March 26 was the first anniversary of Kate’s death, four days after her 25th birthday. What a life!
Kate pursued a curriculum in foreign missions and an internship following her junior year took her to Siberia for the summer. It was there Kate first experienced discomfort behind her right knee, but thought little of it. She began her final year at college more excited than ever about missions, but the unresolved knee problem was becoming a serious concern.
Those senior classes became independent studies after the diagnosis was confirmed: osteocarcinoma, a rare bone cancer. Doctors insisted the only hope would be with immediate and aggressive treatment. A few days later her mother interrupted a friend on the phone to say, “Listen. Can you hear that? Kate is in the shower, singing ‘It Is Well with My Soul.’”
In May, a very thin, bald Kate, recovering from knee-replacement surgery, limped across the stage on crutches. Summa cum laude, she earned both the degree and the standing ovation that went with it.
Soon afterward the cancer was declared to be in remission, and everything seemed to be falling into place. During her cancer treatment Kate and Joel had taken a step back from their relationship, but now both were ready to move forward. Also, she had been hired by a mission organization in Charlotte where she could continue to minister to the scores of cancer patients she had met. Kate thoroughly enjoyed her responsibilities coordinating short term mission trips and even accompanied one group to China as she patiently waited for doctors to okay her dream of being on the foreign mission field full-time.
A check up soon after her return from China revealed new tumors on her spine, hip, skull, and collarbone. Specialists from Bowman-Gray, the Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins cooperated to develop a plan of action that would include experimental stem cell harvesting and cyber knife excisions.
Joel, knowing the responsibility and probable heartbreak ahead, proposed, saying that for however long God would allow it, he wanted the honor of being her husband. They were married on February 1, 2003, and headed for Minnesota to face the next phase of her treatment together.
Soon it became apparent that without a miracle, the battle would be lost. Through it all, Kate remained strong in her faith. “I always knew my call was to missions, but God surprised me with the field He provided – cancer patients and hospital workers!” As one by one her new friends learned of Jesus before succumbing to illness, she was asked to speak at numerous funerals and a whole network of new opportunities to give her testimony emerged. A recurring theme was, “I know God will heal me. He may do so through medical technology. He may perform a miracle that defies all medical knowledge. Or He may simply take me home and give me a new body. But I know He will heal me and His way will be perfect.”
Joel and Kate postponed one treatment phase so they could spend their first anniversary in Charleston. They enjoyed the romance of a horse-drawn carriage ride and quietly contemplated the future.
The last trip to Johns Hopkins confirmed their fears. Not only had bone tumors continued to multiply, but also tumors were beginning to form in her lungs, a sure sign that the end was near. She was flown back to Carolinas Medical for her final days.
We visited her for the last time on Sunday, March 21. Her swollen face was covered with an oxygen mask, but her blue eyes were clear and sparkling. I asked if she had any special prayer requests.
“Yes. Just for you.”
“Hmmm . . . I hadn’t thought about that. Let me think . . . You know, I’m not at all afraid of meeting Jesus. But I am just a little afraid of my last minutes here. I don’t know exactly what to expect. You could pray about that.”
The next morning, her parents and siblings joined Joel to sing, “Happy Birthday,” and hymns before Kate lapsed into a coma. Very early Friday morning, she awoke, removed the oxygen mask, and said with perfect clarity, “It is well.” She replaced the mask, went back to sleep, and at 5:09 AM, slipped peacefully into eternity.
It’s hard to believe a year has passed. Nearly 5,000 people attended the memorial service and thousands more from around the world sent donations to help Joel with the overwhelming medical bills. Enough was left over to establish a scholarship in her memory. Best of all, just days before the anniversary of her death, Joel left to serve as a missionary in the Ukraine.
I’ll never forget you, Kate. Indeed, what a life!
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