A Life Worth Saving

Trudy and I met in Ipswich, England, in 1972, a year after I had joined the Church. She had recently returned home after gaining her degree at BYU and teaching in Germany for a year. It wasn’t long before we knew that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives—and eternity—together.

In the months before our marriage in July 1973, Trudy and I shared our values and the hopes and dreams we would build our life on. We both wanted children and planned to start our family as soon as we were married. During one discussion of pregnancy and children, the subject of abortion came up. We agreed that abortion was only justified in extreme circumstances. We felt totally supportive of the Church’s policy that it is justified only in cases when the mother’s life is in danger or in cases of rape or incest. We hoped we would never have to face such a terrifying decision. However, four years and two delightful daughters later, we did face it.

During Trudy’s first pregnancy, she developed toxemia, and our daughter’s birth was induced five weeks early. Trudy asked for and received a blessing for herself and her baby. After fifteen hours of labor, her doctors had become increasingly concerned for the baby’s health and gave Trudy a cesarean section. Vicky became the first addition to our family. Though she was jaundiced and had to remain in intensive care for a couple of days, still she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

A week later, nervous but very proud, I brought my wife and daughter home.

Twenty months later our second daughter, Louisa, was born, this time naturally. Louisa was fine, but Trudy was not. Trudy began bleeding quite badly. The doctors could not find the cause and decided to take her to the operating room. It looked as though she would have to have a hysterectomy, which would mean no more children for us. Before Trudy was wheeled away, she asked me to give her a blessing, which I did. By the time she had reached the operating room, the bleeding had stopped and the doctors could not find where it had come from. The hysterectomy was unnecessary.

Those were good days. We had little materially, but we were happy. We had a growing family, and we looked forward to our future together.

A little over a year later, Trudy was once again pregnant. Her journal expresses her thoughts about what began to happen to her.

When I was eighteen weeks pregnant I went for my first checkup and told the doctors I had found a couple of small lumps on my breast. He examined me and said they were probably quite harmless … and would be removed, if necessary, after the baby came. …

On July 11th (twenty-five weeks pregnant) I went for my third checkup. The lumps had grown, and the doctor immediately made an appointment for me to see a specialist. He confirmed everyone’s worst suspicions—a fast-growing, advanced cancer, inoperable and growing on the large quantities of estrogen produced by the pregnancy. The gland under my arm was dangerously swollen, sending cancer cells all over my body, and the growth was about to come through the skin, which would lead to dangerous infection.

I was told that my best hope—my only hope—was to have an abortion (still legal for another three weeks), and extensive radiotherapy, hormone treatment, and chemotherapy. He said that he had made an appointment for me to see the obstetrician that evening regardless of my decision.

Trudy’s father and brother-in-law gave her a blessing.

At the time, I was undergoing training at Royal Air Force Cranwell about one hundred miles away, so I got emergency leave and drove home as soon as possible, very worried, having only been given a few details. When I arrived, I was told the whole story. Trudy had already decided not to have the abortion.

What to many would have been a heart-searching decision, was to Trudy quite simple. First, she had one of God’s spirit children within her and did not wish to deny it the chance of life on earth in our family. Second, following Louisa’s birth, when she could have had a hysterectomy but was healed, there came to Trudy the knowledge that she would have the opportunity to have another child. So Trudy had made her decision, and now what we needed was our Heavenly Father’s confirmation that the decision was right in this case.

So with Trudy’s decision in mind, we sought confirmation. That evening we knelt and poured out our hearts to our Father in Heaven. We told Him what had happened and of our decision, and then came a beautiful burning deep within us that told us we had made the right decision. From that moment on there was never any thought of turning back nor regrets over our choice.

Two days later Trudy began radiotherapy treatment, five days a week for five weeks. A lead apron covered her abdomen to protect the baby from as much radiation as possible.

That Saturday Trudy and I went to the London Temple. After that, Trudy received a blessing.

I don’t believe I have ever had such an experience of direct revelation. I was told that either by miracle or skill of the doctors, I would get better and the baby would be safe. I would suffer pain and depression, but the doctors would be blessed to cure me.

