Nancy: The Story of Hope

1.01.1999

In the mid 1990's, I registered with the National Marrow Donor Program to add my name to the list of those who were willing to donate bone marrow or stem cells to a complete stranger, never dreaming I would receive a call. However, in 2001, I was called on to do both in the hopes of saving a woman's life. A woman I never got to meet....A woman I called Hope.

I am going to share the extraordinary journey that God sovereignly chose for me to take. I hope you will join me as I share the journey I call, 




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The beginning of my relationship with Nancy began on November 8, 2000. I received a letter from the University of Iowa informing me that I was a possible match for someone who was in need of a bone marrow transplant. In 1994, I had registered with the Iowa Marrow Donor Program and pretty much forgotten about it until I received their letter. I immediately called the U of I to tell them I was very much interested in the further testing that would need to be done to see if I would be, in fact, a match for someone in need of a transplant. It was explained to me that there were three of us being tested for the recipient. I will be honest; I wanted to be the donor for purely selfish reasons. I wanted to be the one God would use to help someone, so I petitioned God daily to allow me to be the donor as well as praying for whoever it was who needed the transplant. 

I was sent to a local medical lab to have the first of many vials of blood drawn. My blood was then sent to a lab where they would do the detailed tests that needed to be done to make sure the recipient and I were compatible. Julee, my donor coordinator, who also became my dear friend, explained that it would take several months before all the results would come back. I admit to not being very patient, it's not one of my strong suits, so I called Julee several times to see if she heard anything during those couple of months. 

In January 2001 I finally received the news that I was the donor of choice! I was thrilled!! I was jumping up and down in my kitchen and thanking God for this wonderful opportunity. Russ, my new husband of 5 months, was not as thrilled as I was. He came home to find his new bride grinning from ear to ear. "You were chosen, weren't you." It was more of a statement than a question. I nodded and simply said, "Please?" Russ is one of the most compassionate men I know. He knew someone was dying and I could possibly help them. He gave me the go-ahead to go on with the process, even though he had concerns and reservations about the whole thing.

Later on that month, Russ and I drove in the freezing rain to the U of I  for me to go through a complete physical to make sure I was healthy and able to donate. The doctors and all who were involved with the National Marrow Donor Program were able to relieve most of Russ' concerns and fears at that time. I, on the other hand, never had any fears or worries. I knew that God had answered my prayers and chosen me, so all I felt was excitement! During my physical, the doctor told me I had an "incredible immune system" and I was very healthy. Music to my ears! Having an "incredible immune system" also explains why I rarely get sick. It's also the only incredible thing about me. :o) After I passed all the medical tests they required and signed the consent to donate papers, I was "introduced" to my recipient. The National Marrow Donor Program only allows very few details to be shared between the recipients and the donors, so my information only consisted of age, gender and illness. The person I would be donating to was a 38 year-old woman with acute leukemia.




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The drive home from the U of I was an emotional one for me. The few things I knew about the recipient only whet my appetite to know more. My mind began to swim with all the questions I wanted answers to, but couldn't have now, if ever....





~ Was she married?
~ Did she have children?
~ Where did she live?
~ Would she want to meet me someday?

Julee explained to me that my recipient and I could communicate anonymously through letters that were sent from our donation centers. If both parties agreed, they could meet one year after the donation. I decided right away that I wanted to write to her, but I knew that I had to have a name for her. Calling her "my recipient" was way too cold for me. So, on that ride home, I called Laurie to share with her what I knew about my recipient. It was Laurie who chose the name "Hope." Very fitting, don't you think??

My first scheduled date to donate was on March 2nd. It was postponed due to Hope developing a fever. It was upon hearing the disappointing news that I wrote my first letter to Hope. I wanted it to be an encouraging letter and to give her a glimpse of who I was. It was a challenging letter to write.  It's not easy to write to someone you don't know and to not say something that you aren't allowed to say. I tried to share with her the things that I thought would matter to her. For example, "Is my donor nice? Is she going to want to still donate her marrow?" I didn't want Hope to worry that I was going to change my mind. She was dealing with enough and I wanted to relieve that worry from her shoulders.

