When you see a butterfly this month, think of Sandra.
And think of the many thousands like her who suffer or have died from ovarian cancer.
Sandra Cantwell passed away on Sept. 1, ironically or perhaps poignantly, the first day of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. It was that cruel disease which claimed the life, but not the spirit, of Sandra.
Five and a half years ago, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a silent killer that is often undetected until it is too late. Sandra underwent prescribed treatments and would see symptoms ease only to return. Finally after a battle of more than half a decade, her body gave out.
Sandra was well loved by her husband John and by two children – now adults – Laura and Walter. Laura was in my wife’s second grade class many years ago, and the cute 7-year-old has now grown into the smart, attractive woman that we all knew she would.
Walter and I used to talk golf when he was in high school. Being members of the same church, we would see each other regularly, and, although I was an adult and he a teen, golfers always have that common bond and something to share about the game they love.
Walter is now a United Methodist minister in Charleston. He gave the prayer during his mother’s funeral service, something not everyone could do. He did it with great poise and dignity. Upon getting behind the pulpit, Walter told a brief story about his family gathering just outside the church sanctuary prior to the funeral service. He said that they all released butterflies into the warm summer air.
Imagine the sight of a couple of dozen butterflies fluttering into the sky. Butterflies typically evoke warm feelings within us. They have evolved from not-too-pleasant looking, wormlike caterpillars into one of nature’s most beautiful and delicate creatures. What a transformation!
The homely caterpillar spins a cocoon around itself, making a blanket that covers it from one end to the other. Whatever instinct tells it to do this, the caterpillar faithfully obeys until nothing is visible from the outside but the cocoon. With the miracle of transformation, the creature that emerges from that cocoon is a beautiful butterfly that extends its wings and flies away.
Sandra, in her way, was like a butterfly. She wrapped herself in the Christian faith that was so strong in her life. She covered herself in that faith, wrapping it from one end to the other. And when the perils of this existence took her life away, she was transformed and flew off like the butterfly – beautifully clothed with wings of angels.
We were reminded during the service that, prior to her illness, Sandra started a prayer shawl ministry in the congregation. A group of church women, with Sandra at the helm, faithfully gathered on a regular basis to knit prayer shawls.
Prayer was said over each shawl as it was being created, and the shawls were given to people in the church who were ill, to members with deep troubles and to the parents of newborns. People with the shawls wrap them around their shoulders while praying, knowing that they are not alone in their time of greatest need and that they are also embraced through the prayers of others.
That ministry will continue to thrive, thanks to the vision of one woman following what she felt God was calling her to do. It is that way for many of the best things in our world. It takes just one person to get them started. With faith and perseverance and that never-say-no attitude, things like the prayer shawl ministry get started. People’s lives are bettered.
Sandra will be remembered by family and friends and the students she worked with while a public school guidance counselor. She lives on in the lives of her two children who exhibit the fine qualities that Sandra and John instilled in them. She will continue to live in the heart of her husband. But, yes, she will be greatly missed.
For the family, for me and perhaps for others, the sight of a butterfly will have a new meaning. The sight of a butterfly flitting from flower to flower will bring back memories of Sandra, the giving life she lived and the beautiful angel she has become.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. Find out more about this illness online at www.ovariancancerawareness.org.
Jeff Wallace is the retired editor of the Aiken Standard.