WINDSOR TERRACE — Sandy Gross believes God miraculously healed her of harsh side effects from aggressive treatments in her nearly two-year fight with breast cancer.
“The Lord chose to heal me from the radiation burns, and the Lord chose to keep me from having nausea,” said Sandy, who is the director of adult education and the youth ministry at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Longmont, Colorado.
“So,” she added, “praise the Lord!”
But Sandy knows cancer could likely strike again.
After a double mastectomy, she learned the disease had reached some lymph nodes. These days she takes medicine to keep cancer in check. But her future is uncertain.
“Basically, we’re just waiting to see where it will try to come back,” she said. “The doctor thinks that it will be the bones.”
Sandy and her husband, Tim, live in Longmont, not far from Boulder. They have two daughters and a son, all in their 20s. This Christmas, the family travels to her home state, Alabama, to celebrate with her parents and her sister, Pam, who has leukemia.
It will also be a time for them to get all of their affairs in order, and maybe have some fun doing it.
“We are going to have a funeral-planning party,” Sandy said with a chuckle. “So, we’re going to have desserts, probably some wine. We’ll go through our favorite songs from Mass and some scriptures and plan our funerals.
“And then we’ll have it all done with.”
Dr. Robert Tiballi, an infectious disease specialist in Chicago, has been friends with Sandy since their college days at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio.
When told of her plans to have a funeral-planning party, Tiballi responded, “That sounds like the Sandy I know.”
Tiballi, a member of the Catholic Medical Association, is a regular contributor to the “Ask the Doctor” segment on Currents News. He described his friend as a free spirit with deep faith.
“She has a lot of people praying for her,” he said. “And I pray for her every day.”
Sandy’s cancer journey began in January 2019. Doctors prescribed chemotherapy once a week for six months. She braced for dreaded nausea and vomiting that so often comes with chemo.
But then, Sandy said, she heard a kind, loving inner voice tell she could go ahead and vomit, “Or, if you would like, you can hold my hand.”
Sandy said she raised her hand toward the bedroom ceiling.
“And as soon as I did,” she said, “a warmth went through me, and all the feelings of nausea went away. About an hour later it came back, and I said, ‘Lord, is it OK, can I hold your hand again?
“I never had nausea after that night. Ever.”
Post-mastectomy, with cancer still growing, doctors prescribed radiation therapy, which resulted in painful skin inflammations on her left side a week before Thanksgiving in 2019.
Some people call these “radiation burns,” although they are not actual “thermal trauma” because a heat source does not cause the damage.
Call it a rash or call it a burn, Sandy assured this inflammation was agonizing.
One day soon after the inflation appeared, as Sandy napped, her co-workers at St. Francis prayed for healing. About an hour later, Sandy said, she awoke to find the inflation wholly gone.
Tiballi, while not involved in Sandy’s treatments, did confirm that it can take a few weeks for this type of inflammation to heal.
“Is it a miracle? I couldn’t tell you,” Tiballi said. “But Sandy, like many people I went to school with, are very receptive to experiencing the miraculous in their lives.
“An outsider might question if that’s a miracle, but it is, nonetheless, a miracle to them.”
Tiballi noted, however, that he had no problem saying Sandy’s sudden recovery from inflammation was “remarkable.”
“That would never resolve in such a short period of time,” he said.
Asked to name an appropriate Scripture passage for her situation, Sandy said she couldn’t recall the exact chapter and verse, but she did know it was “the one where the Lord spoke to Paul, ‘My grace is made perfect in weakness.’”
In 2 Corinthians 12:9, Paul wrote the Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” The apostle continued, “I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me.”
This scripture is referenced in “Salvifici Doloris” — the 1984 letter by Pope John Paul II in which he explains to the Church the meaning of suffering. In it, he asserts, human suffering is linked to the cross of Jesus.
“Christ’s Resurrection,” wrote the pope, “has revealed ‘the glory of the future age’ and, at the same time, has confirmed ‘the boast of the Cross’: the glory that is hidden in the very suffering of Christ and which has been and is often mirrored in human suffering, as an expression of man’s spiritual greatness.
“This glory must be acknowledged not only in the martyrs for the faith but in many others also who, at times, even without belief in Christ, suffer and give their lives for the truth and for a just cause. In the sufferings of all of these people, the great dignity of man is strikingly confirmed.”
According to Sandy, “That’s why I love being a Catholic, because as Catholics, we teach there is redemption in suffering, and we can lift up our suffering for other people.
“Life is not meant to be perfect, but a preparation for our true life, which is eternal. So I’m putting my trust in God that everything happening is for the good of me and my family and friends. I trust him to get my soul ready for the plans he has for me in this life and the next.
“That thought brings me much joy.”