Quick, I need the number to the Vatican SMU (Special Miracles Unit). Okay, maybe this one is not worthy of getting on the Pope's calendar. But it is certainly the most amazing miracle I have experienced.
It involves my eight-year-old daughter who is a happy, healthy cancer survivor. In fact, just a couple of years ago her oncologist said, “I consider her cured.” That was indeed amazing news and something that has to be attributed to the grace of God. But the miracle itself occurred a few years earlier.
To get you to that miracle without making you read something comparable to the length of War and Peace I am going to have to fast forward you through some of the most difficult days of my life.
My first daughter was born in 2006. During those joyous and exhausting moments after childbirth, one of the nurses looked at our baby's little rear end and said something to the effect of, “What's this? We'll have the pediatrician check that out.” My wife and I did not sense any alarm.
Now I'll really speed up the story. The next day a pediatric surgeon examined our child, suspected (and later confirmed) that she had a potentially life-threatening tumor on her tailbone and declared that she would need surgery almost immediately.
Following an emergency baptism by a priest (thank God we were in a Catholic hospital), our one-day-old baby was loaded into an ambulance and moved to the local trauma hospital where she underwent surgery to remove the tumor.
The tumor had “cancerous elements.” So we gradually realized that the next several years of her life, if not longer, would consist of frequent pokes, prods and scans. We brought her home from the hospital on her twelfth day of life, but the situation was far from over. In fact, she needed blood drawn frequently to monitor her alfa-fetoprotein (AFP) levels which could indicate a recurrence of the cancer if they increase.
Now I'll skip the recovery phase and jump ahead to when she was 13 months old. The oncologist called to inform us that her last blood check showed a rise in her AFP. The next several tests showed a clear pattern that her levels were increasing rapidly. Translation: the tumor was coming back.
After consulting with the “tumor board in Boston,” the oncologist laid out the treatment plan for us: Our little girl would need three rounds of in-patient chemotherapy followed by another surgery to “scrape out the rest of the tumor.” For brevity (if it's not too late for that) I'll skip past the chemotherapy experience other than saying this: It's horrible to sit there and watch nurses pump poison into your child's veins that makes her throw up and lose her hair. But it's worth it if it knocks out the cancer.
We hated the idea of having to subject her to another surgery. This one was going to be more invasive and result in a longer, harder recovery time than her first operation after birth. The surgeon said he might have to “go in from both the front and the back” because he “won't know exactly what I'm dealing with until I get in there.”
In the midst of chemotherapy we half-jokingly tried to talk the oncologist out of requiring surgery. “Maybe the chemo will just take care of everything, and she won't need it,” we said. It was a nice try, but the best pediatric oncologists in central Texas were adamant that surgery was necessary.
The surgery was scheduled for August 19, 2009, about a month after her last chemotherapy treatment. It was very stressful for us leading up to that day. I made arrangements with my employer take several days off beginning with the day of the operation.
It was a crazy day at work on the last day trying to get too many things done before my absence. It was just as crazy for my wife at home. In her notes, she described it as a day of making “frantic preparations before surgery.”
On my last day at the office, my phone rang at 3:50 p.m. while I was scrambling to finish my work. It was my wife. She said, “Dr. Schlechter (the surgeon) just called. He's canceling the surgery.”
“What?!?” I replied, thinking that perhaps there was a scheduling conflict and the surgery was being pushed to another day. But that's not why.
My wife continued, “He doesn't feel good about where to resect. He took her scans to the best interventional radiologist (IR) in the state who said it all looks like normal tissue.” Whatever was visible in there on previous scans was now gone. The IR studied the scans in every possible configuration and found nothing wrong.
My wife summarized this quite accurately in her notes:
The surgeon very kindly and patiently explained the medical terms and reasons to us in more detail. But in spiritual terms, this was nothing short of a miracle. My daughter had a recurrence of her cancerous tumor, and less than 24 hours before surgery the tumor was gone, and the operation was cancelled.
When I think about it all these years later, I am forever grateful to God but disappointed that I didn't spend more time in prayer during those dark days. The hospital where my daughter had her chemotherapy and where surgery was supposed to take place had a small chapel with a tabernacle full of consecrated Hosts.
Had my faith been as strong then as it it is now, I would have spent far more time on my knees in that chapel in front of Jesus. Miracles really do happen. Don't be afraid to ask for them. Of course God may not answer our prayers the way we want. But He will answer. I have a happy, healthy daughter to prove it.