In August of last year, Terri Alleman, a special-education teacher at an elementary school in Casper, Wyoming, began chemotherapy at the Cancer Center at Froedtert Hospital.
Terri has inflammatory breast cancer, which is rare and extremely aggressive. Hearing the diagnosis, Terri says, was like hearing a death sentence.
“It still feels like a death sentence,” Terri says.
“I think that’s something cancer patients are fighting every day,” she says.
“I don’t know if you can even call it that — ‘fighting.’ How do you fight it? I don’t know. There’s got to be an acceptance. Sometimes I’m there, and sometimes I’m not.
“But ‘fight’ — it’s not a good word.”
Terri is sitting on a couch beside her husband, Barry, who scoots even closer to her when he hears the fear and confusion in her voice.
Not confident that their hospital in Casper would be able to provide Terri with the best care possible, the couple prayed and decided on Froedtert. They and the youngest of their six children are living with Terri’s sister in Belgium, about a half-hour north of Milwaukee.
Another word that Terri is trying to understand: Hope.
Terry had hoped she didn’t have cancer. But she did. She had hoped the cancer would be easy to treat. But it’s not. She had hoped she could stay in Casper. But she couldn’t.
She hopes her cancer doesn’t kill her. But she also believes her life will unfold according to God’s will.
She hopes — and perhaps this is the real fight, the real struggle — she hopes she can accept God’s will with grace.
Terri is wearing a University of Wyoming football jersey, signed by members of the team. It’s just one of many gifts people back home have sent her.
An electronic reader. Chocolates. Hats. The father of a former student made Terri a quilt.
She’s received so many cards and letters. Stacks and stacks of cards and letters. Just before Thanksgiving, a box arrived containing hundreds of handmade cards from the kids at Terri’s school.
Spread out around her, they carpet her sister’s floor.
“You’re the best teacher ever,” wrote Logan.
“Cancer messed with the wrong girl,” wrote Wyatt.
“Stay awesome,” wrote Amelia. “You’re a great person. You are beautiful, sweet and nice.”
It took Terri days to get through all the cards. She cried and cried.
Terri says she has never before been the recipient of such universal and unbridled affection, and she’s found herself revisiting another word.
“I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m not busy, when I’m not helping other people,” she says.
“So this is real different, having everybody take care of me, and serve me, and I can’t take care of them.
“I feel worthless.”
It takes a kind of bravery to be loved so much. To be so much loved — it’s a calling. It’s a gift you give.
You, Terri, in these days of illness, are not worthless.
You ennoble the ones who love and care for you, and you are, therefore, precious.
Blessings on your journey.