Heather (name changed) was an eighteen-year-old college student. She had already moved away from home and independently pursued her dreams at this young age. Heather was a remarkable young woman, and everyone sensed it immediately. Heather was beautiful, athletic, intelligent, and a model student. Heather was very popular in school because of her outgoing personality. She had a way of making everyone around her feel accepted and happy. It was natural to feel optimistic and upbeat around Heather. She was always the one chosen to be class president, prom queen, team captain, etc. because she was also humble and gracious.
I met Heather when she presented with respiratory symptoms due to a complex, large, rare tumor encompassing much of her right lung, ribs, and chest wall. Due to the size of the tumor and the complexity of its involvement in nearby structures, I knew her prognosis was dismal. Successful surgery is necessary for long-term survival because chemotherapy and radiation alone are not curative with this tumor. Surgery would be virtually impossible in this case. Despite the odds, Heather underwent intensive chemotherapy, radiation, and surgery. She fought hard and wanted to live more than anything else. She had so much to live for!
I was years into my pediatric oncology career at this point. I knew that every child that died took a piece of my heart, and I had only a few pieces left at this point due to the stress of the job. To preserve my heart a bit longer, I decided to keep my emotional bonding with Heather less than I would have earlier in my career when I had more reserve. However, I still wanted to bless Heather in some way during her chemotherapy treatment plan. So, I started asking Heather some key questions to see how I could bless a person that seemed to have everything in life. What gift could I give Heather, especially if her life was cut very short due to her cancer?
Heather had a large number of close friends. She had a loving, supportive family. She had experienced vacations, clothes and gifts, educational opportunities, and everything else I could imagine. She had everything except for her health, which I feared would escape her. I couldn’t find my opening to give her a gift, so I kept praying and seeking the Lord’s wisdom.
One day I asked Heather in a casual conversation about their Easter plans coming up. She shrugged and said her family didn’t attend church or celebrate Easter. The conversation flowed naturally, and I realized that Heather wasn’t yet secure in her spiritual beliefs and didn’t have a sense of peace or assurance of what would happen after death. She was fearful in this area and didn’t want to talk about it. Therefore, after this conversation, I started praying regularly for Heather to spiritually enter a place of peace so she would not fear death. I pray for my patients often, but since I had been searching for a way to bless Heather, I started praying for Heather daily regarding this request.
I wasn’t sure if my prayers had made a difference, but at her funeral, I learned that Heather had discussed her spiritual concerns with her best friend, Jamie. Thankfully, Jamie’s father was a trained pastor and was able to share a scripture that comforted Heather and reassured her of eternal life. Jamie described in tears at the funeral how Heather beamed with joy and excitement the last week of her life as she described her newfound faith. There was no fear or anxiety in her final days. Instead, there was peace.
I left the funeral with tears of joy in my eyes, knowing Heather was at rest in the arms of my Savior and that she left this world with the peace of God. God is amazing to work out every detail and make everything work out for good, even when we have nothing of value to give from our tired hearts.