Dear Hope,

I hope you don't mind if I call you Hope. Calling you "my recipient" sounded way too cold to me. The "Hope" pin you found on the card is like the one my best friend bought for me after she helped me pick out your name. I wear it every single day. You are never far from my thoughts and are in my prayers often. Many, many people are praying for you. 

I felt so sad for you when I received the news of your set back and the transplant would have to be delayed. I can't even begin to imagine the disappointment that you must have felt. Out of deep respect for you, I won't say, "I know what you are going through," because I really have no idea. I want to reassure you that I am here, eagerly anticipating the day when they will call and tell me you are ready for my marrow. That will be a day of celebration and one I look foreword to with great joy! One of the things my doctor told me during my physical in preparation for my marrow donation was that I had an "incredible immune system"- which would be why I rarely get sick. Maybe the sniffles once or twice a year, but that's about it. Just think!!! In not too many weeks, the marrow with "incredible immune system" will be in your body What an awesome thought!

I suppose you know the bare minimum about me like I do about you. Age and gender only. How about if I fill you in on a few more details? I am 40 years old and a mom to 4 children. My only daughter is 15,  and my 3 sons are 12 1/2 (that 1/2 is very important to him now that he is almost a teenager), almost 7 and 4. I am a newly wed of a little over 6 months. I don't work outside the home, though before I was married I worked at a pre-school and an elementary school as an educational assistant to children with special needs. If  people were to describe me they would say I am a nurturing, giving, caring person who loves to meet people. I tend to gravitate to those who are hurting in some way. I think I have a homing device built into my body or something. During my divorce, I was very involved in a support group called "Divorce Care," first for my own support and then later offer support and hope to those who were hurting. I loved being involved with the group, however, soon after I was married, I knew it was more important for me to be home with my husband and children. My husband and I made the decision to not add any more commitments to our lives that would take time away from our family for the first couple of years. We are doing very well, despite all the adjustments that had to be made with combining households and blending our children as one family. Every other weekend, the children go to their other parent's for visitation, so that is our playtime to do the things we like to do. My husband bought me some cross-country skis this winter and we ski whenever we get the chance. It's quite fun! I also enjoy archery, reading, walking and listening to music.

My favorite food is Chinese when eating out, and my homemade spinach and broccoli pizza if we are eating in. I am very much a morning person. My favorite season is spring and I love flowers!

Hope, I would love to hear from you, but do not feel obligated to write to me. My reasons for writing are to let you know that I am praying for you and I am looking foreword to donating my marrow to you. In fact, I find it a real privilege to be able to do so. In the meantime, may God keep you and hold you in His tender care. 

In May, I recieved a letter from Hope and a card from her best friend! It seems they thought I needed a name, too. They decided on "Angel." Now, I want to make one thing very clear. I, in no way, shape or form consider myself an angel. I know myself too well to even try to wear that title for one moment, but from their perspective, I can understand why they chose that for my name. I found out later that Hope was way to weak to write this herself. Her best friend wrote it for her.

Dear "Angel,"

I also thought that you needed a name. I consider you my angel.

I want to thank you for the beautiful letter. I am sorry I didn't respond sooner, but I have been very sick.

It seems we have a lot in common. I am 38 years old and the mother of three children. My oldest just turned 10. My daughter is 8 1/2 (I agree how important that 1/2 can be!). My youngest is 5. I've been married for almost 12 years.

I love to cross country ski and my favorite take out is also Chinese. On the pizza end, I prefer chicken and broccoli (which is close enough!) I worked in a pre-school for several years prior to getting married. I've worked off and on part-time in between staying home with my kids. 

Before I got sick I wad a regular blood donor and was on the bone marrow list as well. Isn't life ironic? I had to remove my name due to my illness.

I hope I can get in touch with you in a year. I would love to meet. That would be so wonderful.

Please know that no matter what the outcome is, I will be eternally grateful for the gift of life you're giving me.

I will try to write again soon. You are always in my thoughts.

Love,
Your friend always,
Hope

After reading Hope's letter, I was amazed at how much we had in common. Though we didn't know each other's names, where we lived or what we looked like, we had a bond that would not be broken. God was so gracious to give me small windows to look through to see what He was doing. 



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After a few more rescheduled donation dates and more postponements because of Hope's fragile health, just days before my scheduled donation date in July, I received devastating news. Hope had become so ill that her donor center removed her from the donor list. She was no longer considered a viable candidate to receive a transplant. I was completely shattered by the news. I could only imagine what she and her whole family was feeling, too.

