By JAYMES SONG
By Jaymes Song
The Associated Press
When cancer spread into her lungs, doctors told Audrey Toguchi she had six months to live, at best, and suggested chemotherapy as the only option.
Toguchi, however, turned to another source – a Roman Catholic missionary who died more than a century ago.
“I’m going to Molokai to pray to Father Damien,” Toguchi calmly told Dr. Walter Y.M. Chang after hearing her prognosis.
“Mrs. Toguchi, prayers are nice and it’s probably very helpful, but you still need chemotherapy,” replied Chang, who earlier had removed from Toguchi’s left buttock a fist-size tumor that was the source of the cancer in her lungs.
Defying Chang and the pleas of her husband and two sons, Toguchi caught a flight from Honolulu to the remote peninsula of Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai to pray at the grave of the priest who had ministered to people with leprosy until he, too, contracted it and died in 1889.
“Dear Lord, you’re the one who created my body, so I know you can fix it,” Toguchi prayed. “I put my whole faith in you. … Father Damien, please pray for me, too, because I need your help.”
On a doctor’s visit on Oct. 2, 1998, a month after cancer was detected in her lungs, doctors expected the tumors to have grown. Instead, they had shrunk, and by May 1999 tests confirmed that they had disappeared without treatment.
Chang and a half-dozen other doctors, including a cardiologist, oncologist, pathologist and radiologist, couldn’t explain it. Chang, who does not adhere to any religion, urged Toguchi to report it to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Vatican conducted an extensive review and concluded that Toguchi’s recovery defied medical explanation.
On July 3, Pope Benedict XVI agreed and approved the case as Damien’s second miracle, opening the way for the Belgian priest to be declared a saint.
The Vatican requires confirmation of two miracles attributed to a candidate’s intercession before canonization, or sainthood.
Church authorities approved Damien’s first miracle in 1992. In that case, Sister Simplicia Hue of France, who was dying of a gastrointestinal illness, recovered overnight in 1895 after she began a novena, or nine days of prayer, to Damien.
Toguchi’s story, and identity, were kept secret for years while the church investigated her case. Today, the 80-year-old retired schoolteacher talks openly of her experience.
Chang says Toguchi’s chances of survival at the time of his diagnosis were zero, even if she had agreed to chemotherapy.
Toguchi had been diagnosed in December 1997 with liposarcoma, an uncommon tumor that arises in deep fat tissue – in this case, her buttock. She had several operations followed by radiation. A month later, doctors found and removed an unrelated cancer in her thyroid gland.
In September 1998, an X-ray showed three growths in her lungs. A needle biopsy of one showed it was consistent with the liposarcoma found in her left buttock. Follow-up X-rays showed the growths were shrinking on their own.
Rare cases of spontaneous remission, or regression, are reported, mostly involving melanoma skin cancer, kidney cancer or lymphoma but hardly ever solid tumors like breast, prostate or colon cancers, said Dr. Richard Schilsky, a University of Chicago cancer specialist and president of the American Society of Clinical Oncology .
Chang agrees that “no one truly knows” why some cancers disappear.
“For the true believer or faithful, this is a miracle. For the true skeptic, this is a random or very unusual coincidence. For the doctor and scientist, we call it complete spontaneous regression of cancer.”
Toguchi believes it was Damien and looks forward to the day when the priest is canonized, which is expected early next year. She plans to go to Rome for the ceremony.
Damien, born Joseph de Veuster, arrived in the islands in 1864. Nine years later he began ministering to leprosy patients on Molokai, where some thousands had been banished amid an epidemic in Hawaii in the 1850s. After contracting the disease, also known as Hansen’s disease, he died on April 15, 1889, at age 49.
Father Damien was a priest who ministered to people in Hawaii with leprosy until he, too, contracted it and died in 1889.
Pope Benedict XVI recently agreed and approved Audrey Toguchi’s case as Damien’s second miracle, opening the way for the Belgian priest to be declared a saint.
Originally published by BY JAYMES SONG.
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