When you’re a cancer patient, losing a friend to the disease hits hard


COOPER, Iowa, Nov. 7, 2018 — Why is cancer so devastating, over and over again?

My friend Faith Ferre died a few weeks ago and I’m just able to start talking about it. In June of this year, Faith was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer that had metastasized to her spinal cord. She passed away on Oct. 6 at the age of 71. It hit me hard.

Faith served as the minister of discipleship at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ in Des Moines from 1984 until she retired in 2011.

She married Chuck and me in 1991.

She ministered me with her Sunday sermons.

She encouraged me to oversee a major Plymouth “Blitz Build” for Habitat for Humanity in the early ’90s.

She was also a founding member of the Des Moines book group I belong to, which was formed in 1990 or 1991, so going on 28 years.

Book group from Plymouth Church in May 2018 - CROPPED.JPEG

Rev. Faith Ferre (left front, in pink) is shown last May with all the members of a book group that she founded at Plymouth Church and then grew beyond the church.  Other members, left to right, are (front) Nancy Dunn, Barb Madden-Bittle, Jennie Allbee, Margaret Connet, and (back) Mary Hilliard, Stephanie Furstenau-Asklof, Linda Powers, Kathleen Murrin, Diann Peyton, Carla Offenburger and Mary Riche.

In an August 2011 column, I listed Faith as one of the most influential women in my life. At that time I wrote: “There is Faith Ferre, of Polk City, one of the many ministers over the years at Plymouth Congregational Church in Des Moines who touched my life in meaningful ways. Faith drew me into Plymouth and helped me make it my religious home for years. She empowered me with leadership roles without me knowing the impact they’d have on my life long after they were over. She married Chuck and me. She has long stayed influential in my own faith journey.”

All so true.

On July 13 of this year, she took me into her confidence in a private email, telling me of her diagnosis and no doubt looking for encouragement, for strength. As far as I know, Faith never smoked. She was a healthy hiker, an adventurer, a reader, a wife, a mother. A friend.

She wrote in that message, “I’m home for my first summer in eight years, usually enjoying our northwest Ontario home until October. This year I came home because the pain in my back, the cause of which I’ve been seeking with medical professionals for over two years, got so bad I could no longer ignore it. They found it with an MRI — stage 4 lung cancer, metastasized into my spine and pelvis and long bones. Not so good.”

Not so good, indeed. I was shocked. Devastated. Angry.

But as any good friend would do, I did my best to encourage Faith to keep the faith. I sent her a copy of my “go to” cancer book, “50 Days of Hope” by Lynn Eib. I sent her one of my special cancer cards that says:

What Cancer Cannot Do
Cancer is so limited.
It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope.
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace.
It cannot kill friendship.
It cannot silence courage.
It cannot invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life.
It cannot conquer the spirit.

I believe this.

And then I sent her weekly cards. Silly cards to help lift her spirits. One had a snowman on the front, because, as I wrote her, “who doesn’t like snowmen?” The last one I sent her had something about therapy being expensive, but bubble wrap being cheap. And I included a small piece of bubble wrap. I shared many short memories with her, reminding her that she had been blessed and was a blessing.

None of this eased the pain I felt at her funeral. I cried. Not only did losing a friend hit me hard, but death because of cancer, hit a little too close to home for me.

And I tried not to dwell on the fact that “there by the grace of God, go I.” As a cancer patient myself, I sat there thinking, “What if?”

So, now I’m thinking of what can I do to ease the loss of Faith, and I’ve decided to read the books that, last May, she had recommended for reading by our book group. I will be reading:

–“Writings on the Wall: Searching for New Equality Beyond Black and White,” by Kareem Adjul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld.

–“The Lightkeeper’s Daughter,” by Jean E. Pendziwol.

–“Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living,” by Krista Tippett.

You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read, and I intend to read what Faith recommended. Then I can reflect on why she might have chosen these and what our discussions might have been.

Losing a friend doesn’t mean you lose a friendship. And I intend to keep my friendship with Faith alive.

You can write the columnist by email at carla@Offenburger.com or comment by using the handy form below here.


4 thoughts on “When you’re a cancer patient, losing a friend to the disease hits hard

  1. Carla, what a beautiful posting — a beautiful tribute to Faith and your deep friendship with her. She was “fun” at our Spring Taco Salad Book Club gatherings. Her laugh was infectious. She had a sense of humor that we didn’t often see, and she loved BLACK OLIVES. Remember, you are bringing BLACK OLIVES in honor of Faith. I keep expecting to see her at book club. xoxo

    Barb Madden-Bittle, West Des Moines

  2. The photo seems so special. Is that because it is the last with Faith? In my conversation with Faith at dinner, she mentioned twice she needed to have her gallbladder checked because her back hurt. My heart sank. I had to tell her my gall bladder incision was in my midriff. My saddness began that night. As we were updated on her treatment, I hurt. I remember the unpleasantness of chemo. Why was such a good person suffering so? I treasure the memory of her laugh, her smile, her calmness, compassion, intelligence, sense of humor. And these are the things that bring me saddness as I try to understand how this all happened.

    Linda Powers, Des Moines

  3. Beautifully written, Carla. Thanks for sharing this. I like your idea about reading Faith’s book recommendations — maybe we should discuss doing this as a group at Book Club. You said it well — Faith was a blessing!

    Diann Peyton, Des Moines

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