A few years ago, Judi's cancer returned. News of it hit me hard. This beautiful woman was about to suffer again. When I found out, I purchased a ring with "H-O-P-E" engraved on it. I wore it to remember to pray for Judi, and for the other people I knew with cancer. But mostly, it reminded me of the living hope that Christ extends to me, and that I must extend to others.

For Judi, there was more surgery and radiation therapy. Her cancer seemed to respond to treatment so she had once-a-week chemotherapy for almost five years. She never complained, but I noticed little things -- pain from sitting too long, careful menu choices, routine fatigue. Wigs came and went. There were unexpected broken bones. Somehow, she dealt with it. She just lived her life, despite it all.

A Friend Goes on Ahead

After Christmas, Judi's medical team revealed her remaining treatment options were limited. This wonderful woman, who shared with me her love of life, was now telling me to keep writing and to be happy, as though these might be her final instructions to me.

She struggled with the slow decline of her health, losing the ability to drive, the need for a cane, and the scheduled rituals of pain medicines. Then came stopping the chemotherapy altogether. No further treatment would be beneficial.

When Judi was no longer able to attend Mass, it became my privilege to take her the Holy Eucharist each week. This I could do for the woman who had served me so well. Together, we prayed with the daily scriptures. She often shared profound thoughts about what she heard the Lord saying to her in the Word. One day after receiving her Lord in Holy Communion, she spontaneously burst into song! Her soul grew stronger as her body grew weaker.

There was less to say and more to savor during these times together. My dear old friend was mentoring me again, this time on how to die. She loved her loved ones, and she made good use of the sacraments -- all from the comfort of her bed. I could do so little for her now, other than to stand by and hold her hand. My last act of mercy was holding her glass as she sipped from a straw so she could swallow the tiny piece of the Host she had received so reverently even in her exhausted state. A few days later she slipped into a coma and died.

Exactly two days after Judi's funeral, my medical team gave me the thumbs-up: ten years, cancer-free. Within the same week, Judi and I were both celebrating lives that were healed and cancer-free.

In the end, Judi gave me two valuable gifts: the courage to live my post-cancer life passionately, and the faith to see beyond the veil separating us from eternity -- Christ truly awaits us. I hope one day to step through the gate of heaven and as part of that glorious reunion, I hope to see Judi's smiling face, knowing that all we have in common is Christ.

This piece originally appeared at The Catholic Exchange and is reprinted by permission of the author.