“I was on the street. This guy waved to me, and he came up to me and said, ‘I’m sorry. I thought you were someone else.’ And I said, ‘I am.’ ” — Sister Sue Tracy
Stuart Jonas sits over Anna’s House pancakes, tall, thin, a ready smile on his craggy face despite the pain. It’s better than it’s been in a long time, but controlling it is still a frustrating work in progress.
Brain surgery and radiation for a tumor followed by discovery and treatment for large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma “in the brain and everywhere” killed the cancer but has left lasting collateral damage.
It’s not about that today.
He holds out a small carved figure with outstretched hands.
Sister Sue Tracy gave him the tiny statue during one of her visits as a chaplain at Spectrum Health.
A person in patient’s clothing
A cancer veteran herself, she gave him something even more precious during his three months of heavy-duty treatment:
With all due respect to great nurses and his doctors, he says, “When you’re in the hospital, you’re a patient. Sister Sue makes us feel like a person.
“However long she was there, I wasn’t in the hospital, I was with a friend. She shared her cancer experience (no fewer than 6 of them when she died June 29, 2016).
“I felt if she could do it, so could I. I thought ‘Here’s someone who gets it.”
The figure is always with him.
“Sister Sue said, ‘if I’m not here, this is a reminder — there is hope.’ Looking at it makes me feel better.
“It’s sturdy – something that won’t get broken real easily,” he says.
He could have been describing her other gifts: “She represented strength and hope.”
The chaplain becomes the patient
Their positions were reversed some years ago when she was hospitalized for cancer treatment.
“I got a chance to play guitar for her and her friend.” There was singing involved and “I remember her lying in bed smiling. I like to remember her vibrancy.”
Like so many whose inner light she rekindled into something of an eternal flame, he now pays it forward: He volunteers with others who are hospitalized, and he is part of the Leukemia/Lymphoma group at Gilda’s Club Grand Rapids, as was Sister Sue.
“I don’t want to be tired and cranky, and she embraced whatever came instead of fighting it,” he says.