Flori won the hearts of all who knew her. In her memory, we search for answers to preventable deaths from cervical cancer.
23 days already! Flori continues to suffer incredibly. The nurses assure me that this can happen when people as young as she is get this kind of treatment but I pray it will not continue much longer. She tries so hard to laugh and hug but within minutes, she vomits or runs to the bathroom. She continues to be incredibly week and of course weepy so often as she misses her family.
Today she asked my mom if she could ever come to Guatemala to visit her family. She explained how privileged they would be to know her as she has done so much for Flori. Mom laughed and said it would probably be too hot! Then I had a wonderful idea! I suggested that we have a GREAT celebration in Antigua, Guatemala after her treatments are done. Antigua is one of the most beautiful spots in Guatemala and it is historical and rich in culture. There are the most beautiful hotels and restaurants. I told her we could all go and have a little vacation and bring her family as well as Ismael and his family. Suddenly, she became quiet and the tears just streamed down her face and she sobbed. She said that this would be very special for her but the real joy is that her mother would come. Her parents are extremely poor and never leave their village. She said this has been her dream - to bring her mom to such a place as this.
Mom and I just beamed at the happiness of it all! How often do you tell anyone hear that you'll bring them on vacation and they cry with joy???????
Now into the second week of chemo and radiation. The first 7 days were hard to watch. Despite attempts at every medication we could think of, Flori vomited continuously. The nurses at Flower Hospital would give her extra IV fluids before her treatments and we'd keep the IV going over the weekend at our house. She could barely stand and would ask me if we could do another "test" to see if the cancer was gone so that she could stop these treatments. As I watched all this, I'd pray to God to bring her complete healing so that her suffering was not in vain. Finally, with input from all her wonderful nurses and docotrs, we came up with a new medication that has now worked! As it is extremely expensive, Dr. Phibb's physician assistant, Cheryl, was kind enough to find this for us for at least the next two weeks and I have faith that we'll be able to keep her on it .
While she struggles with great loneliness for her family and fear of the unknown, there is now an occasional smile. She has a tremendous sense of humor which is nice to see again! Best of all, she looks forward to eating and since my mom loves to feed people, this is a win-win for all!! I can't say enough about my mom's great compassion and selflessness in caring for Flori. Without any understanding of Spanish, she seems to always know what Flori needs and she cares for her as if she was her own daughter. Although countless people have helped in so many ways, it is comforting to have at least one consistent person there for her each day.
Flori is just one little person in a world of great suffering. How she came to actually be here with at least a chance of survival is a miracle. I believe that God is using her to open our eyes to the realities of great injustice. Her story is the same one heard in the cries of the poor every day. We live in a time of the greatest wealth this world has ever known, yet the gap between those of us who "get it all" and those who get nothing widens every day. While her individual situation is unique, it reflects so many issues surrounding the 2 great great co-morbidities; poverty and disease. Why does a 27 year old woman even get cervical cancer at this advanced stage? We know that her lack of adequate nutrition, her impoverished lifestyle and a lack of a functioning health system in her country are the root causes. Flori told me that she received a "normal pap smear" 2 years ago. As a gynecologist, I know that's not even possible. But in her country, there is one pathologist for more than a million people. So who's to blame? Surely not the person who "performed" the pap. The blame lies in a world that allows this situation to exist. Yes, the issues are endlessly complex but if each one of us would do SOMETHING each day to address this great wrongdoing, I believe it could be different. Sr. Pam, one of our board members, often reflects that God puts the person that He wants you to care for in your path. You don't have to work hard to "find" out how you can help. If you open your eyes, there is poverty of all kinds all around us. In "Mountains Beyond Mountains", Dr. Paul Farmer tries to answer the question of why God "permits" great suffering. God gives but doesn't share. He gives our world everything we all need to flourish but he charges all of us to "divvy up the loot". Dr. Farmer reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25. "Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was sick and you looked afer me, I was in prison and you came to visit me...whatever you did for the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."
Unfortunately, our world ruins this message anby debating about which church, which religion, which "truth" is right. For me, it seems pretty simple. Flori has been here for 18 days. In that time, I really am experiencing heaven on earth. I watch people of all different ages, talents, income levels and religions come together for a cause of just helping one person; of just doing exactly what God asks of us in Matthew. There is no money to be made on this effort and Flori is not in any of our "families". She's just a poor person in the family of God who is in great need right now. Every day, I am witnessing so much joy, happiness and peace in everyone involved in her life at this moment. While the ultimate outcome of her life will be decided by a much Higher Power that I cannot even begin to understand, I believe that the goodness of all who are involved will have far reaching effects to bring healing to many more than just Flori.
