Not Until She Graduates
In thirty years of practicing medicine, no patient impacted me like Doris Baxter. Through Doris, I witnessed God’s grace and power—and a bonafide miracle. Doris, a pleasant forty-seven-year old librarian, took great pleasure in mothering her bubbly, fifteen-year-old daughter, Julie. Since Doris and her husband had waited years to conceive Julie, they savored every moment with their daughter. At her annual check-ups, Doris displayed photos of Julie singing in the church choir, or kicking the winning soccer goal, or decorating a lopsided birthday cake she had baked for her father. In fact, Doris was more interested in talking about her daughter than complaining about a creaky knee or ten-pound weight gain like so many women her age.
One year, however, Doris complained of severe fatigue, nosebleeds, easy bruising, and chronic sinus infections. A battery of tests confirmed my suspicion: acute leukemia. The leukemia cells, called blasts, had crowded out the healthy cells in her bone marrow causing bleeding, anemia and fatigue.
I referred her to a top oncologist and she began the first of five cycles of chemotherapy. Hair loss, nausea, worsening fatigue, and frequent blood transfusions became Doris’s constant nemesis.
Because of Julie, Doris was desperate to live. So desperate, she probably would have snuck into Mexico in the bottom of an avocado truck to obtain illegal Laetrile, if she’d thought it would cure her leukemia. She and Julie did everything together—Girl Scouts, shopping, cooking, and you-name-it. Thus, they had never suffered the “you’ve-ruined-my-life, I-hate-you, Mom,” drama that so many teenaged girls and mothers weather on the rocky path to adulthood. Leaving Julie to fend for herself during her tumultuous teen years was unthinkable.
One day, after a rough cycle of chemotherapy, Doris gripped my hand and pleaded, “Please pray for me—that this chemotherapy works, and God allows me to see Julie graduate from high school. I don’t need to grow old; I just don’t want to abandon Julie when she’s still in high school. Is three years too much to ask?”
Tears filled my eyes. As a mother of two children myself, I could only imagine her drive to usher her daughter into adulthood. What if my little girl had to face life with no mommy? With a hand on Doris’s shoulder, I promised, “I will pray for you every day, and I’ll get my weekly prayer group to pray also.”
The creases in her face relaxed. “Thank you,” she whispered, squeezing my hand. “All we can do is pray. The rest is in God’s hands.”
We thought our prayers were answered when the blasts disappeared and her blood counts normalized. She was responding to the chemotherapy! But after her fifth cycle, the blasts returned and her blood counts plummeted; her leukemia had grown resistant to the chemotherapy.
“We’ll try a different drug,” her oncologist said. But it, too, proved a failure. Doris then agreed to an experimental drug in a leukemia drug trial, but it caused a rash and painful mouth sores. Worse yet, it didn’t work either. Unfortunately, no one in her family was a match for a bone marrow transplant. Doris was out of luck.
With leukemia hogging her bone marrow, she required blood and platelet transfusions almost daily. But then she developed antibodies to the transfused platelets, thus destroying them within hours.
Her prognosis looked bleak. But Doris had unwavering faith. She, along with her family, church, friends, and doctors prayed for a miracle. Her one persistent prayer? “Let me see Julie graduate from high school.”
Infections and nosebleeds necessitating trips to the hospital now plagued her. One night, disaster struck: she hemorrhaged into her lungs and brain. Paramedics rushed her to the ER. She was already comatose and required a ventilator to breathe for her. Things looked so hopeless the hematologist called in her family to say their final goodbyes. “She won’t survive the night,” he told them sadly and advised a “Do Not Resuscitate” order.
Later that night, I came by her room wishing, praying, there was something I could do. I poured over her medical record and shook my head. I placed a hand on Doris’s shoulder and offered up a heartfelt plea. “God, I pray for a miracle. Doris just wants to see her daughter finish high school. If it is your will, please grant her that.” I exited her room suspecting this would be the last time I’d see her this side of heaven. My eyes pooled, as I’d grown fond of Doris and her family. Why, God? Why Doris? Her family needs her, and she’s such a nice lady.
Amazingly, Doris survived the night, and over the next few days, with no treatment whatsoever, her blood counts unexplainably increased. Soon, the blasts were gone. What was going on? Then, her breathing improved enough to come off the ventilator. But everyone’s unspoken fear? Will she remain in a coma, and if not, how much brain damage will remain?
Several days later, Doris bolted up singing along to the praise music playing in the background! She moved all four extremities, swallowed water, talked, walked, and acted normal. We doctors scratched our heads. How could she have sustained such a massive bleed into her brain and come out unscathed? And why had the blasts just disappeared? It made no sense.
It made no sense that is, until Doris shared her near death experience. Doris told me while she was comatose, Jesus appeared to her in a translucent white robe and told her He had heard her prayers and would heal her long enough to see her daughter graduate from high school.
I stared at Doris in disbelief, barely able to breathe. God had granted her a miracle!
Just as promised, for the next three years, Doris suffered no serious infections or bleeds, and her blood remained leukemia-free. She cheered for Julie at soccer games, helped her select a luscious fuchsia prom dress, and snapped untold pictures of Julie in her graduation cap and gown. Julie headed off to college to begin a four-year nursing program.
Unfortunately, within three months of Julie starting college, the leukemia returned with a vengeance, and this time nothing stopped it. Doris died of an overwhelming infection shortly after receiving a bone marrow transplant (donated from a stranger whose bone marrow matched hers.)
Why didn’t God heal Doris permanently? Was it because we had prayed for her to live long enough to see her daughter graduate?
Julie, not surprisingly, became an oncology nurse. While sad about her mother’s early death, she still marvels that God allowed her mother to survive a massive brain and lung hemorrhage so Julie could have her mother around another three years. Julie carries pictures in her wallet of her mother styling her hair for the Homecoming dance, and standing in front of Old Faithful, and riding a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyons. “She was here on borrowed time. Those extra years with Mom mean everything to me because they were a gift from God. I know where Mom is, and someday I’ll be with her again.”
Job 9:10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted. (NIV)