By Fred Dickey March 10, 2014
Last July 22, this column explored the faith-healing beliefs of cancer victim Connie Lewis of San Diego, who was afflicted with Stage 4 cervical cancer that had spread. At that time, after radiation treatment months before and against medical expectations, the cancer had become contained, and her health had improved dramatically. She attributed that to her belief in the power of faith to heal, and gave God the credit.
“It’s back,” Connie replied when asked how she was doing. Sad words because I knew what they meant. Seven months after she believed God had halted her disease, the cancer cells were awake and angry.
She was barely recognizable from months earlier because of puffiness in her face caused by steroids. Otherwise, she was as sanguine and smiling as in July, when she was in total remission.
Connie, 47, says that she didn’t feel well in mid-January and went to the emergency room. There, a CAT-scan revealed that cancer had metastasized into eight brain tumors. She was promptly treated with another round of radiation. A subsequent PET-scan revealed additional cancer in the lymph nodes, which the radiation had not targeted. In addition to steroids, she is taking an anti-seizure drug.
It was decided to start chemo treatments immediately. But several days into March, nothing has been done because, Connie says, the new health-insurance laws had caused confusion in getting a go-ahead.
She finally got approval and hopes to start chemotherapy treatment this week. One barrier might be her low blood count, which she is striving to elevate by taking iron and eating spinach. Connie says chemo will not be allowed unless her blood count is raised, because of potential problems with clotting. Bleeding in the brain, she has been warned, would cause death.
Connie says she has been contacted by a hospice, a move apparently suggested by her doctors. She is in the care of two oncologists; one is guardedly optimistic, the other less so. She’s in the gray area of prognosis where doctors’ smiles are forced. Everything is wait and see.
Well-meaning health professionals have been phoning her to help with outpatient treatment. “There’re two or three calling me every day, and all leading me to believe I’m ready to die, saying I have 30 days. That was very cold. I’ve talked to my husband. I said, ‘Do you know what they’re telling me? One said I’m not going to be speaking. One said I’m not going to be walking.’ He phoned and asked them to please call him instead of me.”
Connie wants to continue a productive life as mother to her five sons, two still teenagers, and continue her care for “unadoptable” foster children, of whom she has helped raise 20.
In the face of doubting professional opinion, Connie is steadfast in her belief that Christian faith will save her. “As long as I keep up the praying, everything will be OK.”
It was Mr. Hang-Tough himself, Winston Churchill, who said, “Never, never, never give up.”
Connie believes her health decline over the latter half of last year was due to a lapse in prayer and no longer attending faith-healing sessions at Clairemont Christian Fellowship. She had moved to Jamul and was without transportation for the long drive to the San Diego church. Recently, a friend volunteered to drive her and she’s back with the healing group.
As Connie seems to do, she bounced back after her recent radiation. “Two weeks ago (in late February), I had no control of my left arm at all or my left leg. I had to have someone with me every second. I was trembling all the time. Today is the first day I was able to put on makeup.”
The change, she believes, came with her recent return to church. “I felt a calmness that I had lost come over me again, a peace. The (sermon) was about healing, about taking over your own body and allowing the good thoughts and the Lord to work. Since that day, I’ve been steadily getting better to where I’m not shaking.
I’d been having headaches every day. They’re gone. It felt like there was a plastic bag over my head and I wasn’t getting oxygen. I couldn’t think straight. That’s all gone away. My feelings now are that it’s all a blessing.
“I don’t think you get punished for not having enough faith. I think that sometimes you are meant to go be with the Lord. I think sometimes some people give up. That’s where I find the biggest battle — in my own mind on how I want to feel.”
Connie says her husband lost his first wife to cancer, and it gives her pain to see the effect her disease has on him. “We don’t talk too much about it because I see the sadness from whatever he dealt with before.”
Her sons also are having a tough time. “They’re not taking it well. They’re confused. One, especially, just doesn’t understand what’s the point of life right now when you can just lose it so quickly.”
You don’t think that cancer is a natural thing where cells just go crazy?
“I do know that’s what it is, medically.”
You must have dark moments.
“The only dark moments I have are (when I am) looking at my kids when they’re asleep or thinking about them. Then, I pray. I go outside and I enjoy the beauty of the sound of the birds, the wind in trees, and it puts my mind back, and I say to myself, ‘Well, what are you thinking, silly?’ I already know I’ve won this. It’s not allowing myself to be tricked into those bad moments.”
“By bad thoughts. By allowing bad thoughts: Why is this happening? Why is it back? What did I do wrong?
“I just shared with God some things that have been happening and told him I felt that I need a lot of prayer. To win this battle, I need a lot of prayer. That’s how I’m going to win it.”
We tend to personify dark things we fear. In that sense, cancer is the true evil Joker. It taunts and plays hide and seek with those in its clutches. When it hides behind a tree, it will jump out and scare you. Sometimes, rarely, it’s nowhere to be found. But, almost always, it’s behind the tree, grinning and waiting.
Not that she cares, but Connie’s faith goes up against a wall of disbelief. A medical essayist writes, “There are thousands of people who have passed away, still groping aimlessly at the belief that a supernatural power would intervene.”
Giving a little counter-balance to that grim assessment is a British cancer publication: “Scientific evidence does not support (faith) healing as a treatment for cancer. But some studies seem to show that it can increase peace of mind, reduce stress, relieve pain and anxiety, and may strengthen the will to live.”
There are many things I find unfathomable. Faith healing is one. The human spirit is another. Connie Lewis is a warm, forward-looking woman who in her life has helped many children that others wouldn’t. She’s been stricken by a dogged disease that seems determined not to loosen its grip. But she’s fighting back in every way she can.
In the throes of her struggle, Connie continues to smile. Once lost, a smile can never be replaced. It can only inspire others to make their own.
Poet Dylan Thomas urged, “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” But rage didn’t gain him one extra day. By medical judgment, devout and optimistic Connie has already lived many months longer than expected.
She believes she will continue to live. I hope she’s right. We never have enough Connie Lewises.
Fred Dickey’s home page is www.freddickey.net.
He believes every life is an adventure and welcomes your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.