Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Incredible Woman #46 - Colette Harris. A Mission and Trials...

KARA: "You told me that you served an LDS mission in Argentina. Describe that experience - how did that help you as you became a wife and mother?"

COLETTE: "I served in Argentina when their government was on the verge of collapsing and the country was in the middle of the Falkland War with England. Since England and America have always been allies, the United States of course supported England in the war. American missionaries in Argentina at that time were not the most popular people on the street.

High inflation was crippling the country. A bill that was worth $50 in the beginning of my mission was worth 5 cents at the end of my mission. People were afraid and families went without. Men were told at work that they had to go and fight in the war. They couldn't even say good-bye to their families in person. They were allowed to talk to them on the phone from work, and then they were transported to the war front.

The missionaries were told to go into hiding for one week and not leave their apartments. We were told to be near a phone in case the mission president called with instructions on how to leave Argentina and quietly slip across the border into Chile for protection.

While being quarantined, my companion and I heard the constant roar of low flying military planes flying overhead. How would this war turn out? We yearned to be working among the people helping them through this difficult time. In about a month and a half, my mission would be over. I wondered if I would ever be able to go back outside and say good-bye to the wonderful people of Argentina that I had learned to love with all of my heart.

Since I couldn't leave my apartment, I studied a lot that week. I did a lot of soul searching. I asked myself what would be the most important message I could leave my brothers and sisters in Argentina. One day while reading in Ephesians in the Bible, I came across a passage of scripture in chapter four that talked about putting on the whole armor of God that "ye may be able to withstand in the evil day." It talked about putting on the shield of faith, the breast plate of righteousness, etc. That was it! That was the message I wanted to give them----to put on the whole armor of God and let Him fight their battles for them. If they did that, I knew that they would be okay.

I never got to give that message. Instead, I got a phone call telling me that I had less that 48 hours to pack my bags, travel to the mission home, and catch a flight back home. (Many other missionaries also received the same instructions that were also within a couple of months of finishing their missions.) With a heavy heart I left my beloved Argentina and came home.

The message I wanted to share with my brothers and sisters in Argentina has always stayed with me. As mother I realize that even though I couldn't share it in Argentina, it was the most important message I could ever share with my children. By putting on the whole armor of God, you are putting God first in your life and everything else will fall into place. To me that is truly the key to a happy life."

KARA: "You've had some major trials in your life. Can you tell us about those, and what helped you to get through those trials?"

COLETTE: The Car Accident...
"When I was a sophomore in high school, our family was in a car accident soon after we picked my oldest brother up from the Salt Lake airport. He had just returned from an LDS mission in Australia and we were anxious to get him home so we could have a big family dinner and hear all about his mission. We were traveling south on the freeway on our way home to Provo. After a series of events, we were hit from behind by a double oil tanker. For a brief moment I went unconscious. When I came to, my body had been thrust on top of my mother's body. She was limp and lifeless. I thought my heart would break. I just remember silently praying, "Heavenly Father, please help us." A few seconds later, I heard her moan. She was alive!

Mom sustained the most injuries from the accident. She broke her back in several places. She was never the same physically after the accident. Dad had a concussion and memory loss. I got a whiplash.

That accident had a profound impact on my life. I was not the typical high school sophomore girl any more. Instead of focusing on the cute boy in my English class I silently wished would take me to a dance, I thought about what I would make for dinner, what I needed to do to keep up with the laundry and chores, and how I would juggle my homework taking on added responsibilities. Mom was down for a long time, but she was a great side-line coach from her bed teaching me how to run a home. Her courage and positive attitude were truly and inspiration to me.

The most important thing I learned from the car accident was that life is precious and should never be taken for granted. Through the car accident we grew closer as a family. Our faith and gratitude grew and our love for God and each other deepened.

Another challenge that has changed my life forever, was being diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2009. I will never forget that day. I was grocery shopping in Macey's when I got a call on my cell phone. I heard my gynecologist's voice on the other end. He said, "I am really sorry to inform you that you tested positive for breast cancer." I was stunned. I couldn't speak for a few moments. I slumped down on the cart and stared at the floor. Somehow I wished it would just swallow me up. The canned foods that lined the isles offered little comfort.

I tried to keep my composure until I got home, but when I saw my husband's car in the driveway I started to lose it. I found him in his office chatting on the phone with his back to me. Hearing me enter the room, he turned around and saw my tear stained face. He immediately dropped his phone and ran to me. I melted in his arms and sobbed.

That was the beginning of an adventure that has taken me down paths I never thought I would travel. It has been sixteen months since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. During the past year I have had a bilateral mastectomy, eight rounds of chemo (over a four month period), thirty-three radiation treatments, and reconstructive surgery.

Cancer has been a great teacher. The past year I have learned more about what really matters in life than I ever did in the previous fifty years. Life is good and I look forward to each new day.

Bald is Beautiful...
The past year I don't think I have laughed more or cried harder. I found that it was much more fun to focus on the funny things that happened when I had cancer then the negative things.

Here is a sample of an e-mail I sent to family and friends with the hope that my funny experiences could somehow brighten their day.

May 5, 2009: Chemo again. Things are better this time than last--less nausea, a little more energy the first five days. I am thrilled! The big change is the prickly, tingly, achy feeling in my scalp as my hair begins to fall out. By Sunday things were pretty sparse on top, so I decided to no longer prolong the inevitable and break out the wig I was trying to ignore. After all, it was Mother's Day and moms are supposed to look good on Mother's Day. Right? I tried it on and attempted to style it. I quickly turned my head to one side and the darn thing flew right off my head! I am glad that it didn't happen at church! I discovered that there are tabs in the back of the wig that are adjustable. Hopefully I will have things under control before the next big wind storm.

The insurance company has a glorified definition for a wig: cranial prosthesis. I wonder if the person that invented that choice definition, could present it before a board of directors with a straight face. I know that I am kind of off-the-wall sometimes, but I thought that definition was pretty funny.

As I contemplated life without hair, I am becoming quite excited! There are advantages. Here are my top four reasons why it is good to be bald.
1. There are no bad hair days!
2. You don't have to shave your legs any more.
3. You don't have to use shampoo, conditioner, gel, hairspray, blow dryers or curling irons.
4. With all the time saved not having to use the above mentioned items, I may actually take up a hobby! Life is sweet!

If you see me hanging out in my yard or roaming the neighborhood wearing my "cranial prosthesis", scarf, or hat, please remember that bald people are the same as everyone else, they just have less fur on top! ;)

Well, my cancer update wasn't so brief. If you are still reading this, I don't know whether to hug you for taking the time to mull through all of this or to tell you to "get a life." Anyway, I hope you know how much I love you. Thanks for your continual love, support, and prayers."


carolyne b said...

A dear sister I visited each month was diagnosed with breast cancer. I worked full time, but when she needed me I would pick her up and drive her to various appointments. My companion and I arrived at her house one day and this sister announced that she would like us to shave her head as the hair was falling out in clumps anyway. We all cryed as we shaved.
Now I am her councilor in Relief Society. We shared something very special and are able to give more to the woman in our Ward because of it.

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