
But don't we all have our own prayers? Our own demons that we wish we could be rid of? So this message in Psalms was so powerful for me and the pastor did such a wonderful way of communicating the message. Just trust, trust that if you follow the message, God will protect you and get you through even the most difficult of situations.
When we came home, Flori once again vomited up her dinner. She never complains - just quietly suffers. She's lost quite a bit of weight. She cries at times and then other times, she and I talk about why God put her here. We both believe that it is for a much grander purpose than just curing cancer.
We got out a calender for her so she could cross of the days until she sees her children again and hopefully, stops vomiting and stops being in pain.
She was so happy to go back to my mom's tonight. It's as if my mom is her mom. They continue to amaze me as they tell stories about what the other has "said"! How they do know that without knowing a word of each other's language!!