Living in Bonus Time

The other night I couldn’t sleep because I was worrying about a complicated problem in my life.  As I tossed and turned, I prayed for God’s intervention in this situation – an intervention that would of course provide the outcome I desired!  My reasoning was that I would have an amazing story to tell that would bring God glory.  In the middle of my worrying and pseudo-praying, I got a very strong response from God saying, “I already did that! What aren’t you telling anyone that story?”

So, this is the story of my “Bonus Time” – I am telling it with the desire to bring God Glory for this amazing blessing in my life. 

In December 2014, after many doctor visits, second and third opinions, physical exams, scans, biopsies, and blood draws, I was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer.  The words my doctor used when she called to tell me the news were that I had “a large, scary mass on my left ovary.”  This call came during the third week of December when all I could think about was having my “kids”, my three young-adult children, home for Christmas.  I was troubled that I had to deal with all these doctor’s visits and uncomfortable symptoms when I had so much important decorating and baking to do!


For the entire week before my kids arrived, I was annoyed, frustrated, distracted, and afraid.  I don’t remember turning to God in prayer for comfort and peace.  I was in denial about what I was facing and simply didn’t want to deal with it.  At last, when my kids arrived, I didn’t mention to them that I had received this very devastating diagnosis because I didn’t want to “ruin Christmas”.

On the Sunday before Christmas, our family went to Mass together and I remember standing for the Gospel reading amid the congregation, surrounded by my family, and hearing the words of the Annunciation Narrative from the Gospel of Luke – as if for the first time.  When the priest read the words of Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel, I claimed those words for myself, “And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

This changed everything for me!  From that moment on, I submitted to God’s plan for my life!  I was filled with a measure of peace and joy that I had never experienced before.  I often felt like I was being carried around in the palm of God’s hand like His most precious possession and no harm could come to me

The New Year provided many doctor appointments and consultations.  My husband and I visited many doctors and finally chose Dr. Alpa Nick, a Gynecological Oncologist at MD Anderson in Houston, TX to provide my treatment.  The plan was for me to undergo a 45-minute laparoscopic surgery to implant a port in my abdomen to deliver chemotherapy directly to the tumor to shrink its size.  Later, once the tumor was dead, I would have another surgery for a radical hysterectomy.


I was very reluctant to undergo chemotherapy because of all of the side effects and because the prognosis for my condition wasn’t very good, even with the world’s best treatment.  I was also dreading the surgery because it appeared that the tumor was obstructing my bowel and there was a strong possibility that I would need a colostomy bag.

Throughout this time, my daughter was home from college on her Christmas break.  I kept wanting to shop for wigs and caps to wear when my hair fell out, but she kept saying, “Mom, you don’t have cancer.  You are going to be just fine.”  I thought she was just in denial about the seriousness of my situation, but it turned out that she was right!  A few days before my surgery, we had lunch with my dear friend and mentor, Fr. Donald Nesti.  I told him about the upcoming surgery and asked him to pray over me.  I remember him saying, “You look like the picture of health” before he prayed for my healing.  I left that lunch feeling more than ever a sense of peace and well-being.

The day before my scheduled surgery, after completing the required exams and starting to sign the mountains of paperwork, I met with Dr. Nick and the surgical fellow who was assisting her in my case (MD Anderson is a teaching hospital and many surgeries are conducted by two surgeons.).  I distinctly remember asking the surgical fellow what the expected outcome for my condition would be if I didn’t have the chemotherapy.  He definitively said, “you will be dead in 12 to 18 months”.  I looked at my husband who was holding my hand throughout this process, and his face turned completely white.  I quickly finished signing the consent forms and started preparing for the days ahead.

The next day we went to the hospital early for the laparoscopic surgery.  I was ‘prepped’ in a private room and for a few minutes I was left alone when my husband ran to the car for the retrieval of some forgotten item.  I remember sitting in a folding chair in a corner of the room, dreading climbing onto that surgical gurney that would change my life forever.  I was dressed only in a hospital gown; every material item that defined me had been stripped away.  As I sat there on that cold, hard, metal chair, I started to pray.  During those moments, I had an “out of body” experience.  I saw myself from above, dressed only in a hospital gown, bent over my knees deep in prayer.  Once again, that feeling of complete peace came over me, and I knew one way or another, everything would be okay.