Flori spent the night at my mom's last night. They continue to astound me with their ability to understand each other with no knowledge of each other's language!! This afternoon, we brought her up to our little cottage on a lake in Michigan. We had hoped that a "change in scenery" might help her a bit but she could barely make it from the car to the couch. She's hardly eaten a few morsels today and continually vomits. I got her IV plugged in and she fell asleep in a few minutes. Randy and I looked at her tranquil face as she slept and we talked about so many things - no conclusions, more questions than answers.
It's still not clear to me how Flori and ourselves have come to be almost family in such a short time. Randy and I pray every minute that her suffering right now will mean a chance to watch her children grow up. Her faith continues to inspire me as does the involvement of so many wonderful people. Thank you all!
Here's a photo of Flori before all the treatments started. Her personality is as tranquil as her beautiful face. Despite all the numerous medications, she still vomits throughout the day. When I told her that there was no radiation or chemo over the weekend, she smiled and said "Oh, a vacation!" We're hoping she can get around a little tomorrow so we can bring her out to the lake - God knows she needs a little break after this week. She has been very preoccupied over worrying about her family at home. Her husband is out of work and without Flori there, it has been especially difficult on him. We thank our friends in Guatemala, Ismael and Orphe, for visiting them and making sure their needs are met.
While it's been a somewhat depressing week in many ways, I truly give thanks to God for bringing so many new inspiring people into our lives such as all the wonderful staff at Flower Hospital. I can't say enough about each person involved in her care there.
Tonight, Flori's with my mom. Mom told me earlier how she was stroking Flori's hair after she had been vomiting. Mom got teary-eyed as she described that Flori started rubbing her hair in return! Funny how a stranger can become a loved ones in just a few days.
It's 10:30 PM. Flori has vomited all night and is finally falling asleep. One of the med students form our trips, Lauren, was kind enough to spend much of the day with her as she received chemo and radiation from 8AM - 5 PM. Flori maintained her wonderful spirits througout the day and laughed with Lauren and I as we struggle to improve our Spanish - OK, Lauren isn't struggling nearly as much as I am! We watched a big storm role in - the translation is "tormenta". How fitting - is not tormented exactly the feeling she much be struggling with right now?
I find Flori to be so completely dignified. At times in my life when I've been very sick and vomiting, I cried and begged for relief. She just quietly lies there and then sits up and just vomits in the little bucket. When I come and rub her back and clean the bucket, she just graciously and quietly says "gracias".
She had a little reprieve from feeling sick when we left the hospital. I asked if there was anything she felt like eating. She was really hungry at the moment and had a list of foods that she wanted! I was so happy to hear that so we went off to Kroger's. As we walked up and down the aisles, she looked around with amazement at all the assorted foods and choices. I felt embarressed at the absurdity of our wealth! Although I would love to hear her perception of it all, it seemed so trite to ask "So what do you think?" The only part she seemed comfortable in was the produce section. She picked out all kinds of foods I wouldn't know what to do with and I was looking forward to cooking with her. But we no sooner walked in the door, then she could barely get off the couch. After a while, she wandered out in our yard and sat enjoying the little flowers I've planted. She seemed to treasure them so much. Even in the midst of such sickness, she finds time to appreciate God's little blessings around us.
Her husband called late in the evening. He sounds so terrified. She was too sick to get on the phone but I assured him that her sickness was just a sign that the treatment is working well to shrink the cancer.
We called Ismael. His church is meeting every day to pray deeply for Flori's recovery.
It's hard for me to imagine that she won't be cured. She has already seen so many miracles and there are SO MANY people loving her and praying for her right now. Please pray with us that her this agony will stop for her.
First day of radiation didn't go very well. She vomited for hours. Not a good sign since this usually doesn't happen until much later into the treatments. We weren't expecting this so it took us a while to get her the right medications and get her settled. She's finally sleeping.
She and I prayed so much this evening. We wept thinking about it all. I sobbed as I listened to her prayers. She beseeched God to save her for her children's sake. She thanked God over and over for allowing her to come here for treatment. For me, it is all so humbling.
Today Flori received blood transfusions to correct her severe anemia and to prepare her for her chemo and radiation this week. The weekend was a little surreal as we all tried to be festive for her birthday knowing what she left behind and what was ahead. Once again, God proved faithful and sent a Latino pastor, Lupina, to come and pray with Flori and with all of us as we try to understand how her situation could even be possible in a world as rich as ours. I read something the other day that was a response to "Why does God allow injustice?" Answer:: He provides this world with ALL that we need. Problem is that he left it up to humans to divvy it up!
