“I felt if she could do it, so could I”

A passionate biker, Stuart Jonas converts a recumbent model to a workout bike in his home in the winter.  “I lost all my sense of balance with the brain tumor, but this allows me to ride again.”

“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.IMG_5793

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.



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