I have no memory of the first time I saw her. But I vividly remember the first time I heard her name.
Nathan and I were in a small town eating at a table with people we didn’t know. What might have looked like a gathering of cowboys for a steak dinner with two city folk thrown in was actually an interview. Between bites of beef they grilled Nathan with theological questions and what-if scenarios, but did it in such a way that the whole thing felt more like a normal dinner discussion. Woven in was casual conversation about the families represented at the table.
It was Nick, I think, who first mentioned that Clifford’s six year old daughter had been diagnosed with cancer the year before. I cut my eyes over to the man being referred to, and determined he was not the kind to offer that information himself. Quiet and humble, I would come to appreciate him as one who rarely drew attention to himself or his family.
Eager to know more about this little girl’s story, I turned back to the leader of the pack as he proudly recounted how the school basketball team shaved their heads in honor of Reagan when the chemo caused her hair to fall out. He went on to talk about what a champ she had been, and how the entire family had displayed rock solid faith in the face of the beast known as cancer. Reagan, he gleamed, was now doing great.
Months later we found ourselves moving into the heart of that tiny town. The cowboy strangers and their families were quickly becoming friends as they welcomed us into their church and their lives. Molly was among the first of those I befriended. I was drawn to her outgoing personality, in such contrast to her quiet husband. And I often marveled at her privately considering what it must have been like to have a young child endure a cancer diagnosis.
As a baby magnet, Molly took to Titus immediately and he did to her. She would often take him to sit with her at church dinners so I could mingle with members and eat a meal minus a toddler. Before long, Molly and Reagan were two of Titus’ favorite people. He would sit with them during services where they would feed him a steady stream of M&Ms and let him get away with everything short of jumping the pews. Oftentimes after church, they would load him up and take him to the corner store while Nathan and I locked up. I later discovered they bought him chocolate there and fed it to him in the car before they delivered him back to us. No wonder he rarely ate lunch on Sunday’s.
Our time in Fort Sumner marched on and Reagan continued to become a special family friend. Vibrant and happy, she was my go to helper when I needed someone to watch Titus so I could get a few things done. After discovering that I was expecting again, I would often joke saying she was going to need to move in after the new baby came.
But as my tummy grew bigger and the spring gave way to a hot New Mexican summer, we got the awful news. The beast was back.
And so Reagan went back. Back to the hospital. Back to tests. Back to endless scans, and chemo and doctors and nausea and complications and everything except a normal childhood. She lost her beautiful hair and Nathan let her shave his. He’s not grown it out since.
It’s hard for me to type my own feelings about that time. The worry I felt over her and the pain of watching her suffer is such a shadow of what I know her parents experienced. I want to hold back recalling my own sadness for reverence of their own.
I do remember one particular day, though, that Molly called me with hard news. Reagan, at the time, was still going through chemo and there were multiple complications and set backs. Angry tears rolled down my face as I knelt in the dirt outside. I yanked at weeds with all my angst and flung them behind me like a child in the throws of a tantrum. A grown woman on the ground wrestling with realities that were beyond my comprehension.
I was baffled by the horrors this world could inflict, aching for my loved ones who were enduring them, and mad as fire that there wasn’t one thing I could do about it.
But in true Reagan fashion, she faced that beast head on for a second time and came out of battle the victor. Many would say it was a miracle, and I absolutely agree. God granted her more time on this earth, and I thank Him for it. But to me the bigger miracle is that a girl of such innocence could engage in warfare with a horrid and despicable beast, and remain ever the untouched beauty.
Her hair began to grow again and it was glorious. Dark curls framed her face and made her look like a doll. But it wasn’t that hair that people couldn’t take their eyes off of. It was the spirit of a girl unspoiled by the cruelty she had wrestled that made her so fetching.
We got to spend some time with her this past October when our family made the trip back to New Mexico for a visit. She quietly slipped up beside me at church as I was talking to someone else. When I realized it was her, I did a double take. Who was this beauty standing taller and wiser and looking more like a young woman than a girl!? I cried like a baby and she just smiled and hugged my waist.
That afternoon she reconnected with Titus and taught my girl how to ride a horse. She was older but still the attentive and loving darling I had known when we left two years before. I smiled every time I looked at her, thanking God for the continued gift of her life in mine.
This past December Reagan got the wonderful news that she was two years cancer free and could go a whole 12 months before her next scans. In Alabama our family did the happy dance while people all over the country who love that girl let out a collective sigh of relief.
I got the text in the middle of the night.
“She’s in tremendous pain! Headed to the ER. PRAY.”
That was three weeks ago. Just before the doctors found a third occurrence of a Wilms Tumor in Reagan’s abdomen.
The beast is back. Again.
I’m tempted to talk about my rage. The way I hurt for her. For her parents. Her brothers. The deep, deep desire I have to change this reality for a family who has walked through way too much. (I’ve barely skimmed the surface of what they’ve faced.) The way I can’t stand that I’m not there.
But that’s not helpful at this point so I’ll turn to what I know is.
I’ll pray that God gives this girl with an enormous battle to face the courageous heart of one that knows Who fights with her. I’ll pray she knows that she is not alone, and that saints rise up to support her. I’ll pray she is spared the terror that tempts her, and that the beast who haunts her is overcome. Forever.
I’ll pray that God gives her Mama courage to keep marching, and fresh faith when her spirit is so weary. I’ll pray that she’ll know the extraordinary love of her Father, even as she watches her child suffer. I’ll pray she is strong when she needs to be. And weak when she has to be. And that in her frailty she will experience the depth of His great strength. I’ll pray that the Mama Bear is fully equipped to do what she must for her daughter. I’ll pray she knows this isn’t her fault, and that she is applauded as a giant among women.
I’ll pray God helps her Daddy, as he stands tall against this monster. I’ll pray he’ll entrust his baby girl to the heart of the Ultimate Father.
I’ll pray for her brothers as they hold her hand, knowing good and well she holds their heart.
I’ll pray for Fort Sumner as they rally from afar, because in that little place the togetherness they share is enormous.
And I’ll pray that the God who thought up that Reagan girl, the One who loves her dearest, will make Himself known in a way that leaves us all speechless.