In July 2016, my sister was diagnosed with stage four renal cancer; essentially she had multiple tumors on the right kidney, one of them measuring 4 inches, and multiple tumors in her lungs, one of them measuring 8 inches. Her prognosis was poor, generally less than a year with treatment. In September 2016, she began an immunotherapy treatment. Still, the prognosis was poor.
In December 2018, she had a massive stroke. She was unresponsive. Since the cancer-drug was implicated in the stroke, we took her off this medication and put her in hospice care. We stopped every single cancer treatment. And basically, we were just maintaining her comfort.
Now, at this point, she was using a wheelchair and a walker. Her speech was very compromised.
It was May 7, 2022, when she had another stroke. She was totally unresponsive and couldn't breathe on her own. Her body temperature dropped to 95.6 degrees, her respiration was labored about 30 breaths per minute, and her blood pressure was dropping. A nurse came in every other day since this is what hospice does when ‘the time is near.’ The hospice doctor evaluated and confirmed that she definitely had another stroke. ‘She’s dying,’ he said. Most likely, it will be less than a week. We cried. We said our good-byes. I made funeral arrangements, and I even wrote her obituary.
We prayed over her: the Divine Mercy, Rosary, and intercessory prayers to Padre Pio and Blessed Solanaus Casey. We went to adoration at St. John Neumann to pray for a peaceful passing. The priest came in to administer Anointing of the Sick. It was an excruciatingly painful week as we prepared her for her journey.
Because of her condition, my aunt hadn’t been to Mass in years. So, we were bringing her the Eucharist in a pyx. When I came back from church on May 8 with the Eucharist, my mom said, ‘She can't eat, she can't swallow.’ But I was adamant. I said, ‘she needs it. Let me just break off a tiny little piece and just put it under her tongue and make sure it can dissolve.’ And then the same thing happened on the 15th when I brought the Eucharist. My mom said, ‘I don't know,’ and I said, ‘just a tiny little piece. She needs it.’
I continued to keep my sister comfortable, administering ‘comfort meds’ under her tongue. On the afternoon of the 15th, she choked out a strange string of sentences: ‘I want tomato soup and I want to walk.’ It didn’t make sense. She was dying. ‘Maybe this is part of the process?’ I thought. Still, if this is her last hurrah, I’m going to give her what she wants. So, I gave her tomato soup. I prayed for guidance since I had to take her out of hospice if I wanted her to even try to walk. So, I did. She then went to the ER by ambulance since she wasn’t breathing on her own. I knew it sounded crazy — she couldn’t breathe but I want to know if she can walk?’ God doesn’t have to ‘make sense,’ I just knew I needed to do this.
They did admit her. And, they did tests… oh, did they do tests: blood tests, CTs of the brain, chest, and pelvis. When I met with the medical team, they told me there was no cancer. No stroke. And, my sister, who was once not breathing on her own, not responsive, not walking, is now breathing without oxygen, using a walker to get to the bathroom, and talking, laughing and joking. I was flat. I couldn’t even be happy because this made no sense. Without treatment, she is ‘well’ and back to where she was? I asked the team what they were treating her for, and they said dysarthria, which basically means slurred speech and an infection, probably a UTI. My sister had no memory of the prior time during which she was when she was ‘dying’ — when she couldn’t move, speak, or breathe.
Within days, she took a turn. A sharp, unbelievable turn. My cousin, who is a nurse, was helping with my aunt. She said, ‘I know dying, I see dying every day, and she was dying. I can’t wrap my brain around this.’ It was emotional. How do you even explain that to friends without sounding like you're the boy who cried wolf – or worse, like you’re crazy?
Experience it for Yourself
Jesus is truly present. Jesus is always with you. Sit in his presence and open yourself up to his voice.