Rochester is a pilgrimage site for those dealing with serious medical problems. That’s what brought me here.
Yet, as great as Mayo is, it can still be very hard to remain joyful and upbeat when life throws you an unexpected illness. Suddenly, it becomes the center of your life and that new reality can take its toll on your mental and emotional well-being. Your joie de vivre is often one of the first things to go.
In St. Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, he shares a personal story. Struggling with an ailment that is making his life miserable, he relates how he prayed three times that he might be freed of it. Paul was literally doing God’s work and probably argued that he could be far more productive without it. Nevertheless, the Apostle is told that there would be no relief for him. Instead, Jesus tells him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
What does that mean?
Earlier this summer, Jane Marczewski appeared on the NBC reality show, America’s Got Talent, to sing an original song she composed about the last year of her life -- a year marked by a terminal cancer diagnosis. It’s been watched on YouTube more than 34 million times.
Hauntingly beautiful, her melody has a soothing refrain that keeps repeating, “it’s okay.” Originally written for herself, the song has now touched countless others around the world. Life can get very dark, she sings, and it’s okay to feel a little lost when bad things happen.
The most powerful moment of her appearance on the show, however, comes after she finishes singing. After praising her voice, Simon Cowell pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts for this brave contestant he knows is battling a life-threatening illness. She takes that opportunity to tell him something that leaves him speechless and emotional:
“You can't wait until life isn't hard anymore before you decide to be happy."
Life is hard and, for some, it’s very hard. Nevertheless, it’s up to me if I want to be happy or not. It’s a choice I make. I can’t control all of the cards that life deals me. Sometimes I get a really lousy hand. But I can always control how I respond to those cards and how I play the hand. That’s entirely up to me.
On New Year’s Eve of 2020, Jane celebrated her 29th birthday. She was also handed a long radiology report detailing all of the cancer throughout her body and was told that she would likely be dead within 6 months. Without much to lose, she drove to California to fight her disease in an unorthodox way. She still has cancer cells inside of her, but the integrative approach she’s been trying seems to be helping. 18 months after that terminal diagnosis, she’s still alive, and her music career has soared to heights she never dreamed possible. “It’s important that everyone knows I’m so much more than the bad things that happen to me,” she said.
Jane calls herself Nightbirde because she’s had multiple dreams of birds singing in a tree in the middle of the night. The birds were a reminder to her that you can still be joyful (and sing) even when life seems very dark. “I have a 2% chance of survival,” she said with a big smile, “but 2% is not 0%. 2% is something, and I wish people knew how amazing it is.”
Standing at only 85 lbs, she is underweight. Cancer has taken its toll on her body. Despite her weakened physique, she radiates joy, beauty, and strength. She’s the embodiment of the enigmatic wisdom that St. Paul conveyed as he wrapped up his own personal story: “I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
Lee Moraglio is a brand new resident of Minnesota. An East Coast native, he moved to Rochester to escape the traffic and get some help with a rare medical problem. He enjoys walking downtown, reading, writing, history, following the news, meeting new people, laughing, Italian food, and reflecting on the deeper things. Send comments on columns to Jeff Pieters, firstname.lastname@example.org.