By Emily Hines
Blessed is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of my cancer diagnosis. Although a cancer diagnosis is potentially devastating, I refused to look at mine that way. Within forty-eight hours of being diagnosed with Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia, I was flown to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When the paramedics rolled me into the hospital, tears began to stream down my face. Observing my concern, they advised me to not cry because everything was going to be okay. I looked up to them as a half-hearted smile spread across my face. As certain as I could be, I told them, “I know, I am at St. Jude and that means I am going to be okay.”
From that moment forward, I began to experience complete healing through every person I met at the hospital. One person in particular was healing in a way none of my medical team could be. This man offered the reassuring gift of spiritual health. He brought the Eucharist – the Body of Christ – to me when I was lying on what could have potentially been my death bed. That man was Anthony Maranise.
Throughout my treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, I had the honor of representing the hospital as an ambassador. At one speaking engagement at a fundraising weekend in California, there was an open seating dinner. There, I met two couples from Memphis. One of the gentlemen mentioned that his son was also a survivor of leukemia. As the conversation progressed, I was informed that my fellow survivor had been, for a time, a chaplain at the hospital. Out of pure shock and curiosity, I asked what his son’s name was and to see a picture of him. As God had it written, his son turned out to be Anthony Maranise, the very same person who literally brought me Jesus when I needed Him most.
After a full year since my diagnosis, I was reconnected with the man who played an instrumental role in my spiritual and thus, also, my physical healing. Immediately borrowing his father’s phone, I called Anthony on FaceTime. Everyone seated at the dinner table could not believe what was providentially transpiring right before their eyes. Anthony and I recognized one another’s faces immediately, and though we spoke briefly at first, neither one of us could contain our tears of joy… and apparently, nor could anyone else at the table.
Several weeks after our reconnection I received a direct message on Twitter from Anthony himself. Currently, we are collaborating on the foreword to his forthcoming book which will deal with Christian spirituality and the confrontation with cancer. One afternoon, at The Majestic Grille in downtown Memphis, we sat for lunch to discuss our providential meeting. In agreement that there are no such things as a coincidences, we wished to share part of our conversation with others, in the hopes that this story of faith and friendship will impart hope to others who may be struggling with the natural evils of cancer, in any form.
Anthony Maranise: What role did faith play in your struggle?
Emily Hines: I grew up in a Catholic family. My mom was director of the choir at our church growing up. Because of that, I have always been surrounded by spiritual music and so were my sisters. Music in general has always been healing to my family. When in the ambulance on my way to St. Jude, for the first time, I sang along to Oceans by Hillsong United. Listening to the lyrics, “Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders,” I realized I have to have complete faith in God. Nothing I could do in that moment would stop me from experiencing cancer and cancer treatment. From that day forward I have had to give up control of my life. Many cancer patients can empathize with that loss of control. I believe many of us try to have authority over different aspects of our lives; however, the reality is only God has that complete power. With a prognosis of only living five to ten days after diagnosis, I needed to believe that God would bless me no matter my outcome. So, I did. Never question Him or His timing. Faith did not just play a role in my struggle. Faith was the center of my struggle.
AM: What is one of your happiest moments at St. Jude and what made it so?
EH: Well… every time I go back to the hospital I experience another happy moment! (That is weird to say about a hospital, I know.) Cliché as it may seem, the honest truth is that my happiest day at the hospital was September 7th, 2016 – the day I was declared cancer free! In five months to the day of diagnosis, my doctors and God rid my body of leukemia. It was a day full of happy tears and prayers of thanksgiving.
AM: Transitioning from patient to survivor, what has been most difficult for you?
EH: Finding my ‘new normal’ has been a significant struggle that I have yet to overcome. I have accepted that life will never be the same and I am okay with that. However, finding that ‘new normal’ is not as easy as I thought it would be. Nobody understands how it feels to be a cancer survivor unless you are one yourself. Finding my network of fellow young adult survivors has been my goal. I hope that once I have people to talk to who can empathize with me, then I will find a ‘new normal’ in their supportiveness.
In closing, to anyone affected by cancer, I offer this advice, having been through it myself: allow yourself to have ‘bad days.’ That’s okay. However, you must, then, remember to give yourself wonderful days as well. I would always remind myself that there were sunnier days ahead and when those sunnier days did, indeed, arrive, they were all I had hoped for them to be. So long as the sun in your life continues to outshine the dreariness, know that there is hope, healing, and promise. These qualities, nurtured by faith, can and do provide strength to ‘press on.’ Never give up; God won’t bring you this far to leave you.
Emily Hines is a survivor of Acute Promyleocytic Leukemia, treated and cured at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital from April to December of 2016. She is currently working towards earning her degree in political science from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi after which she intends to continue advocating for funding for childhood cancer research.