Seeing Ed and Dee Wilson, on the surface it would be hard to guess what they’ve been through in the last few years. They often show up at our house with joyful smiles on their faces, sharing encouragement and a lot of practical help.But two years ago, Dee and Ed received news that would have knocked many people down into despair: Dee had Stage-4 uterine cancer that had metastasized; the doctors gave a survival rate of three to six months. “It takes a while to respond to that kind of news,” says Ed. “At first, there was no hope.”
They had just been married for a few years. Dee had always worked so much, supporting the studies of her seven younger brothers and sisters. Ed had adult children of his own, and had served in both the U.S. air force and the army and was working for the U.S. Postal Service. “It was like he came from heaven,” says Dee with a smile. She had waited a long time to find her match. “It was the same for me,” says Ed.
When the diagnosis came at the beginning of 2015, it was a big shock. It didn’t help that Dee’s medical oncologist, while very capable, was also very direct about her prognosis: “It’s not easy to be told by a doctor that chemo just buys you time. I would rather die on the spot than wait for that time to come,” says Dee.
“At first she had a defeatist attitude,” says Ed. “Then we had people helping us out, and all of a sudden, there was a glimmer of hope. Dee decided to fight it, and a big part of it was praying for a miracle.” Even so, she admitted that she could not make it on her own. Ed was with her when she was crying during the chemo sessions. When she struggled to embrace the suffering, he would remind her of God’s presence, and it would lighten her burden.
“I myself could not make it,” says Dee. But she felt God would not give her something they could not face.
Ed has a handyman’s eye that is always on the lookout for anything that needs to be fixed: the kitchen sink, the drafty door to the garage, the noisy water pipes. With a bottle of Coca Cola and his toolbox at hand, he gets to work, with the gift of working and telling stories at the same time. Stories of their cat Henry, of their plans to move to the Philippines near Dee’s hometown, of his adult daughter, or of experiences he faced during his service in the military.
Dee is the head of quality control on these visits, checking that Ed lines up the kitchen cabinets straight, or pointing out stray paint specks on the wood trim after a paintjob. She manages his project calendar, but has her own projects as well. She can be found either studying anything related to her human resources background, or being a source of faith and strength for others.
When they were introduced to each other by a mutual friend, they started talking through Skype, he from the U.S., she from the Philippines. “She was an executive, and I was a grunt man,” says Ed. And yet they discovered a strong connection from their shared interest in helping children. Dee volunteered regularly at Bukas Palad (Open hands), a social project in the Philippines that teaches and cares for children in need. Ed was volunteering time to an organization supporting medically fragile children in the U.S. After about a year and a half later, they realized they were meant for each other, they got married and moved to Georgia.
Sparks of hope
The love and support they felt after Dee’s diagnosis was surely also the fruit of all the love that so many people have felt from them. Gestures of care from family, friends and their church communities surrounded them: phone calls asking how they were doing and giving encouragement, random people coming up to Dee at Mass with a hug and assuring her prayers.
They felt that they didn’t have to face it alone. “It gave me hope, both of us hope.” And from there came the courage to keep reaching out to others and seeing life as a gift.
Dee also felt supported spiritually by those who share the spirituality of unity with her, and who encouraged her as she sought to embrace her suffering as Jesus had on the cross. “I had learned that from [Focolare founder] Chiara Lubich. I know how to suffer because Jesus has given the example,” she says. “He is still love in that moment.”
Just three months later, the all-clear came at a follow-up appointment, and again other follow-ups showed no trace of the cancer. Each time good news arrived, Ed and Dee went straight to the church to thank God, for the miracle of Dee’s health and the hope they maintained throughout the difficult months.
Even the doctor who had given them such a bleak outlook was touched by their faith. When he retired, he said he would pray for them. Ed says he could finally “take off the doctor’s coat” and talk about faith because of the contact with Dee and her steadfast faith.
Ed’s own faith really began growing back when he was serving for the military during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. Having been in situations with bullets flying just over his head, with difficult choices to make regarding life and death, Ed started having long talks with God.
“You reflect on the destruction, you become remorseful about it. It is something you had to do at the time, but you think, ‘My goodness, isn’t there a better way?’ That weighs heavy on the mind,” says Ed. The fact that he came home alive made him think that God must have had something in mind for his life.
When he met Dee, he saw something good and wanted to hang on to that, and her great faith has had an impact on him too. The experience with cancer has been quite a road for them, but one that has brought them closer. “Maybe God wanted to unite us together more as husband and wife,” says Dee. “My faith has gotten stronger since then,” says Ed.
Keep on keeping on
The experience of God’s love during Dee’s illness continues to have ripples in their daily life — they want to share the gift of hope being there for others.
They share their time and talents, Ed with his handyman knowledge so that others can learn to do what he does in case they need the knowledge when he’s not available. Dee too in her ministry work and support of others with illness. And together they help a local ministry that feeds the homeless.
At their wedding, Ed and Dee asked for contributions for Bukas Palad instead of wedding gifts, and even now they continue to collect school materials and contributions to make repairs and additions to the center.
Who knows what more they will do if they eventually move there. They are sure that God will show them if and when it is time for them to take that step.
“Dee is praying for that,” says Ed. “Meanwhile I’ll keep painting the garage.”
By Sarah Mundell