Flori's 2 year old daughter had bronchopneumonia this weekend. Her dad brought her to the government hospital since she could barely breathe. The doctors mocked him and didn't even bother examining the child. Flori was incredibly upset as she knows that children of this age commonly die of diseases that are so easily treatable here. Thank God that Ismael and his wife, Orphe, went to visit Flori's husband and children. They were able to write back to Dr. Coral Matus about the baby's condition to find out what we could do. They were able to give her husband money from SewHope which we hope will help them in these next couple of months as her husband tries to manage without his wife. Ismael also brought the Kids Against Hunger food that we have down there and the vitamins from Beatrice. Little did we know how these things would be used when we sent them to Guatemala! Thank God we have a pharmacy full of meds which can be used for any emergencies when we are not there. We know that Flori will have a much greater chance of cure if her mind can be at peace. We thank so many of you for your generosity in helping her feel comfortable being here away from her children. Thank you Sr. Pam for bringing her to the concert and thank you Coral for sharing your family with her overnight.
I continue to be changed by Flori's stories of the plight of women in Guatemala. I almost feel like her mom. I thank God every day that my own children have had all the opportunities that this world has to offer. It's hard for me to imagine loving your children, as much as I have loved mine, and yet know that there is so little you can do to help them in times of great need. Yet, I look at Flori's deep, genuine faith and I believe that there is no greater gift that a person can have. That faith can sustain you in times of great suffereing and it is sustaining her now.
Another day of profound changes in my life! Not working today in my "real job" gave me the opportunity to talk with Flori this morning. I continue to be astounded by the fact that we can understand each other! I started going to Guatemala in 1998. I took Spanish in high school and college. But it wasn't until last year when I started taking a class from Deena Ellis and I started reprimanding myself for my failure to speak the language of a country that stirs my heart that I really started doing something about it! LIke everything else that you succeed in, you have to put in some effort! So there we were, over a bowl of oatmeal, talking about the incredible injustices regarding women around the world. Flori is totally amazed that I actually believe that my husband loves me so much that he would be faithful to me for all of my life! We chatted about injustice especially toward women and the reality that the majority of people in the world are clearly denied the basic rights. I could have been speaking with a world leader on these issues and I don't think they would have had as many insights into the reality of it all as much as Flori does.
So, after our little breakfast, filled with laughs (mostly about my Spanish!) and tears, off we went to the hospital.
At Flower Hospital, I encountered the absolute BEST of humanity. Flori was welcomed as if she was a queen! When the nurses looked at her "intake" data and realized that her birthday is this weekend, they bought her a birthday cake! Each medical person that will be involved in her care took the time to introduce themselves and make Flori feel as if she now has a new family. While we often criticize the American health care system, I cannot imagine that there is a place in the world as fine as what I witnessed today.Each person showed incredible excellence in what they do! Although Flori had to endure numerous pokes and prods, I know that she left feeling far better than she did before she went there! When she was told that her pain and bleeding would be better in a week or so, you could see the look of great relief.
The doctor who is the radiation oncologist was incredibly humble. Instead of being willing to accept thanks for what he is doing for Flori, he thanked me! He pointed out that a radiation oncologist is rarely needed in developing countries and he actually thanked me for bringing Flori here! What humility from a doctor who has been trained at the greatest institutions that the United States has to offer. His parents are Indian. I told him that my daughter-in-law is Indian and since I'm the grandma of her children, we share a common heritage! I told him how her father grew up poor in India, but worked so hard that he is now a nuclear engineer and has had the great fortune of being able to build a hospital and school for the poorest of the poor in India. I assume that while we go to different churches, we hear the same call to serve those who are in great need. Is that not what it's all about? Following the command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves? The doctor talked about his grandfather who was so poor in India and yet, he managed to educate his 10 children with a college education and now the next generation have all been so successful in terms of making this a better world. I too, shared with him that my dad was from a village much like where Flori was from. But through my father's great faith in God and a determination to have a "better life" for his children, I too have been "privileged" to have enough to be in the life of someone as wonderful as Flori.
Flori quietly endured all the IV's, blood draws, pokes and prods and also listened as we all tried so hard to explain what might or might not happen. After all, this is the U.S. and we all feel that we have a right to know EVERYTHING! We also feel that if something has been left out and there is a problem, then we have a right to blame someone! But it was obvious that Flori just knew that all these people were acting through a mighty God who were doing all they could to spare her life and now it's up to Him.
