It has been a blessing to find an old friend on Facebook! Francisco and I went to school together in Windom, Minnesota. We became good friends, back then I knew him as Poncho, the early 70’s. Now I know him as Father Francisco Chauvet Contreras! We both worked as custodians at the Windom school part-time while going to high school. Great memories! Francisco is from Mexico, his host family in Windom was the Omar and Rita Amundson family. We were blessed in Windom with supper foreign exchange students, they helped us learn so very much about the world around us. I did not know that Francisco once had leukemia……..We love you Brother!


Today is Thursday, February the 28th, 2019
Twenty years ago, to the day, the doctor walked into my room at the Marist Formation House and gave it to me straight: “Father, you have Leukemia. ALL- Acute lymphoblastic Leukemia. We´ll get right on to it.”
I guess I saw it coming. Two weeks of tests and more tests, averted gazes, half-smiles, months even of weakness, vomiting, not-quite-myself type of symptoms. But it´s always a surprise.
Of course, the doctor was wrong. Or so I thought. Leukemia is part of those things that happen… to other people. Not to me! Like Lucy, the Peanuts character, one famously said: “I ´m too young to die! I´m too beautiful to die, I´m too ME to die!”. And yet…
The doc left. And I cried. Boy, did I cry. And when crying was done, I made myself a promise, no, two promises: One, I ain´t gonna cry no more , and two, I´m gonna beat this thing.
So today is my twentieth anniversary. Not the day I got sick, or got told. It´s the anniversary of the day I beat Leukemia. The day I was told is the day I started beating it. I beat cancer. Cancer. Boy, that´s an ugly word. But it isn’t the last word.
Treatment began. I guess God knows I’m a wimp. So no pain. Never. Ever. Just weak, tired, but no suffering as such. Quite the contrary.
I´ve checked this with other C patients, and they agree: It´s been, for many, the best years of their lives. I´ll remember that one year of treatment as the richest, greatest in my life. Cuz it´s the time when my Bro carried me in his arms (yep, that weak and skinny) … it’s the time when my sisters gave me an earring, so bald wouldn’t look so bald… When my nephews came to visit and.. they weren’t scared! And drawings and pictures would come up on the walls.

See, one thing that happens is, you want to live! Life is so great. Sky is bluer, grass is emeralds, dust is Gold dust. Everything just shines!!! I remember going to the hospital and just looking out the window. Life was never so beautiful, so good! Clouds were so beautiful, so wondrous!
But not as much as people. People, wow! Let me say that again: Wow! They came by packs: From the Lycée, from the Seminary, from the youth ministry, from near and far. They called, they wrote, they prayed. Friends of friends of friends would donate blood, platelets or just visit. Total strangers, and yet so…wonderful people!
Four hospital stays… Never more than 5 or 6 days. Woke up one day, looked to the side, and there she was. Silent, smiling, serene, hands folded, as though fearful to show the pain inside, not to scare me, not to worry me. She´d come early, every day. Stayed late. And that day, when I saw my Mom next to my bed, I promised again I would beat this ALL. I wasn’t going to let my Mom become an…orphan? Is that the word I want? Orphan is when you lose a parent. But losing a son.. here´s no word for that, too terrible.. Well, Mom wasn’t´t going to become that.
Sure, some friends were scared. They didn’t know what to do, what to say. I remember G. coming into my room, saw me lying there, and started crying!!! Well, that´s one way to cheer me up! Nice touch! We both died laughing afterwards…
Don’t get me wrong. ALL, as all Cs, is a bad deal. People die from it. M died. He was just 18. J died, She was forty something and one big woman. L. died, only two years old. When someone missed their monthly IV session, well, the rest of us knew. ALL is suffering and tears and sh@t all rolled into one.
So I did ask myself: What does God want from me? What is He trying to tell me? But I never did really ask Him, cuz I knew already. He was telling me what He had always told me: That He loved me very much, beyond belief, and that nothing would ever, ever change that, but hey, crosses get heavy once in a while, even for Him, so could I please carry this one of couple months or years or lifetimes? Sure, just don’t make it too heavy, I ain´t THAT kind of saint…
So, Internet, chat rooms… They had those way back then.. you just signed in, typed your brand of C and joined the fun. It was great. That’s where I found out that I was a … But I’m getting ahead of myself.
J was writing: “ I have C. Big bag ugly C. Some type of sarcoma – They don´t even have a name for it yet. Doc wants me to take the treatment, follow protocol, whatever. Survival rate: = 0.000001%. Won´t make it. No one has. No one will, for a long time yet…. But I’ll do it, yes sir! You know why? Cuz we’re soldiers. I´ll probably die, within a couple months. But what the doctors learn from me, heck, it´ll save other lives, So bring on the chemo!”
That was interesting. So I´m a soldier… Asked my doc: “How do you know how much chemo you should give me? Why not more? Why not less?” “Well, Father, you know tests have been run, and based on results…” “So, if I hear you right, you had groups of people tested, different doses, and whomever made it, that was the right dose?” Silence. “Yes, pretty much”…
So I´m a soldier… And others have died, that I might live. Sounds familiar.
So I´m alive. And thankful. To God, to you, to all. Thankful for another chance, another swing at Life. I don´t know what I would have said had I .. you know…”not made it”. I just hope I can continue to live each day with heartfelt thanks for this wonderful gift called LIFE.
And to all of you: you who came, you who cried, you who laughed, you who hugged and held me, well, thank you! From the bottom of my heart!
We are soldiers. All of us!

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