Then things started happening quickly; the anesthesiologist arrived to start my sedation, the surgical techs arrived to wheel me away, and I said a quick goodbye to Dennis – for what I thought would be a short and uneventful surgery.


I awoke in the recovery room nine hours later, unaware of all that had happened while I was on the operating table.  Dr. Nick told me later that she had initially followed the surgical plan – she performed the laparoscopic cuts and inserted the camera to get a good look at the “big scary mass” (which had been very evident on a CT scan only days before).  However, when she looked with the camera, she couldn’t find anything!  She then made the decision to “open me up” with a “midline laparotomy” which is a large incision to open up the entire abdomen.


Dr. Nick told me that she removed everything that could potentially be cancerous and sent it to the lab for a thorough review.  She felt all of my organs with her hands because she said cancer cells feel different than normal tissue, but she couldn’t find anything!  Dr. Nick told me later that she kept searching because she “knew I had cancer” – but after many hours of not finding anything, she sewed me up and sent me to recovery.

When I awoke, I asked two questions, “Do I have cancer? Do I have a colostomy bag?” When I heard the answer to both was “No”, I went right back to sleep.  Later, the surgical fellow came in to talk to me.  He had a dazed look on his face when he explained to me everything that had happened in the operating room.  I asked him if he believed in miracles, and he answered, “I do now!” 

It turns out that a “midline laparotomy” is major surgery, so I had a long and difficult recovery ahead of me.  Meanwhile, Dr. Nick was unwilling to concede that I was cancer-free.  She kept saying, “let’s wait until we get the lab report.”  She seemed convinced that something would show up under the microscope.  Finally, after two long weeks, Dr. Nick called to tell me that the lab had found NO CANCER in any of my cells.  True to my nature, I started asking a lot of questions.  Dr. Nick interrupted me and said, “Nora, I NEVER get to tell people they don’t have cancer.  I don’t know what to say.”

Throughout the next year, I worked very hard to recover my health while I went back to school at the University of St. Thomas in Houston to earn a master’s degree in Faith and Culture.  In the summer of 2016, I had the opportunity to take a course on Ecumenism in Rome as a part of my master’s program.  On the last day of our course, we attended Mass in a monastery just outside the Vatican.  The first reading from that day was from 2 Kings 20:1-11 – the story of how God healed Hezekiah and gave him 15 more years of life to serve God.  Hezekiah was near death when the prophet Isaiah visited him and told him that God said, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I am going to heal you…And I will add fifteen years to your life.”  Later, when I checked my calendar, I realized that it was exactly 18 months to the day from when I was told that I would be dead in 12-18 months!

People often ask me why I work so hard to make Jesus known through Shroud education, and now you know my motivation.  I believe God prepared me for my whole life to teach people about the Shroud and then he gave me this “bonus time” to serve and glorify him.

But here it is, eight years later, and I have told very few people this story.  Because, just like Dr. Nick, I don’t know what to say.  

In the spring of 2012, two of the dearest women in my life were diagnosed with cancer within 3 weeks of each other.  Throughout my ordeal, we were also journeying along with them and their cancer odyssey.  They both passed in 2016, again within 3 weeks of each other.  Honestly, it was almost impossible for me to mention that for some reason I was miraculously healed when these two wonderful, holy women were not.  I still don’t understand it.  But I do know that Isaiah 55:8 says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.”. 

I don’t understand why God healed me and why so many other people must suffer and die from cancer (and many other illnesses).  I just know that God gave me a tremendous gift of this bonus time to use to bring Him glory! 

So now, I am a “Shroud educator”.  I am dedicated to making Jesus known by talking about Him and His Holy Shroud to basically anyone who will listen!  It doesn’t feel “optional” …but it is very joyful and blessed work.  I am honored to serve wherever the Holy Spirit leads me.  I am truly abundantly blessed and want to use the gift of this Bonus Time in a way that brings glory to God through His Son Jesus and His Holy Face. 


“Because Mary allowed the Lord to work, God did great things for her, and she did great things for God.” (John Beaulieu)