My former editor Kurt Hildebrand used to say the stories we wrote about helping people in need were the only chance any journalist had of getting into heaven.
I think he was right.
But I also have found sharing with people their most intimate life struggles has its own reward.
Because in digging into their dark places, they also shine great light. Out of sorrow, people will often find unbelievable strength and love.
I interviewed Leslie McGarry, diagnosed with terminal cancer, a couple of weeks ago, and she was a brilliant example of this.
I rushed over to El Charro Avitia to meet with her and the women organizing a fundraising run for her on a Thursday afternoon. I was just leaving my sister’s bedside after having surgery the day before to remove her thyroid.
I have written before about my sister Casandra, who went into heart failure (post-partum cardiomyopathy) in June after having her fifth baby.
While her heart has recovered in the past months, the tests they ran revealed malignant nodules on her thyroid.
Doctors were confident the surgery would be relatively easy, maybe only needing to remove half of the thyroid. But once they opened her up, it was a grave scene.
She had cancer in all of her thyroid, a malignant tumor on her trachea and the cancer had spread to surrounding lymph nodes.
A two-hour surgery stretched to five. She woke up with no voice — and still doesn’t have one.
It was devastating news after an already difficult year.
She still needs to meet with an endocrinologist to determine her course of treatment, but I’m sure she’s going to beat it with the same courage and gladness she has used in the past.
When I went to meet with Leslie, however, I still was reeling from the news.
But I found hope in her resilience and her resolve to fight for her own life. A mother of four and grandmother to two, she refused to give into despair. Despite her struggle, she was optimistic and gracious.
I explained to her where I had just come from.
She didn’t hesitate. She grabbed my hands, asked if she could bring Casandra a meal. She offered to watch her children.
I didn’t know what to say.
She asked for Casandra’s name. And wrote it down so she could pray for her.
Once, I was finished, I drove to Casandra’s house, to see if she needed any help settling in at home after being released from the Carson Surgery Center.
I found her sitting in a darkened corner of the living room, holding her baby, with her children leaning in close to hear the words she couldn’t really get out.
I sat on the footstool in front of her.
I told her about the woman I had just met, how she’d offered to help. How she’d taken down her name to offer a prayer.
Tears rolled silently down Casandra’s face.
Then she whispered, “What’s her name? I want to pray for her, too.”