“Hi, I’m Martha!” A lady around my mom’s age with tightly curled blonde hair approached me at my boyfriend’s church softball game.

“I’m Jen,” I said, awkwardly waving though she only stood three feet from me.

Martha pointed. “That’s my daughter, Stacey, and her kids, Brady, Harleigh and Boston is the baby.” I saw a chunky baby in a baby carrier.

“Harleigh is a cute name,” I said.

“It’s spelled H-A-R-L-E-I-G-H,” she announced.

“Interesting spelling,” I said, bemused.

That is how I met Martha. I’d been to my boyfriend’s church once and was then attending one of their softball games. I knew only the faces and names of people he’d spoken at length about prior to meeting them. I appreciated Martha introducing herself and her family.

Fast forward a couple of years.

I was early for worship. I usually was-it’s pathological. I have a problem.

It was around spring in 2013. I was in between miscarriage two and three. I was feeling completely discouraged and unaware that number three would soon be on the horizon. I sat in the upholstered chairs and listened to the praise band practice their songs.

Music always had an effect on me. Especially before I went on antidepressants. Certain songs could move me to tears and I couldn’t listen to someone sing beautifully live without tearing up. I had a lot going on already and the praise band’s songs were moving me that day. Tears tracked down my cheeks. I made no noise but I also had no control of my leaking eyes.

Martha noticed and came to sit beside me. “Are you OK?” she asked.

“Yeah. I’m alright,” I said because my tendency to overshare required either more familiarity or a blank sheet of paper or fresh word document.

She put her arm around me and squeezed without saying anything. I know she knew of our first miscarriage. I’m not sure if she was aware of number two.

That’s who Martha is. She’s caring and considerate, joyful and kind. She’s gregarious and friendly. She’s a good person.

She has cancer.

One year after my miscarriages, pregnant with my first son, I learned that Martha had breast cancer. The outcome was good; she had treatment as well as a double mastectomy. She was in remission before a year was up.

It couldn’t come back. She had a mastectomy. She had treatment. She was in remission.

It came back.

The prognosis this time was, evidently, hopeful. She started treatment again. The cancer, however, had its own plans. It had spread to her bones and her brain and, if I’m not mistaken, her pancreas. She continued treatment.

Cancer can take so much. It has taken the possibility of remission away from Martha. It has taken over her physical body. But what cancer cannot take is the essence, the soul of Martha.

Cancer can’t take her joy.

Cancer can’t take her hope.

Cancer can’t take her faith.

Cancer can’t find her when she makes it to heaven. Cancer has no address there. It can’t set up house in any body. Cancer is an Earthly plague.

Visiting with Martha, she is still Martha. She is still hopeful despite the hospice nurses who come every day. She is still joyful in her family, her daughter and son, her many grandkids. She hasn’t lost her faith. Martha knows where she’ll be when the cancer takes her body. Because the cancer can’t take her soul.

This post was inspired by a sermon I heard from Pastor Garrett Bowman.

Update: On Wednesday June 27th, 2018 Martha went to Jesus. A few days prior, she’d asked her son-in-law for that very thing. She wanted to go. On Saturday, June 30th we celebrated the life of a woman who touched so many. Our modest church was practically standing room only. We sang praise songs that she loved, though I couldn’t sing a word of the first song because I was crying too hard. Some of the above words were read at her funeral. I would like to ask for prayers for her family for which she was the glue.

Jen Mearns

My name is Jen Mearns and I live in NC with my husband, three boys under four, a geriatric cat, an enormous dog, and two chattery parakeets. My work has been featured on Scary Mommy, Pregnant Chicken and Babygaga. I am a former microbiologist turned writer, pet sitter and stay-at-home mom.