A year ago, Successful Farming magazine asked if I would write about my wife's breast cancer and the lessons learned from her struggle. Jan died in January 2009, and the emotions of those final agonizing weeks were still fresh and compelled me to decline.
A few days passed, and the question lingered: What if just one person were to benefit from her story? "By all means, write about it," I heard her whisper.
So I did, and it ran here last November under the headline, "Three Lessons From Jan." I told how her cancer returned 12 years later in a place far removed from where it started. And I recounted her final philosophy on life, the Mack Truck Principle: Whether you're healthy or sick, just live every day like it might be your last.
I received many nice comments from readers who said the story helped them. But nothing compared to the call I got in January from a cattle rancher in West Virginia (see "Divine Help"). Noah Perry's first words to me were, "You know, you saved my wife's life."
Tears filled my eyes as he told how he read Jan's story late one night just before Thanksgiving, and he immediately knew wife Louise's six-month struggle with shoulder pain was not a pinched nerve or arthritis. It was a return of her breast cancer from 28 years before!
When Louise and daughters Jana and Jill read the story the next day, they, too, felt it was a message from another world. Louise made an appointment with an oncologist, and a tumor in her shoulder was confirmed (as it turns out, not a recurrence of her breast cancer, but possibly a result of the radiation from back then). She's since had six rounds of chemotherapy, the tumor has shrunk dramatically, and she's back to an active life.
The doctor who treats her asked incredulously on their first visit, "Now tell me again, you came here because of a story in a FARM magazine?"
After Noah told me the story about Louise's cancer, I called her. We cried -- tears of joy for her good prognosis and sadness for my family's loss. I said, "Louise, I think you have a guardian angel, and I know her name."
We've both clung to that thought.
Now, every morning Louise puts on a necklace with a diamond-studded guardian angel pendant that her sister, Lois Stern, gave her last Christmas. And Louise thinks of my Jan, a good woman she never met but who apparently watches over her from a heavenly vantage.