I had written to her a few times to offer encouragement as we waited for the donation day, but now that it appeared that the donation wouldn't happen at all, my next letter to her needed to be a special one. It was time to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ more directly. My prayers for Hope have always been focused on her salvation as most important. The healing of her body came a close second.

To my dear friend, Hope...

My prayers and thoughts are with you and all of your loved ones. I love you, my friend....

There is something I want you to know. I don't believe that our meeting was by pure chance. I know that it was by God's design that we were brought together and I will be forever grateful that he did. You are such a beautiful blessing in my life! I will never forget the day that I first heard about you. It was quite miraculous, actually. I'll have to go back a few years to explain....

When I was a young teenager, I repented and trusted in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believed He died for my sins and rose again, showing the world that God accepted His sacrifice as full payment for my sins. However, over the years, I began to drift away. Jesus was still part of my life, but not part of my daily life. I began to trust in me more than Him. I would say that my divorce was the pivotal point in my life. My husband of 15 years leaving came as a total shock and I was completely devastated. I was scared and alone, or so it seemed. On those long, dark, lonely nights when the pain and fear was so intense, I cried out to God for help. I know now that He answered those cries of help by leading me to a wonderful support group and that's where I began my healing journey. It was a Christian support group and thought I loved it there, I wasn't ready to do the "church" thing again. Some "churchy" people had hurt me in the past and I was at this time, very untrusting of those who claimed to be Christians, however, the Christians that I met at these meetings were different than the ones I had met before. They had something I wanted. I could see that they had a sense of peace, even through the pain of their divorces and peace was something I desperately wanted. I continued to go and slowly my heart began to heal in so many ways. I met my now husband there. We were quite the pair. He was very distrusting of women and I didn't trust Christians. Anyway, going to church was extremely important to him and he would not be married to a woman who wouldn't go to church, so of to church I go! In the beginning, I only went because I loved him and respected him. In time, I went because I liked going to church. I enjoyed singing the familiar hymns I sang in high school and hearing God's Word being preached was refreshing to my soul. I began a new struggle...I couldn't comprehend the bigness of God's love. I couldn't wrap my brain around the fact that he loved me so much that he would send His Son, Jesus, to die for ME!

On, November 7th, 2000, I finally understood. I WAS unworthy. I had sinned against an infinitely holy God who is just and the sin needed to be paid for. That's what made Jesus' death on the cross so amazing! He who knew no sin, bore MY sin, He took MY place and endured God's wrath being poured out upon Him until the debt was paid. That's why it's amazing grace! I finally experienced the peace I was longing for. I wanted to glorify Him in all I did and said for the rest of my life.

Guess who came into my life the very next day? You did! I begged God to allow me to be your donor. When the news came that I was "the donor of choice" I was thrilled, humbled and praising God for this wonderful gift He was giving me. When I began to tell people about being a bone marrow donor, I always found it funny when they would say to me, "But won't it hurt?" I would smile and say, "Yes, but does giving birth and I did that twice!" I understood that they didn't understand what it gift it was for me to be chosen.

Hope, you being in my life was no coincidence. It was God ordained. During the last 8 months, you became a member of my family and I have been looking foreword to the donation date with much anticipation. I am deeply sorry for this latest set back you are experiencing. There are many, many family and friends who are praying for you. They love you through me, but there is One who loves you above all others and that is Jesus Christ. I long for you to know Him. I have my share of regrets, like any other I suppose, but there was one regret that I didn't want to have and that is the regret of not sharing with you my faith in my Lord Jesus while I had the opportunity.

As I close this letter, I want to make sure you know that my prayers for you, your family, and your friends will always continue and my willingness to donate my marrow to you will never cease. May God's comforting presence be with you always...



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The next few weeks were a blur for me. While I was in the process of grieving, I later found out that Hope was a very busy and determined woman. She found a new center that was willing to give her a chance, even in her weakened state, to go ahead with the bone marrow transplant. It was risky because she was so ill, to even go through the process she had to go through to prepare her body for my marrow, but being a fighter, she did it!!

