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My mother-in-law, Josefina (Madre) with her husband and my daughters
celebrating Mexican Independence Day last year.


A month ago, my mother-in-law was diagnosed with stomach cancer. Her name is Josefina. I call her Madre. She hadn’t been able to keep any food down for awhile and went to a few doctors seeking help, both traditional and non traditional. She lives in Mitla, Mexico, which has a largely
indigenous Zapoteco population. Many of the people in this town first
seek traditional remedies to cure their ailments, and when that does not
take care of the problem, they go to see what we would call a regular
medical doctor. Madre tried both to no avail for a couple weeks. Finally she went to a doctor who told her she needed an endoscopy. This
procedure revealed a large tumor in her stomach.

Naturally this was bad news for her and for the entire family, especially
her mom, her husband, two sons, her daughter ( my wife), and me. A
variety of tests followed to diagnose the severity of the cancer. Initially it seemed the cancer was confined to the tumor and surgery was scheduled on a Sunday. She was admitted to the hospital the day before.

Medicine and doctors and hospitals are an interesting thing in Mexico. At least interesting to me, having spent most of my life in the United States. I haven’t got it all figured out, but it seems to me that there are three levels of health care in this country; one level for people who have some money and can afford private care. Another level for people who have money taken out of their wages to pay for health insurance and are treated by public doctors and nurses in public hospitals which is free. The last level is for poor people who don’t pay for health insurance. If they have a medical need they go to the local public health clinic and are usually treated for free for basic simple health problems, but if it is serious they have to go to a public hospital and pay cash or they don’t receive treatment. Public medical services are not terrible. I have two daughters who were born in a public hospital with public doctors and nurses, with no ill effects, and it was all free, because my Mexican wife has money taken out of her wages to pay for health insurance.
A couple of problems with public health care here are long waits to see a health care professional and most of the doctors and nurses are fresh out of medical school and don’t have a lot of hands on experience. Also, in public hospitals you have to share a room with two or three other patients, and family members can’t stay with the patient for the whole time, which is important in Mexico. Family comes first in Mexico, and if one family member has to go to the hospital, at least one other member of the family moves in with them, at private hospitals that is. If it is public hospital, family members stay and sleep in the waiting room or outside the hospital.

Madre stayed at a private hospital, even though the family is poor. We thank God for GoFundMe and all the people who generously donated money and allowed Madre to receive wonderful care at a beautiful little hospital in Oaxaca. All the rooms had a large couch for family members to sit on during the day and sleep on at night. My wife slept on one during her mom’s hospital stay which was six days. Sometimes Madre’s mother, husband, son and family friends were all there at once! It wasn’t as bad as it may seem because this was the most unique hospital I have ever seen. It only had eight rooms and used to be like a convent or little monestary operated by a Catholic organizations about a 100 years ago. Then it went into the hands of St. Vincent DePaul Society run by a guy named Vasconcelos, and now it is Vasconcelos hospital. It has a chapel called Sacred Heart which is open to the public on special occasions. In the middle of this hospital is a courtyard with potted bougainvilleas and patio furniture all around for family and friends to take advantage of.

The first couple weeks after the surgery was difficult, because of physical and emotional reasons. Physically she vomited what little food she was able to swallow and became dehydrated and had to go to the emergency room. Emotionally it was a difficult time because the tumor and samples of her stomach tissue that was taken out of her went to a lab and it was discovered that the cancer had spread. She found out she has stage three cancer and the prognosis isn’t that great. Chemotherapy is in her near future.
Now she is doing much better, both physically and emotionally and spiritually. She is eating a lot more and keeps it all down. Emotionally she is happier. Spiritually she has always been strong. She doesn’t understand why she has had to go through all this, none of us do. But she fully trusts in the Lord who has given her the peace that surpasses all understanding that Paul writes about in Philippians 4:7.
I have been thinking about Psalm 23 a lot lately, especially the “valley of the shadow of death” part. I think we all love the opening verses that speak of green pastures, quiet waters and refreshing souls. The “shadow of death”, not so much. But I have come to realize that for the sheep to enjoy those rich, green pastures and cool, quiet waters, they sometimes have to travel through the valley of the shadow of death. The Good Shepherd knows best. He knows where the nutritious food and refreshing drink is, and his sheep know his voice and confidently follow him into and through the scary, dark valley, to green pastures and still waters. They trust him because he is wise and strong. They have no fear because He is with them, and he wields a stout rod and sturdy staff.
That’s the faith of Madre. As she journeys through the dark valley, she fears no evil but trusts in her good, good Shepherd; her good, good Father. No one knows what she will encounter on the other side of the valley. Maybe many happy, healthy years on planet earth, or maybe eternity in heaven with the Lord. Whatever happens it’s all good. She doesn’t know what the future holds, but she knows WHO holds the future.


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