June 8, 2017, will probably always be a day etched in Molly Powers’ mind.
Not only was it exactly a month since she and her husband, Kevin, suffered the loss of a child through miscarriage, it also was her last day in campus ministry at the University of Illinois in Chicago and was the day they planned to move out of their home, bound for Minnesota, where Kevin had accepted the position of superintendent of the newly formed school system, Catholic Community Schools.
It was also the day they received the difficult diagnosis that Molly had Stage 3 breast cancer.
“Kevin was in Minnesota signing the papers on our new home when I got the call from the doctor with the initial results,” Molly said.
After the initial shock and some tears, Kevin said he only asked her once, “Do you still want to go to Minnesota?”
“I told her everyone would totally understand if we don’t sign on this house and we stay in Chicago,” he said. “She looked and me and said, “Yep, [Minnesota] is where we’re called to be. I want you to be there doing this and I want to come with you.’ And that was it.”
By July, the Powers family, with their two daughters, Clare, 4, and Mary, 1, settled into their new Minnesota home.
But even before their arrival, there was an outpouring of love from the area communities, they said. Kevin had sent an email to the principals of the nine schools that comprise Catholic Community Schools about Molly’s diagnosis and the news traveled quickly.
Kelly Kirks, principal of St. Mary Help of Christians School in St. Augusta, was among the first to help make some connections for Molly. About a year and a half ago, Amy Spielmann, a parent of four students who attended the school, had undergone a similar battle with cancer.
“The first thing I thought of was that Amy would be an instrumental person for Molly to connect with,” Kirks said.
Spielmann reached out to the Powers via email before they moved to Minnesota.
“Obviously each battle is different, but having gone through something similar, I just wanted to be able to reach out to her and let her know that I could be there for her to answer any questions, anything to help her,” Spielmann said.
“That’s what letting God’s light shine through is all about.”
Once in St. Cloud, Molly agreed to meet Spielmann at a local coffee shop.
“Amy has been a lifeline,” Molly said. “She has been a friend, a mentor, a support group,” Molly said. “Not just walking me through the process and telling me what to expect, but also a spiritual support. There’s a need for accompaniment, and Amy has provided that sense of having been there and gone through it.”
Since then, the two have kept in contact through email, texts and an occasional meeting. Spielmann tries to send texts on the days when she knows Molly has chemotherapy.
“Once she texted a photo back of herself at the clinic with her girls, all dressed in pink, Molly with her pink lipstick and hat with the pink ribbon and the caption, ‘Pink Party!’ And I just thought how great is that to go to a chemo appointment, something that is not fun, and make it as fun as you can? That’s the kind of person Molly is,” Spielmann said.
Kevin said he and Molly are both “pretty funny people” but it’s been hard to stay positive.
“It’s not easy to stay joyful, but we like to make each other laugh,” he said. “Honestly, Molly’s laugh is one of the biggest things that made me fall in love with her. We had a choice when this came up — we can either be negative and be down, and we are at times, or we can take this as a chance for us to lean on each other and support each other.”
“I think it confounds the doctors sometimes when we are in the midst of sometimes difficult moments and we find something to laugh about,” Molly said. “Our joy and our faith — that’s something cancer can’t take away.”
One of the biggest heartbreaks, they agreed, is knowing that they probably won’t be able to have any more children after this.
“When something reminds me of that and I get really sad, I can go to Kevin for that shoulder to cry on and know that our heavenly father has his arms around us, crying with us and walking this road with us. We have that support in God and in each other,” Molly said.
“Christ carried his cross, too, and any suffering we have can be united to his,” she said. “After the cross, there’s the resurrection, and that’s what keeps me going.”
Molly will undergo surgery Nov. 20 and likely have radiation treatments daily for five weeks. Prayers for the Powers’ family, members of Holy Spirit Parish in St. Cloud, are still welcomed and encouraged.
“People have just been over the top with bringing us meals, helping with the girls and letting us know they are praying for us,” Kevin said. “It’s been very humbling.
“When I visit the churches and schools, people I don’t even know have reached out and asked how things are going — not only with the schools but with Molly and our family. Those small conversations have been really helpful for us,” he said.
“Just as much as we say thank you to the team at the Coborn Cancer Center, we are just as thankful for the random people who come up to us once and say they are praying for us and then we never see again. That’s really the biggest thing, for us to be able to say thank you.”
A time of prayer
Spielmann recalled how Kirks orchestrated a prayer service for her when she was battling cancer in 2016 and wanted to give Molly the same opportunity.
The two planned a healing prayer service Nov. 13 for Molly which included song, Scripture, prayer, and an anointing of the sick. Participants were given a prayer stone to bring home as a reminder to pray.
Molly said the show of love from everyone, especially the prayer service, are a “mark of a community’s charity.”
“It is easy to be loving to those who you love or who are close friends but to give up an evening to go to a prayer service for someone you’ve never met is incredible,” she said.
“The sacrament [of anointing] can provide physical healing but also spiritual healing,” she added. “Obviously, I need physical healing but I was just as much in need of spiritual healing. I have been very supported by God and very comforted by God throughout this whole process, but it takes a lot of work to always be reminding myself that God is present and that I need to trust him. Sometimes it wears me down a little bit.”
One of her mantras throughout the process has been, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
“There’s a work in that to commend myself to God, to Jesus and to the Holy Spirit. At the service, I felt spiritual healing, I felt that renewed ability to just offer it up and to say, ‘Jesus I trust in you. I know there’s a plan.’ The service affirmed that for me,” she said.
She’s experienced spiritual healing before, moments in her life that she said have deepened her faith life and also times of gradual growth.
“I think this is going to be one of those times. This journey with cancer, the move and all of the things that are part of our story right now have challenged me to look at my faith differently and experience my faith differently,” she said. “Finding myself in a place where sometimes I can’t get out of my house to go to Mass, I am asking God, ‘How am I supposed to grow if my sacramental life is not as vibrant as it was?’ But it has grown. It might be in more spontaneous conversations with God or in a deeper awareness of his presence with me all the time or more time for spiritual reading. I think I’m going to look back on this as a new chapter and where my faith deepened.
“I think it can be a pretty common experience to have your faith grow during a challenging time. Knowing that God and the whole Body of Christ are supporting and praying for me, but experiencing it in a very physical way here in the form of meals, child care and prayer. I’m going to grow through this because I know I am not doing this by myself.”