Julee called me with the amazing news that they wanted to go ahead and schedule a donation date. Julee said she has never in all her years with the program, see a donation be cancelled and then rescheduled. To say I was shocked would be putting it mildly! Because it had been over six months, by only a matter of days, since the extensive physical I had at the U of I, I had to do it all over again. I had a feeling that this time it was really going to happen...And it did.

On August 15th, Russ and I went to the U of I to take care of the last minute details before my surgery the following morning. The National Marrow Donor Program put us up in a very nice hotel to spend the next couple of nights. They treat all their donors like kings and queens.

Bright and early, on the morning of August 16th, I was prepped and ready to have my bone marrow harvested. I had the choice to be awake for the harvest or to have general anesthesia. Being awake with my backside up in the air as they harvested my marrow was not appealing to me at all, so to preserve my dignity, I chose to have general anesthesia. The surgery took about 1 1/2 hours. Russ was able to come be with me in recovery right away as I woke up. Julee and the rest of the team for the marrow program came down to visit me and showered me with gifts. Among other things, they gave me a beautiful mantel clock with a brass plate, engraved with my name and the date of my donation. I asked Julee if she would contact Hope's center for me. Being loopy from the general anesthesia, I kept telling Julee, "Say something nice to her," over and over. I remember crying a lot. Partially from the anesthesia and also because this was a very emotional experience. The doctor who harvested my marrow said I had a lot of marrow and he got most of what they needed out of my left hip. He seemed impressed with my abundant marrow. LOL! We spend one more night at the hotel, just to make sure I wouldn't have any complications and then in the morning we headed back home. Other than having some difficulty walking and sitting for a few days, I got along just fine. I was a bit tired and lacked energy, but I didn't think anything of it. I was an awesome experience! I wouldn't hesitate to do it again.

Hope received my bone marrow the day after my donation. Three days after my donation, Russ and I celebrated our 1st wedding anniversary.

Now the waiting began to see if she would engraft.

In early September, I received a wonderful letter from Hope's best friend, "Faith." She needed a name, too, and she was such a faithful and wonderful friend to Hope. It was reassuring to me to know that Hope had a dear friend in her life like I have with my Laurie. Hope and I were both very richly blessed and had another thing in common. Faith's letter painted a clearer picture of who Hope was, as well as more information on her condition. Faith also told me a lot about her herself, though that wasn't her intention. She painted a very clear picture of a friend who would do anything for her best friend.

Dear Hope's Angel,

I have been thinking of you constantly and composing this letter in my head for so long that I had to just put my thoughts on paper, fully aware that I'll sound like a blithering idiot. Please forgive.

The problem is that every time I think if you I become so overwhelmed with emotion that I can't paint a coherent picture of how I am feeling or know what to say. I've certainly had to most emotional summer of my life and I feel little like an overtired toddler who needs a nap!

We came so close to losing Hope on so many occasions. She said good-bye to me, I held her hand while she said good-bye to her kids. I don't know if you know how bad it got. I wouldn't even know where to start.

But we have been blessed with divine intervention. You are the biggest part of our miracle, but there's more to it. I hesitate to go into too much detail now. I guess I am a little superstitious, but I promise to give you more details as Hope improves.

It's a miracle in itself that I am writing this letter to thank you and give you a progress report. I still can't believe it because we truly had given up hope of a transplant. The doctors said there was no more they could do. (Here I go bawling again ...I can't believe I am not dehydrated by now!!!)

Hope is hanging in there...A more determined woman does not exist and my money will always be on her! She's endured this horrible illness for over two years, but she will not quit. Part of the difficulty if loving someone so ill is to find the line between pushing them to keep fighting and giving them permission to stop if it becomes too much of a hardship to go on. But in spite of all her suffering, she had very few moments that she's wanted to give up. She always rebounds with that determined look in her face. No matter what happens, she'll always be a winner to me.

There's so much I want to say to you, but I am heading ot the hospital now and I want to drop off the letter just to be sure you've gotten some word on Hope's condition. I know she has been too sick to write, but she is on the mend (thanks to you & God!) and I'll have her dictate another letter as soon as she's able. She talks about you all the time.

I'm off to see Hope now. I am so excited! It's been over a week-the longest span since she's been sick, and boy do I miss her smiling face!

Be well, take care. I'll be in touch soon.

