By Barb Arland-Fye
DAVENPORT — Carol Parr looks the healthiest she’s been on her journey with cancer, greeting her small group of prayer partners at the door with enthusiasm and hugs. You’d think they were old friends, but Carol met them just three months ago in a most unusual way. Carol, who generously gives of herself to others, continues to give by setting an example for these pray partners and others in her acceptance of God’s will for her life.
On July 2 Carol, weakened by follicular non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and cancer in her bones, walked into the chapel at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport for morning Mass. Her breathing was labored as she entered a pew two rows in front of Melissa Steinke and Tina Eckhardt, who did not know her. The two friends were alarmed to see this stranger gasping for life, but Carol’s breathing quieted. During Prayer of the Faithful, Carol, a private person, made a prayer request out loud. The Holy Spirit moved her to do so, she believes.
She “quietly asked that we petition the Lord to give her strength, and courage, and perseverance because she had made the decision that ‘the Lord will be my chemo,’” Melissa recalled. “Although I didn’t know who she was, I felt her pain and anguish and couldn’t stop the tears.” Carol remembers that Melissa “put her arms around me. She was crying. That was the Holy Spirit.”
Tina, an ophthalmologist, had to leave for work before Mass ended. She left a CD of the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows of Mary in the pew, hoping Melissa would give it to the woman who’d asked for prayers. Melissa didn’t realize why Tina was giving back the CD. A week later, while having dinner with Cheryl Brogla Krupke, a classmate in their “Called and Gifted” program, Melissa and Tina discovered that the woman at Mass was the friend that Cheryl had previously prayed for during class.
“Both Tina and I said simultaneously, ‘We’ve got to pray for her,’” Melissa noted. Cheryl hesitated, but agreed to call her friend immediately. “She said she’d like to have us come and pray with her,” Cheryl said.
“I’d been praying for people to come and pray,” Carol added, during an interview in her cozy living room, surrounded by several of her prayer partners and her toy poodle, Cole. “I thought, ‘This is another confirmation from the Holy Spirit and the Lord that ‘no chemo’ is correct.’”
Carol shared with the women “how a simple scheduled wellness visit on May 8 turned her life upside down,” Melissa said. The disease, further testing and medical procedures took a tremendous physical toll. Carol, a slender woman, saw her weight drop to 89 pounds this summer. After learning about the potential side effects from chemotherapy and the fact that cancer had spread to more than one place in her body, Carol decided after an anguished night in prayer that she would not go through with chemotherapy. She believes God answered her prayers with a visit the next week from the women, inspired by the Holy Spirit, to reach out in compassion and hope-filled prayer. Other women have joined this close-knit prayer group that meets weekly at Carol’s house.
Many people have and continue to pray for Carol, and those prayers sustain her. Sacred Heart office assistant Barb Kendall, for instance, came to pray with her during Carol’s agony-in-the-garden moment. In a letter to her fellow associates of the Congregation of the Humility of Mary, Carol expressed gratitude for prayers, cards and letters. She dubbed her journey with Stage 4 cancer as “route 66” because God gave her a “special gift” for her 66th birthday this year. “ … I have been blessed with many prayers which have given me strength and courage as I travel on this journey. Our Lord is great, wonderful, kind and merciful. Although I am very afraid, I know that he is with me,” Carol wrote in the letter that appeared in the July issue of “The Spark,” the associates’ newsletter.
This past summer, while dealing with her own illness, Carol learned that another woman dying of cancer was in the hospital and fading fast. Worried that the woman was not at peace, she called her friend Msgr. Marvin Mottet and asked him to administer the sacrament of the sick. Carol told the priest she was on her way to pick him up and take him to see the woman.
Msgr. Mottet marvels at Carol’s generosity of spirit. “Here’s a person facing death who’s always helping other people,” he said. “She’s remarkable.”
Christine Lenninger, one of the prayer partners who meet weekly at Carol’s house, was amazed and deeply touched when Carol called, concerned because Christine wasn’t feeling well. Christine said she realized the first time she prayed at Carol’s house, “I wasn’t praying for her, I was praying with her.”
“We’ve all gotten far more than Carol,” Cheryl said of the prayer sessions.
“Through Carol, Christ is teaching us how to suffer and to know that he suffers right along with us, helping us carry our cross,” Melissa said. “What a gift to be able to witness like Carol and say, ‘Your will, Lord, not mine.’”