It was three years ago today. From The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming:

“I’m having trouble breathing,” she rasped. “Turn my oxygen up.” Mike did, but the blood kept coming. Ruthie tried to wipe it away with tissues, but couldn’t keep up. Mike retrieved the pulse oximeter, to check the oxygen level in her blood.

“I can’t breathe!” Ruthie gasped. “I can’t breathe!”

The oximeter reading was 84 – far below the normal measure. Mike knew this was a real emergency, and phoned Tim, who was with a patient. He left a tense voicemail.

“Hey Tim, it’s Mike,” he said. “Ruthie’s having a real tough time breathing. Bleeding a lot. Her oxygen is about 84, 85. Just wanted to … see what we needed to do. Thanks.”

Ruthie choked out words conveying to Mike that she couldn’t breathe at all. “Call 911!” she rasped. Mike was alarmed before, but now he was terrified. He ran to the kitchen, made the call, and before he could get off the phone heard the fire department dispatch notice go out on his police radio. Mike darted into the living room to look in once more on Ruthie, still on the couch. She was struggling to catch her breath, drowning in her own blood. (Doctors later said that the main tumor had most likely knifed through an artery in her lung.)

Mike, panicked and feeling helpless, dashed back into the kitchen and phoned the fire station where he had just visited, to tell the rescuers that the call was for his wife, and to please, for God’s sake, hurry. He hung up, shot back to the living room, and saw the love of his life, spattered with blood and terrified. For the first time since they had begun this journey, Mike saw fear in Ruthie’s big brown eyes.

“I’m scared,” she whispered. Then Ruthie fell forward, into her husband’s arms, dead.

Since then, we’ve lost Ruthie’s two chemo buddies, Miss Joyce and Stephanie, to cancer. Today a friend of mine buries his wife, who died last week from pancreatic cancer. Like Ruthie, she was 42. She leaves behind a two-year-old daughter.

So much sorrow, so much pain. It is my hope that the story of Ruthie, and the story of everyone who meets their cancer with faith, hope, and love, inspires and strengthens those who are carrying that particular cross, or who one day will. I’m thinking this morning of Kara Tippetts, who has had to shave her head again as cancer has returned, and she begins the chemotherapy that will cause her to go bald. Kara knows that the odds are very long that she will beat cancer this time. She writes, with characteristic honesty:

It felt like an impossible day to get through. But we made it. We cried hot tears. My girlfriends stood by and watched through tears, but they showed up. They were there. And a thousand more would have come if I had asked. Just to smile at me through my tears. And in the smiling, letting me know it’s going to be okay. Somehow, it will be okay.

Shaving my head felt devastating this go around. I know what this is. I know what this means. So hot tears ran down my face as my kind friend Evan shaved my head. It hurt. Not the bald, but what the bald represents. That I will likely never again enjoy hair. It hurts. It feels so ugly. And you all are so kind to lift my spirits and tell me I’m not ugly, but today. I feel it. And it’s not a feeling a I often carry. Grace will meet me. I will learn to live with this again. But today, it’s hard. Having the kids watch gave me courage.

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