I love you,
Hope's best friend



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In a matter of days after receiving Faith's letter, Julee called me with news about Hope that wasn't encouraging. Hope wasn't engrafting, which meant that no new cells were being created and she had no immunity system. Her center was wondering if I would be willing to donate stem cells to her to "jump start" the engrafting process. As if I would even consider saying no.

Once again, I found myself at the U of I doing more paper work and learning about the stem cell donating process. In a few days, I began the next donation phase, which didn't require surgery, but it did require two shots a day for 5 days of a drug called Filgrastim. Every morning a visiting nurse would come to my home to administer the shots. The shots were extremely painful! The Filgrastim would cause my body to produce an over abundance of stem cells that would push out of my marrow and spill over into my blood stream. The side affect and how I knew it was working was bone pain. The closest example I have to explain the feeling would be muscle aches, but in reality, it's very different and odd to have your bones hurt. They explained that the large bones in my body would hurt the most, like my hips and pelvis where the most bone marrow is stored. That made sense, so it wasn't a surprise when they hurt. I wasn't surprised when my shoulders and arms hurt either, but I did get a good laugh when my cheeks and nose began to hurt!

When I went to the U of I to donate my stem cells, they had to get a blood sample to test my hemoglobin level (I didn't mention this before, but I gave up a lot of blood over the months. A lot!! It wasn't unusual to give 4 or more vials of blood at a time). They repeated the test twice because they thought there was some mistake. I was severely anemic and they told me I couldn't donate my stem cells. I said, "Oh, yes you can! You HAVE to!!" They called Julee, who came down and explained that it wasn't a choice. The nurses weren't happy about it, but they went ahead with the procedure. I know they were worried about me, but there was no way I was going to leave until Hope got my stem cells. To get the cells, those hooked me up by IV's, one in each arm. One IV removed the blood sent it to the machine, which spun the blood around to separate the stem cells from the blood. They kept the stem cells and the blood went back into my body through the IV in the other arm. It's a 4-6 hour procedure. At one time, the nurse fed me lunch. She must have been a fast eater because she was stuffing that sandwich into me so fast that I barely had time to chew and swallow before the next bite came. I didn't have the heart to tell her to slow down. Actually, I was glad to find out that I was anemic because it explained why I had been so tired since the marrow donation. Since I rarely get sick, I don't take very good care of myself when I do get sick. I just get annoyed when I don't feel well and I admit to not having a lot of patience with those who "don't feel well" and complain about it. Except for major illnesses of course. In the weeks that followed, I did a much better job with my diet to increase my iron levels. In no time, my energy level dramatically improved.

The stem cell donation was an emotional one for me. More than the bone marrow donation because I knew that this was it. There was nothing more I could do to help her and if it didn't work, there was nothing more that her doctor's could do to help her either. Humanly speaking, this was her last hope.

Late in October, I received some great news. Hope was beginning to engraft! The stem cells were doing their job!

The news continued to be positive over the next weeks. It seemed like Hope was getting better with every passing day. Just before Thanksgiving, Julee called to tell me that Hope had gone home. Home for Thanksgiving....It was a miracle! She had been in the hospital for over a year, if memory serves right, so to be able to be home with her family was truly a miracle and gift from God.



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I was very excited about Christmas that year. I wanted to send Hope a very special gift. I decided to take the scrap gold I had laying around, have it melted by a local jeweler and made into two gold nugget pendants. One for Hope and one for me. I had the word "Hope" engraved on each of the pendents. They turned out beautifully!


Within days of my Christmas gift being sent to Hope, Julee called me.

It was a call that she didn't want to make...

It was a phone call I didn't want to receive.

Hope had died.

Julee and I spent a long time talking and crying.

When her center received my Christmas gift for her, they realized that someone had forgotten to call my center to let us know about her death. I asked Julee if I could get into contact with Hope's family. It was so clear form our letters back and forth that we all wanted that to happen. She informed me that for some reason, Hope's center said that we still had to wait a year. She said she would see what she could do, but it looked like we were all going to have to wait. I was so disappointed. I wanted to be able to talk to other's who loved Hope. To grieve along with them, instead of alone.

Perhaps some would have a difficult time understanding how I became attached to a woman that I had never met. I didn't even know her real name! But God did, and He understood how I could love her like I did. I miss her very much and I wish I could have met her.

