Over Thanksgiving weekend, my wife Eileen brought family and friends together to celebrate my 70th birthday.
It was especially meaningful, coming exactly ten years after I was diagnosed–on Thanksgiving eve 2011–with colon cancer.
The ensuing ordeal–surgery, then six months of chemotherapy–was made worse by a simultaneous career crisis. Two weeks earlier, the Diocese of Rockville Centre had laid off half our staff at The Long Island Catholic (TLIC)–the first step toward killing the diocesan newspaper which I edited.
When a friend, months later, asked about both situations, I told him the prognosis for my health was good; that of The Long Island Catholic, decidedly less so.
While that proved accurate, neither situation would improve in the short term. In September 2012, just after my chemo treatments ended, the diocese informed me that our weekly newspaper was being terminated, replaced by a new monthly magazine–part of a national Michigan-based conglomerate–and virtually all my remaining staff let go.
Weeks later, experiencing severe chest pain, I was diagnosed with major artery blockages. Bypass surgery was not an option; it would likely worsen my condition, a surgeon explained. Relying on medication that seemed largely ineffective, I struggled, without help, to provide all local content for the new magazine while working with the Michigan editors on layout and design. Then came Superstorm Sandy, which only added to my workload and stress. Things seemed to be spiraling downward.
But God was in control; and He would give me what I needed to overcome both my health and career crises.
First and foremost was His gift of so many loving family members and friends, whose prayers, support, and encouragement would see me through. Most vital were my children, whose love for me and mine for them filled me with determination to get healthy and to sustain my career, so I could continue to be there for them and provide for them; and my wife Eileen, whose love and courage during those frightening days sustained me, as she has throughout all the challenges we have faced together over the years. She was then, as she has always been for our family, a pillar of faith and strength, without whom I cannot imagine having gotten through those twin ordeals.
God placed me in the hands of outstanding doctors and medical staff who brought me through both the cancer and heart blockages, guided me back to good health, and continue to provide quality care today.
They gifted me with not only their medical skills, but with calming reassurances that helped me maintain the positive outlook so vital to recovery. I’ll always remember our first meeting with my oncologist, who, after explaining my chemo protocol, soothingly assured me, “You’ll be fine. You’re going to go through this and get on with your life.” Which, with his continued care, is exactly what has happened.
Ironically, even as circumstances at TLIC added to my stress, my role there proved critical, in a way only God could have planned, for my medical recovery.
A reader, Terence O’Flanagan, a retired doctor, became a regular correspondent during my time as editor. Aware of my cancer, he inquired about my health, and, learning of the artery blockages, put me in touch with a cardiologist he highly recommended, Dr. Gary Ross Friedman–who I say, without exaggeration, gave me my life back. He implemented a much more aggressive medication regimen, and sent me to Dr. Jeffrey Moses, a world-renowned cardiologist who, in three procedures over several months, implanted eleven stents.
“When this is all done,” Dr. Friedman assured me, “you’re going to be good as new.” And I was. Sadly, this marvelous man, who had given new hope and new life to me and so many others, was subsequently stricken with pancreatic cancer, and died just a couple of years later.
While his loss is incalculable, to his patients and surely to his family, I can only be thankful that Dr. Friedman was there when I needed him, thanks to God’s loving providence and the caring intervention of Dr. Terence O’Flanagan–who, with his wife Carolyn, would become our good friends before Terence also passed on early this year.
Professionally, God helped me work through my health issues to steward TLIC magazine through its first three years. Then, as I prayed for discernment, He guided me to accept Bill Donohue’s generous offer to return to the Catholic League in 2015, providing me with the job security I needed for my family–and did not have with the diocese, which has now discontinued The Long Island Catholic altogether. For the first time in 60 years, the Catholic Church on Long Island is without a print communications organ–a situation I will address further in a coming post.
But that is for another day. Today I want to reflect thankfully on how God’s love sustained me through two grave crises that occurred simultaneously in my life ten years ago.
I don’t know what the future holds. But whatever lies ahead, I know God will be with me. For I saw and felt His loving presence throughout that frightening time; and I see it every day, in the love and care of all the good people He has placed in my life, who have manifested for me what it means to be Christ to others.