The Gospel and cancer: Wife’s diagnosis leads to spiritual conversations, chances to glorify God
It’s cancer,” said the cardiothoracic surgeon, still clad in her…
ST. JOSEPH, Mo. — In the fall of 2018, Laura Morris was busy living a joy-filled life. She and her husband had just returned from a trip to Michigan to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Their oldest son, Conrad, was a senior at York College (now York University) in Nebraska, and their youngest, Caden, was finishing his last year of high school.
Laura had home-schooled both her sons from kindergarten through high school. York College was dear to Laura’s heart and part of her story. Both her parents and other family members were alumni. Laura treasured her years as a student and the lifelong friendships begun there. After graduating from Harding University in Searcy, Ark., she also taught at York for two years and there began dating her future husband, Chuck, when he was on campus for homecoming.
In the fall of 2018, Laura was also busy in her home congregation, the East Hills Church of Christ in St. Joseph, Mo. She had always worked tirelessly to serve and encourage those around her. She was always brainstorming new ideas to spread joy.
Each year, Laura made plans for the youth to take Valentines to members in nursing homes and to carol there for Christmas. She and Chuck helped organize the holiday adopt-a-family program each year. One of her favorite ideas was planning a 1970s theme surprise birthday party for the East Hills preacher, Keith Percell. She helped get kids to youth rallies, Leadership Training for Christ and York for Panther Days.
In the fall of 2018, the thief came who tried to steal Laura’s joy. Her breast cancer diagnosis was devastating. The years that followed were filled with appointments, surgeries, radiation, scans, hospital stays, lab work, disappointment, chemotherapy, plasma transfusions, hair loss, emergency rooms. Heartbreak. But in the moments in between, Laura stayed busy.
She sought joy daily, even when her body rebelled and energy waned. She sat front and center every night of York’s Songfest because Conrad was one of the hosts.
She returned to campus for homecomings, choir concerts and theater performances because Caden was on the technical crew, and her nephew was on the stage.
She attended the weddings of Conrad’s college friends, and then was overjoyed to attend Conrad’s own wedding.
In the four years after the fall of 2018 she traveled to Playa del Carmen, Maine, Florida, Colorado, South Dakota, Hawaii, Tennessee, New Hampshire, Montana, Chicago, Vermont and Minnesota. She hosted her aunts, uncles and cousins at her house in the country. She flew to Houston to help take care of a new baby nephew. She sat in a theater to watch “Top Gun: Maverick,” twice.
In the fall of 2019, Laura began spreading joy to others with a new project. She belonged to online groups of other cancer patients and was saddened by how many lacked a positive support system. She was so grateful for her own army of support and wanted to make a difference for others. She began assembling “Joy Packs” to deliver to the oncology office for distribution to newly diagnosed breast cancer patients or those facing a hard prognosis.
Laura filled bags with items of comfort: lip balm, cozy socks, chocolate, tissues, a coffee gift card and a personal, handwritten note. Over the years as friends and family learned of her ministry, they began contributing items for the Joy Packs, and Laura faithfully delivered bags when she went in for her own medical appointments.
It brought her such joy whenever she saw a patient carrying one of her Joy Packs or met someone she had encouraged.
She adopted a mantra from the words of an author and speaker Emory Austin: “Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.”
In the fall of 2022, the congregation that loved Laura so dearly gathered in the church auditorium after potluck on a cloudy Sunday in October. They gathered to continue her work.
A month earlier, this same room had been filled to overflowing with Laura’s friends and family as they grieved her together. But that Sunday they formed an assembly line to fill Joy Packs, tucking in a personal note that included Laura’s own words:
“I am so sorry that you are also walking this difficult journey. I hope this Joy Pack will be an encouragement to you. As I write this, friends are praying specifically for you. I hope this brings you comfort.”
Within an hour, the tables were stacked with Joy Packs, and when they were done Percell prayed for the other Lauras who would receive them.
DONNA EMBRAY is a member of the East Hills Church of Christ in St. Joseph, Mo. She grew up the daughter of a minister who preached in small congregations in South Dakota. She earned her bachelor’s degree in religious studies from York College in 1992.
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