|An Interview With Pam|
True greatness is not necessarily measured by the accumulation of university degrees, nor the number of servants one employs. It is not the achievement of political ends nor the amassing of wealth. A widow with two mites demonstrated true greatness to Jesus.
Pamela Summerhayes walks and doesn’t faint. Many people do that much, but they don’t have the physical liability that Pamela has. She suffers from CF — cystic fibrosis.
She was born with it in 1954, before anyone in Canada knew what the disease was like, let alone how to treat it. The lack of knowledge within the medical establishment led her father to found the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation of Canada. Through his efforts, many more persons are both aware of the disease and how it may be treated. But it is not yet curable. It may never be.
Living with CF demands the brightest of hope and the strongest of character. It attacks the digestive and respiratory systems of the body so that food is not processed and the person with CF is malnourished. Mucous builds up in the lungs leading to suffocation. The mucous needs to be coughed up.
Treatment is bothersome, but brings relief. Enzymes are given to assist in the digestive process. Inhaling is necessary on a regimen of several times a day; it helps bring up the mucous collecting in the lungs. If you have CF you know about it every day, all day long. If food is not digested the body never attains its full stature. CFs can be as wizened and shrunken as old people.
Pamela Summerhayes has been keenly aware that every day is an opportunity to be seized and used in a positive way. The disease has damaged her body, but it has brought out the best in her spirit. The fact that her family has been supportive has installed in her both Christian virtues and a vital faith which has been an important factor in her willingness to cope. Big words in her vocabulary are “thank you,” “sharing,” “loving,” and “giving.”
She was given a helping hand by the interest and the character of her Sunday School teacher, a Mrs. King in First Baptist, Brantford, Ontario. “She sang a lot,” said Pamela. “Music meant a lot to me, and Mrs. King’s singing was very helpful.”
When she was 18, Pamela went to a Teens Ranch, and while there, the initial faith she had in God as Saviour was given a great undergirding. It gave her back her confidence and helped her to continue high school and go on to Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, to complete a course in childhood education. Although she knew lots of ups and downs, Pamela discovered that as she found a deeper faith in God she found a deeper faith in herself.
For a while she made waves in a nursery school program, putting to use the lessons she had learned at Sheridan College in childhood education. She became a partner with two other girls in a half-day nursery school. When her health deteriorated and she could work no longer in the spring of 1979, she sold her interests to her partners. Then, after living alone for a couple of years, she moved back with her family.
“It’s nice to know you have been part of it,” she reflected on her short span of teaching. “I enjoyed the children while I could manage it. I feel that children have so much to give. I wanted to be a part of their lives.”
She hasn’t stopped being a part of other persons’ lives either, As a member of the Big Sister organization, she has a “little sister” 13 years younger than herself to relate to, and sees her once a week.
“I returned home after living apart for two and a half years, partly because I was losing some capacity in my lungs, but also because I needed people around me to talk to. It has been a growing time, and a difficult time, but a time I just wanted to share. So I’m back home with my family. The family is supportive by sharing their love.”
“I have a very fulfilling life. In many ways I’ve accomplished a great deal more than many persons do in a lifetime. I’ve grown up, been educated, and not really missed out on anything, except, perhaps some social life.”
“My parents instilled a Christian faith and hope in me. I’m not afraid to die any more. I have been going through that, building up a lot of fear. I know I’ll be losing my parents— and they’ll be losing me. I’ve been reading about death to prepare for it. It’s important for me to understand my feelings about death and to understand the feelings of the persons who are experiencing this with me. Verbalizing is important, especially with the nursing staff. It is a growing experience. We hope in the end that our death is peaceful and easy and beautiful.”
“I live with the word incurable by overcoming the fear. It is controllable to some extent. Why worry about it? While we are here we must make the best of what we have and where we are. Soon my purpose will end, and I will leave the world bodily, but whatever I have given to anyone, that will remain.”
“I’ve been thinking about eternal life a lot. I’m growing so much spiritually. We leave and go to heaven, but I don’t know what happens-it is continuing existence with God. Yes, I will be with God. Heaven is not silver or gold-just beautiful. I don’t even have vision of being cured in heaven, but just having rest. Heave is a beautiful and loving place to be.”
Said Pamela, “I find it difficult when people talk about heaven in a material way. Material things have lost their importance to me. It’s the spiritual things that matter.”
Pamela lives in a real world of discomfort, fleeting time and physical wasting. But she has managed to transcend the disappointments life has brought her to find that every part of life is a growing experience, and that what counts is what love you have shared with someone else.
Dr. William H. Homes, Editor, The Canadian Baptist, April 1980