While I know that given the stage of her cancer and the statistics, her "odds" are not good. But when I look at the incredible love and miracles that have already surrounded her, it's hard to imagine that she won't be cured. To me, it seems that God has put her here to be a voice for the women of Guatemala and on a deeper level, I believe that He put her here to be a voice for Him; to let us all know that it is indeed in giving that we receive and that in pardoning, we are pardoned.
On another note, Flori cried today as we ate lunch with my mom. She sobbed as she said that she never thought that in her life, she would be treated in the ways that my mom has treated her. For me, it was all very humbling.
I received a beautiful letter from our project coordinators in Guatemala, Ismael and his wife, Orphe. Never have I met 2 people with such incredible faith and willingness to truly serve the Lord in powerful ways. None of our efforts in Guatemala and certainly this story of Flori would never have been possible without them. Orphe told me that their church is meeting at 5AM each morning to implore God to protect Flori, to give wisdom and strength to all that are caring for her and to protect her family in Guatemala.
Orphe included a bible passage that I'd like to share:
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help and he will say: Her am I.
If you do away with the yoke of oppresion,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lork will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame."
For any reading this, please feel free to comment!
Flori spent the night with my mom. They called me at 1 AM because her pain was so bad that they weren't sure what to do. I assured them that her pain would be better once the radiation treatment started. That's all that Flori needed to hear. My wonderful mom brought her to the store today and bought her all kinds of clothes! Flori told me tonight that she feels so guilty that my mom was so generous but I assured her that mom lives to be so kind! Melinda (our prayer warrier!) arranged to have a group of people at our house tonight to pray with Flori. So wouldn't you know, Flori spent 2 hours cooking tortillas and empenadas to serve the guests! The people that came all helped in the preparations. My son, Russ, and his friends were here and we all joined in praise of God and His steadfastness. After eating, we sat around the table and read from Philipians and asked for God's help in facing our anxieties. Then we individually prayed for her. We know that there are some people with cancer like hers that ARE saved! We ask God to guide us through this whole process.
So after everyone left, Flori and I sat for 2 hours talking about so many things. It is like she is my soulmate! We talked about the great poverty of loneliness and want in the United States and the great poverty of physical pain, hunger and injustice in countries like Guatemala. We both laughed at how God joined this unlikely pair together! We each found our favorite bible verses that we shared. We beseeched God to cure her and to also cure the hatred that exists around the world. We asked Him to guide us in all our efforts and to realize that He does indeed have a plan in bringing us together. Flori talked about how all of her family were so astounded that Americans would care enough to bring her here. She and I talked about how we know that God does indeed want this world to be one of peace and love. I can't thank all of you enough for making her treatment here possible. Let's all pray that this time will be one of great healing, not just for Flori, but for all of us in whatever trials we face.
A day I will never forget! So much emotion... after being examined by Dr. Phibbs and after the CT scan, we realized that her cancer is more advanced than we had hoped. This means that she will not benefit from surgery and will have to have radiation therapy and chemotherapy. While this was terrible news, God never stops being faithful! The radiation oncology physicians that work at Promedica have agreed to perform this at no charge. Dr. Phibbs will continue to evaluate Flori and provide her with chemotherapy and all the procedures needed to perform the special kind of radiation that she will need. Deena Ellis spent the day with Flori translating for her and helping her understand the significance of all that was happening. The nurses at Toledo Hospital were incredibly caring and Flori was overwhelmed at their kindness.
After all the information was explained to her, she and I chatted and I tried to make sure that she understood. She weeped as she talked about the possibility of death but she marveled at the miracle of having come to our little clinic in Pueblo and the reality of being here now. When I talk to her, our communication seems to be so much greater than what language usually allows. We laughed at the reality that we have only really known each other for 2 days and yet we feel like soulmates already. Is this what "talking in tongues" means?? I think so! I asked her if it was alright that I was doing this blog and putting it out there on the "web" for all the world to see. She excitedly responded "Oh yes, think of the testimony of the goodness of God! And it will be a way for women to know what can happen to them!"
So at the end of the day, we heard the news that yes, she may die. But is that no different than the reality that each of us faces each day???? But she is surrounded with so much love from so many people here and in Guatemala. She is staying at my mom's house tonight. She told me that although my mom doesn't speak any Spanish, she is very happy there because she knows that my mom understands her needs. Thanks mom!
And thank you Dr. Coral Matus for realizing that she needed a phone! Coral went and bought her a phone that she can use to receive calls from Guatemala at any time. Think of what a blessing that is to her.
So although it was a day of great sadness, it was also a day that showed me the wonderful love that humanity is capable of.