I was grateful that Faith and I could still write letters to one another through the centers. That was something, at least....I poured out my heart in my letter to her after hearing about Hope's death.

Dear Faith,

It's so difficult for to find the words and express my sorrow. I am so sorry about the loss of your best friend and I am so sorry I never got the chance to meet her. I know she was very special and she was blessed to have you as her best friend.

I didn't hear of Hope's death until the 26th of December. When Hope's center received my Christmas gift for her, that's when they realized that my hadn't been told of her passing. It was such hard news for me to hear. I am still pretty numb, although I was a bit teary eyed when those at my church expressed their condolences to me. I have been thinking about you, Hope's parent's, her husband and her children constantly. I can't even imagine how difficult Christmas must have been for you and for Hope's family. I hope you are all doing okay and are able to feel the peace that only God can bring.

I'll be filling out the papers at my center to give them permission to release my personal information to Hope's family if they should want to get into contact with me. I would really like to meet all ofr Hope's family and friends, but I think it would be safe to say that I want to meet you most of all. Through you I was able to get to know Hope. Being her donor was such a gift. I would do it again in a heartbeat! It was an experience that was life changing for me. It's at difficult times like these that I am so grateful for my faith in Jesus Christ. I know that He loves me beyond all human understanding and I know He loved Hope, too.

I am really struggling with what to say to Hope's parents, her husband and children in their sympathy cards. I was wondering if you would do me a really big favor. If you are unable to for some reason, that's okay, but I thought it wouldn't hurt to ask. Would you give them a hug and tell them it's from Hope's Angel? Thanks...I hope to be able to give you and the others a hug from me in person one day.

Thanks you for your wonderful support! I appreciated the letters that you wrote on Hope's behalf and the letter you wrote to me, too. I have saved EVERYTHING!! I have every note, card and letter that had anything to do with my donation experience. One of these days, I am going to write every thing down in story form. Needless to say, I will never forget the woman I called "Hope" and I am so grateful for the precious time that our paths crossed.

If you want to keep in touch with me, I would love that! If it would be too emotionally painful for you to do so, I'll understand. take care of yourself, Faith...

God wasn't finished with my journey...This was not the end, but another beginning....

The dedicated staff who work for the National Marrow Donor Program are very careful to check all gifts and letter that are being sent back and forth between the donors and recipients. The rules about what you can and can't say are strictly enforced. Many times I was tempted to try to sneak some information about where I lived or my name to Hope in my letters and cards I sent her. VERYtempted!! However, I had a moral dilemma that prevented me from doing so. I had come to regard Julee, my donor coordinator, as a very dear friend and I respected her job tremendously. I didn't want to place her in an awkward position if she found evidence of me attempting to sneak information to Hope, so I behaved and followed the rules.

As my letter was traveling to Faith, I had three letters and a gift making it's way to my home. They had crossed in the mail. The three letters were from Faith, one from Hope's sister and one from Hope's mom. Here is Faith's letter:

January 2, 2002
Dear Hope's Angel,

After recieveing your letter of December 14, Hope's sister and I needed to respond. We need you to know that your remarkable sacrifices have not been in vain. God works His miracles in ways we don't always understand. Hope did go home for Thanksgiving and had a beautiful, priceless day with her family. She spent 6 days home before falling ill again. The first days spent home in almost a year.

We can't pretend that our hearts aren't broken, but it's more important that you understand the gift that you gave her allowed her that precious time. Even when she knew that there was nothing more the doctors could so, she wanted everyone to know that she never quit - her body just gave out. She loved you and could never believe that you were so willing to suffer so much for a complete stranger. You brought awe and wonder into her life at a time when she was fresh out. You renewed her faith.

Could that have been the purpose? After all, our journey here is short even under the best of circumstances. Renewed faith is a precious gift to give someone who is facing death - entering eternity.

Our hearts are heavy and it's hard to sort out all of our feelings right now. All I know is that the gifts you gave Hope, you gave us all. We take comfort in it and we thank you for that, too.

The bone marrow coordinator told us the rules still hold - no contact for 1 year from the date of transplant. It grieves us that we can't comfort you. It's like turning your back on someone you love.

Please know that you are in our thoughts and prayers. I intent to wear my "Faith" ring to my grave.

