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Janet Russell

Cancer and the search for healing in Lourdes

“In Lourdes, I made a confession with the priest in my group, in which I reflected on my life. I confessed everything that I felt needed healing and forgiveness.”

-Janet Russell

On my 51st birthday, my life as a “malade” began. “Malade” is the French word for “sick one,” and it became part of my identity when I was diagnosed with low-grade follicular lymphoma following a routine checkup. Cancer was not the birthday gift I was expecting, but the spiritual journey I would embark upon as a result would truly change my life and bless me with a gift of understanding that I feel the responsibility to share.

For as long as I can remember, Lourdes has held a special place in my heart. My mother told me I was a descendant of Jeanne Abadie, the girl who accompanied St. Bernadette Soubirous to gather firewood at the Grotto of Massabielle, where our Blessed Mother appeared.

To visit the cemetery in Lourdes where my great-great aunt rests would be a blessing beyond words. And by no small miracle, it was where I found myself this past May, in the local cemetery, with the Abadie family monument on one side and the Soubirous family on the other. It was a sacred moment. My 16-year-old daughter, Michelle — not much older than Bernadette and Jeanne at the time of the Blessed Mother’s appearance — and I prayed for both families.

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