There is always hope, and there is always faith

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  • September 27, 2011

Do you believe in miracles?

It’s an age-old question. Songs and movies have been written on the topic. Sporting events have taken the issue as their own: consider the “Miracle on Ice” or the “Immaculate Reception.” TV evangelists and so-called “doctors” the world over have gotten rich selling miracle healing and miracle cures.

Sometimes, the question touches us so personally and so profoundly that we can’t get it out of our mind. Can we definitely give all credit to God’s grace? Is God not working through the actions of humans, such as doctors, nurses and others? 

I found myself in this state the other day.


Less than a year ago, a member of my family gave birth to a beautiful and healthy baby boy. While breast-feeding, just weeks after the birth, this mother felt something unusual. She reported this to her doctor and an examination and tests showed she had breast cancer.

She is a remarkable person, loving, smart (she just earned a PhD in science) and young, only 33 at the time of diagnosis.

If that was not enough to rock her world, more was to come. Within weeks, more cancer was found riddled throughout her body, in her bones and elsewhere. She was told she was terminal and given a two-and-half-year survival term. In other words, half the people with her type of cancer at that stage die within 30 months and half exceed that time, often by not very much.

Devastating is the only way to describe this news. The next weeks and months entailed heavy doses of chemotherapy and other treatment as she bonded with her baby.

“I had always been an agnostic,” she told me, “and I hadn’t given the matter of spirituality or faith much thought in a long time. When I began treatment, my oncologist, a woman of science like myself, noted that while Stage IV is considered incurable, there is always hope and always faith. I have prayed every day since.”

All the while, she remained positive, posting updates and pictures on Facebook and inspiring loved ones, both family and friends. Even as pictures appeared of her without hair, she remained upbeat. So many family and friends were in her corner. She was constantly in our thoughts and definitely in our prayers.

Then, after months of treatment, she was sent for tests to see whether the chemotherapy cocktail had to be changed for the best possible results. An incredible thing occurred: the doctors could see no signs of the cancer. This is the official statement: “No PET/CT evidence to suggest local, nodal or distant metastatic disease at this time.”

What? How could that be so?

Doctors caution they are not saying she is cured; rather they cannot see signs of cancer. It could still be there, hiding hideously and in remission. Or she could be cured by some miracle. At the very least, she will have many more joyous days and years with that baby than we thought only weeks ago. Is that not a miracle unto itself?

Either way, this was the best possible news she (and all of us) could have heard. As a relative in Pennsylvania said: “It is remarkable what can happen when you combine God’s grace with modern medicine.”

The other day, I told this story to two friends, one who attends Mass every Sunday and the other who is an avowed atheist. Their reactions were interesting.

The first said: “I love hearing stories like this,” but he could not fully bring himself to say out loud that God’s hand could be involved. Who can blame him? There is a lot of stigma in today’s society associated with saying such things.

The atheist said, “Wonderful. I am so happy for your family. Do you think she was misdiagnosed from the beginning?” He is a warm and caring person but rejects the involvement of a divine hand in this or any other such story.

“I feel like my prayers have been answered,” this young mother says. “I have been thinking that I have been lucky enough to receive two miracles: my beautiful baby and what I hope is a cure. But maybe there are really three — I have also found faith.”

The concept of miracles is difficult to understand, making it equally difficult to absolutely believe in them. But after what has occurred in our family, I now definitely know where I stand when the question of miracles arises.

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