I hope it will comfort you to know that in the end, she suffered very little, said good-bye to family and friends and died a peaceful death. We sang her Christmas carols all afternoon and she slipped quietly away at 7:13 PM on December 12, while we prayed the rosary. We were all holding her. She knew we were there.

I'll write more once I get my thoughts organized. Please forgive the fragmented nature of this letter. I've waited too long to write and I couldn't stand it one more minute. Please try to have a nice holiday season for us, for Hope and we'll try for you.

Your friend always ~
Faith

Faith's letter answered many questions for me and supplied to me such a gift of peace.

Hope died the day after my birthday.
The day after her youngest son's birthday.

I read Hope's sister's letter next...

I'm not sure if you have ever heard the song, "I Hope You Dance." The first time I heard it, it reminded me of Hope. It is how she lived her life. If we can all gain one thing from her, it would be her wonderful love of life despite all that she has been through. I read the words to the song as part of my eulogy to her....I hope you read the book and listen to the cd as well. I believe it will bring comfort to us all. My mom, Hope's husband, Faith and I all have copies of it and we have spent time reading and listening to the words of how Hope lived....

Enclosed in the package was the gift book that Hope's sister wrote about and in the back of the book was an envelope with the cd of Lee Ann Womack singing, "I Hope You Dance." Naturally, I took out the cd to place it in my cd player to listen to right away. For some reason, I turned it over to look at the back of the cd. I was stunned and began to shake at what I found. Placed on the back of the cd was a sticker with a name and a phone number!! For a moment, I was frozen. I just stared, not believing what I was seeing. when I could think, my first thought was to call my best friend Laurie. When I told her what I was holding in my hand, she told me she was on her way and was at my home in a matter of minutes. It all felt like a movie or something. So dramatic! It was a very strange feeling. It seems silly now, but the first thing I did when Laurie came over was to try to figure out where in the country the area code was from. I guess I needed time to pull myself together before I called the number. I did figure out that the number was from somewhere on the east coast. With a deep, deep breath, I picked up the phone and dialed the number....

"Hope" has a name. It's Nancy. "Faith's" name is Mary Lou. Not only is she Nancy's best friend, she is Nancy's sister-in-law. Nancy was married to Mary Lou's brother. Nancy's sister, who was sneaky enough to get the phone number to me, is Barbara.

In February of 2002, Mary Lou and Barbara drove to Iowa from New Hampshire to visit me. We had a few wonderful days together. It seemed like we had known each other our whole lives. One of my favorite stories is that they had no idea where Iowa was!!! They had to get a map of the United States out and look for Iowa. They brought many photo albums for me to meet and to get to know Nancy. They shared story after story about her that sometimes brought laughter and other times, tears. While they were visiting, we went to the U of I to meet Julee. It was so funny. She said she almost took the cd out of the book to listen to it before she sent it to me and changed her mind. If she had found the sticker with the phone number on it, she would have had to remove it. She was glad she didn't find it. :o)

Mary Lou, who I affectionately call "Mary Louis" or "Louis" for short, and I became very close, very quickly. The distance between Iowa and New Hampshire prevents us from seeing each other as often as we would like, but I've been to New Hampshire to visit a couple of times and she and her husband, Larry, have been to Iowa, too.

Thanks to Nancy, a life long friendship has been formed, so the Story of Hope continues...



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I originally wrote the story of Hope shortly after meeting Mary Lou and Barbara in the spring of 2002. As I recopied it to put on my blog, I changed a few things here and there, but most of it is word for word how I wrote it then. It was very healing for me then. Rewriting it awakened the memories that had begun to fade. I miss my New Hampshire family...

Mary Lou and I keep in touch and often express how frustrating it is to live so far apart. In 2003, Russ and I flew to New Hampshire to visit Larry and Mary Lou for a week, just the two of us. Nancy's family put on a big party for everyone to meet me. It was rather overwhelming, but fun....Meeting Gary, Nancy's husband and Nancy's 3 children was very special. Not a few tears were shed during that time. In 2004, Russ and I bought a camper, packed up 3 of my kids and our new puppy, Clay and drove to New Hampshire to camp and to hang out with Mary Lou and the rest of Nancy's family. It was so much fun!! I hope we can make the trip back east again someday soon.



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