That Sunday the bishop announced the problem to the ward, and a fast day was called. … On Tuesday I had a biopsy, which confirmed the initial diagnosis, and the ward fasted; adults and children and people I hardly knew—even a neighboring ward. Nonmembers prayed for us; people were so good. It seemed to draw them together. The Relief Society organized a rota of volunteers, and the children were looked after and my housework done while I was at hospital.

After eight courses of radiotherapy, the radiologist noticed a marked reduction in the size of the tumour and the gland, and the growth was beginning to soften. …

Benjamin Christian was delivered by [cesarean] section Thursday, 22nd September 1977, at 5.03 pm—one month early.

He was a healthy, wonderful little boy. The radiologist told me that he had not expected Benjy to be born alive. Now he says I am well on the way to recovery.

Over the next few months our lives returned to a semblance of normality. We moved to a house about twelve miles from Ipswich but remained in the Ipswich ward and continued to receive help from all quarters. Things were apparently improving for us. But the following summer there were complications.

The tumours started to grow quite fast again, and I’ve had two five-day stretches in hospital for intensive chemotherapy and cobalt treatment. Following another fast and blessing, the tumours stopped growing, receded, and to the radiologist’s absolute delight, actually started to soften.

On Saturday 26th August, I found out that the cancer may have spread. I often feel it is only a matter of time now before I go to live with Heavenly Father again. For this reason, I feel I must write a message to my children. They are all so young, and there are so many things I want to teach them, so many evils I want to protect them from and so many beautiful things I want to show them. Perhaps this is just a temporary setback, but if the Lord wants me elsewhere, then we must accept that.

The next several pages of Trudy’s journal contain letters to our children. They are her last entry.

On Benjy’s first birthday, Trudy’s doctors told me that she was very ill and had only a few weeks to live. I was devastated, but I managed to keep the news from Trudy.

As the pain became more excruciating, she was readmitted to the hospital and given painkilling injections. From then on, her condition rapidly deteriorated. Each time I visited her, she was less her usual self, each day less aware of what was happening.

Again the ward fasted for Trudy. Her father and I administered to her that evening. I still had hopes of Trudy’s recovery and knew that if the Lord wanted it, it would happen—if enough faith was exerted. That evening, deeply absorbed in worry about Trudy, I suddenly remembered the words of a blessing I had given Trudy a few weeks earlier. In the blessing I had told Trudy that she need not worry about the children, as they would be well looked after, that everything would be all right. Now those words came flooding into my mind again. A feeling of peace embraced and comforted me.

On Friday, the Ipswich Ward and the Wickham Market Branch held a special prayer meeting for Trudy. Then on Sunday she was administered to again and given the sacrament.

The next day, Trudy could only barely communicate with us. One of Trudy’s family or I was always with her. On Wednesday evening, 11 October 1978, Trudy died.

Trudy’s parents, her brother-in-law, and I went back to the hospital. I was shattered, distraught. Though I had been expecting this for weeks, even to the end I had hoped that Trudy would recover. I cried unashamedly. We knelt, and I offered a prayer that came from the bottom of my heart. I felt closer to Heavenly Father in that prayer than at almost any other time. Then, after receiving a priesthood blessing myself, I left, still extremely upset.

Gradually the Lord’s comforting Spirit began to fill me again, and I began to feel increasingly positive about things. Unfortunately, I could not hold on to this feeling all the time, but with help from good friends and family, my children and I got through the rough days that followed. My children were cared for, and I could always find a shoulder to cry on.

Benjy is now fourteen years old. I recently ordained him a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood.

I cannot say that a couple in circumstances similar to ours should do as we did. But I know that in our case, at that time, our decision was the right one. We were fortunate in that we were partly prepared when our crisis came.

I thank Heavenly Father for the blessings that he has given me, especially for my family, my friends, and my children—but above all for Trudy, whose courage and love inspires me still. My experience has taught me an indelible truth—God’s hand can be a part of our coming and going in mortality, and he can be a great comfort to us in both instances.

[illustration] Illustrated by Mark Robison

John S. Bennett is chairman of the Single Adult Committee in the Lethbridge Alberta Canada Stake. He is a member of the Lethbridge Tenth Ward.