Local woman writes stations for those with cancer

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Sunday, March 9, 2014

The first Station of the Cross, Jesus is condemned to death, seen at Our Lady of Fatima Parish, 2751 W. 38th Place. Breast cancer survivor Alice Brown wrote a Stations of the Cross for those impacted by the disease. (Karen Callaway/Catholic New World)

Stations of the Cross are a Lenten tradition in many parishes, with Catholics gathering — most often on Fridays — to pray and reflect on the journey of Jesus from his condemnation to his death on the cross.

That journey of suffering has special relevance for those bearing the cross of cancer, whether as a patient, family member or friend or health care provider, said Alice Brown, a breast cancer survivor and parishioner at St. James Parish in Arlington Heights. So four years ago, she wrote a version of the Stations of the Cross that she presents with a team of friends and supporters, which is directed to those with cancer or who have had cancer. It was presented for the first time at St. James in 2010.

As in the traditional Stations of the Cross, the cross is carried around the church from station to station, and there is a prayer and a reflection at each station. But in the Stations of the Cross for those journeying with cancer, the reflections draw parallels between Jesus’ journey and the journey with cancer.

For example, at the first station — Jesus is Condemned to Death — the reflection shares Brown’s story of sitting in an examination room, hearing the words, “You have cancer.” Reflections at other stations come from the perspective of other people affected by cancer.

“We all know that cancer doesn’t just affect the patient,” Brown said. “It affects everyone: the family, the patient’s friends, the doctors and the nurses. It isn’t just the person experiencing it who has to deal with it.”

These stations were presented on March 7, the first Friday of Lent, at St. Mary of Celle Parish in Berwyn. Elsie Radtke, a parishioner at St. Mary of Celle, said she wanted to bring the presentation to her parish after participating in a different church last year.

“It was this dynamic, kind of like storytelling meditation,” Radtke said. “I think people find tremendous comfort from it.”

That’s the goal, said Brown. The Stations of the Cross are not meant to make people suffer or see Jesus as a helpless victim, she said. They are meant to show us how to follow Jesus’ example.

“What was Jesus trying to tell us? What are we supposed to learn from this awful journey to the cross?” Brown said. “We learn to have strength. Jesus shows us how to be strong in the face of suffering. When he falls down, he shows us how to get up. It is a positive event, because it shows us we are not alone.”

This is actually the second version of the Stations of the Cross that Brown has written. The first was inspired when she attended the 50th anniversary memorial service for the Our Lady of the Angels School Fire in 2008. The 1958 fire killed 92 children and three nuns; both of Brown’s older sisters were among the students who survived.

During the memorial Mass, Brown said, she looked at the Stations of the Cross in the church and it struck her that the sufferings of the families at Our Lady of the Angels were in many ways analogous to the suffering of Christ, and she began to develop a version of the Stations of the Cross devotion to reflect that.

Then, after being diagnosed with breast cancer, she developed a version for people journeying with cancer.

The devotion took on greater significance when a close friend, one of the team who helps present the Stations of the Cross for those journeying with cancer, died from cancer in 2012.

“What I hear from people is that these events help,” Brown said. “I’m a five-year breast cancer survivor. It’s never over. There are people who maybe have never walked through this particular experience, but everyone is affected somehow.”


  • cancer
  • stations of the cross

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