When we left my doctor's office last week with the word "melanoma" still ringing in our ears, I told my husband I have to go to church, every week. Still struggling to believe, but believing more now that I had at any point in the past (except when I was a child), I needed this crutch, as I use to call it, and I needed to be held accountable.
We had missed Mass the previous Sunday for plans that ended up being cancelled. We could have, and should have, gone to Mass. It's easy for things to pop up, even when you have a quiet weekend planned. This weekend for example, it was two children's parties, one each day.
We went on our early morning walk and returned with less time than I needed to get fully ready for Mass. "Good enough for Home Depot." as my husband would say, a shower but no time for hair or makeup. "Maybe we should just skip and get ready for the party...so we're not rushed." I said. "No, we're going to church" which was just what I needed to hear. I grabbed a dress that I realized was not long enough, and so I threw on my cats in space leggings. One thought of someone noticing these on me in church and I couldn't help but crack a smile.
If you do not yet own a pair of cats in space leggings, I highly recommend that you buy a pair as ASAP as possible here. You never know when you will need them, and they work in a variety of situations. You can throw them on when you find yourself starting to be too serious, when the weight of the world is a bit too heavy or when you're just having a really crappy day, receive a bad medical diagnosis, stub your toe, are upset with your spouse or job...the opportunities really are endless. They are that versatile. Putting these on, isn't just for you. Think of all the other people out there who could be slogging along in life until they see you. In your cats in space leggings. Now you just brightened their day too.
Mass was good enough to make me cry, though I don't completely remember the homily. The priest spoke about procrastinating and that we should be living and doing God's will because we never know when our time is up...and that's when I started praying more and listening less. As we walked out, I approached an usher and asked if there was a priest that I could speak to about a recent diagnosis and anointing of the sick. He was very nice and took me over to a priest who I explained my situation to. "Okay, well see how surgery goes and then give the office a call and we can set something up." Okay, thank you!
Call is cat-pants power, but I was not ready to give up. Exiting the main hall I found our favorite priest who delivers very interesting homilies that he's very passionate about. He's upbeat, happy, intelligent and not afraid to show emotion. During one Christmas-time homily he played and old song that still - after 50+ years makes him cry and sure enough, it did again. He's approachable, and the kind of person you imagine when you hear someone described as "Filled with the Holy Spirit." There was a bit of a line to speak to him and we waited.
As I started to describe what I was going through, he said yes of course, he could help. With a big smile, he waived to our baby, and then wrote down his email address. Explaining that he lived at St, Michael's Abbey, he told me to send him some dates and times that worked for us and he would make it a priority. I was very pleased because he is a Norbertine Priest. The Norbertine Fathers are a monastery of Catholic that my husband's grandparents highly revered. Six Norbertine Priests are also on the staff at the Catholic School that we plan to send our little girl to as soon as she turns 4 and can start pre-K.
On Monday morning, I dutifully sent off my email to "my" priest and thought of how different it was in Mom's time, back in England or Ireland when the Priests would regularly pop on over for a game of cards, some smokes and usually more than one glass of whiskey.
From: Megan Swanek Sent: Monday, February 29, 2016 3:09 PM
Subject: Anointing of the Sick
I spoke to you after the 11:15 mass at St. Thomas Moore yesterday regarding my recent melanoma diagnosis.
I found out today at my surgery consultation that the depth (1.37mm) requires a biopsy of my lymph nodes because there is a chance it has spread.
Surgery is scheduled for Friday.
I’m not sure what your schedule is like, or if you would be able to meet with me prior to surgery. I am not concerned about the process of the surgery, but rather the results of the biopsy. If it has spread to my lymph nodes, prognosis is poor. If it has not, prognosis is good.
In this one-time meeting, I would be very interested in any advice, suggestions, reading, analogies or Bible passages you may have to help me with faith.
I come from a long line of Irish-Catholics and was raised Catholic but drifted away as a young adult. My husband and I returned to the faith prior to our engagement. We were married at St. John Neumann by Msgr. Don and have had our baby baptized. But I have always struggled with believing even though I so desperately want to.
We are available 4pm or later during the week, or any time on the weekend.
I know you’re busy and do appreciate your time.
To: Megan Swanek Subject: Re: Anointing of the Sick
Hi, Megan! Sorry for the delay in replying. Would it be possible for me to meet you at your home tomorrow (Thursday) at 7:00 PM? It would be nice to chat and pray together before your biopsy. If that’s not possible, how about either Friday or Saturday at your home at 7:00 PM? All I would need is your street address, and my GPS will guide me. God bless! -Fr Joe-_____________________________________________________________________________
So I am brought some level of comfort knowing that he will be by to talk, counsel and perform the anointing of the sick the night before my surgery. Below is the technical description of what the anointing of the sick "does" but, I like to think that having it performed infuses me with special magical powers, much like wearing my cat leggings.
The anointing of the sick conveys several graces and imparts gifts of strengthening in the Holy Spirit against anxiety, discouragement, and temptation, and conveys peace and fortitude (CCC 1520). These graces flow from the atoning death of Jesus Christ, for "this was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, ‘He took our infirmities and bore our diseases’" (Matt. 8:17).
The Sacrament’s Effects
"The special grace of the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick has as its effects: the uniting of the sick person to the passion of Christ, for his own good and that of the whole Church; the strengthening, peace, and courage to endure in a Christian manner the sufferings of illness or old age; the forgiveness of sins, if the sick person was not able to obtain it through the sacrament of penance; the restoration of health, if it is conducive to the salvation of his soul; the preparation for passing over to eternal life" (CCC 1532).
Does a person have to be dying to receive this sacrament? No. The Catechism says, "The anointing of the sick is not a sacrament for those only who are at the point of death. Hence, as soon as anyone of the faithful begins to be in danger of death from sickness or old age, the fitting time for him to receive this sacrament has certainly already arrived" (CCC 1514).
All joking aside, I do hope that it brings me closer to God, as I am already closer to him (and my Mom) through my suffering, and by receiving graces, peace, strength.
Specifically, I will Father Joe ask that he pray that it has not spread to the lymph nodes. And I ask that you pray for that too. Please, not just for myself but for little Autumn Mary, who deserves to have a Mom to grow up with. For my husband Nathan, that he not be left a young widow. Since this anointing ceremony will be performed right before I go to bed and then wake up early for surgery Friday morning at HOAG, there won't be another (blog) update until the weekend. Feel free to follow my more frequent updates on my instagram. I also wanted to take the time to everyone who has offered their support, prayers, personal experiences, jokes and just general well-wishes. They've come in person, over the phone, in facebook and instagram, private messages, texts, calls and emails. Some are silently praying without my knowledge. I talk to my Dad and brother (who are going through a lot themselves right now) and Mom-Cathy every night. My Husband's twin gave me a medal of St. Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer that she had blessed. Special shout-out to my sister-in-law who sends a different "relentlessly optimistic animal" rooting for me every day, and family members behind the scenes (Linda, James, TJ) helping Nathan with research best care.
While I have never been so scared in all my life, and I am beyond frightened about the possibility that it could have already spread, I do not feel alone. I feel surrounded by the love of my family and friends and even those that I don't know, who have walked similar paths. I know I am very close to Mom still, and that she endured far worse, but she did it with grace.
|Relentlessly optimistic animal rooting just for me|