She was fearful as she awaited her surgery, but a woman she'd never met reassured her.
There must have been at least a hundred people crowded into the waiting room outside a lab at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. All of them—all of us—cancer patients or worried family members, like my husband, Mike. Everyone was whispering, filling the room with an eerie hiss.
I could see the stricken look in the faces around me, how weak and helpless the disease and the chemo had left them. Some people wore surgical masks, their skin pale. Others had lost their hair. I’d never seen so many people with IVs, in wheelchairs...
That’s going to be me, I thought. I have cancer. The realization sent a cold chill through me. My hands trembled uncontrollably. I grabbed Mike’s arm and took a deep breath.
Not long ago in the shower I’d felt a lump under my arm. My doctor confirmed my worst fear after a whirlwind of X-rays and tests. I’d come here for pre-lab work, my surgery two days away. And after that? What if surgery wasn’t enough? Please, God, help me, I prayed. But I felt no comfort.
“It will be okay,” Mike said. “This is a great hospital. Your surgeon knows what he’s doing. You can’t lose faith.”
How could he be calm? Could he not see everyone around us? This was serious. People died from cancer.
I couldn’t bear to think of not being there for Mike, for our four children. I’d just turned 50. My best years ahead. Or so I’d thought. I cradled my head in my hands. My surgeon was optimistic. I shouldn’t be this frightened. But I couldn’t calm myself.
All I could think about were the weddings I wouldn’t cry at, the grandchildren I’d never hold. Who would care for my mother? I’d dreamed of growing old with Mike. I wasn’t strong enough to fight. Already I felt weak. What if the doctor was wrong? What if it was too late?
I felt something move at my feet, a rustling sound. I opened my eyes to see a woman kneeling in front of me. She reached out and rested her hand on my knee. What is she doing?
She was in her early 60s, wearing a burgundy sweater and navy slacks. She had short brown hair, stylishly cut, but no makeup or jewelry.
Through her glasses I gazed back at the kindest, most compassionate hazel eyes I’d ever seen. There was something so comforting about her, despite the strange situation.
Instinctively I placed my hand on hers and she put her free hand on top of mine. Her hands were crisscrossed with veins, slightly rough in places, a mother’s hands, hands used to working.
She looked up at me and in a soft, soothing voice said, “I can see how scared you are, dear, but don’t worry. You are going to be okay.”
Even in the crowded waiting room I heard every word she said. The noise around me was gone, as if she and I were the only people in the room.
She didn’t say another word. But her eyes never left mine while she gently stroked my hand. Then she stood up and walked away. I looked to Mike and then back to where the woman had last been standing. But now she wasn’t there. I scanned the room, but couldn’t find her.
“Strange, huh?” I said to Mike.
“The woman at my feet,” I said, trying not to sound irritated. What did he think I was talking about? “I didn’t see a woman,” Mike said.
I knew I hadn’t imagined her. I’d felt her hand. A human touch. Heard her soothing voice. Even now, after she’d gone I felt calm and relaxed, a sense of peace I’d never known before. That couldn’t have come from me.
“Mike,” I said, “I think I just had a visit from an angel.”
Mike took my hand and squeezed it. “You’re not alone in this,” he said. “That much I know for sure.”
Two days later I had my surgery, a lumpectomy. The surgeon said that the tumor was small and intact.
It took 10 more days to get the results of the lymph node biopsies. It felt like forever, but whenever I got worried I thought of the woman I’d encountered in the waiting room, the comfort of her voice, the warm assurance of her touch.
When the news came that my lymph nodes were cancer free we thanked God for his blessing. I went through chemotherapy and radiation as a precaution against reoccurrence, but I wasn’t afraid. I knew Mike was right. I wasn’t alone.
Today, almost 11 years later, I remain cancer free. I’ve seen all of my children graduate from college and I’ve danced at one of their weddings. I delight daily in my beautiful granddaughter.
And no matter what happens there’s a peace that never leaves me. A peace given to me by an angel when I needed it most.
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