Staying focused and thinking of others in the face of a terrifying diagnosisMissions and Outreach
Connie Cox knew something was wrong. The normally active and vibrant 57-year-old from New Smyrna Beach began having trouble with her golf game. She could barely get the ball off the tee, a puzzling development for someone with her well-developed game.
Then, she noticed vision problems in her left eye.
On the day after Christmas 2020, she found out why. Doctors said she had glioblastoma, the same deadly brain cancer that took the lives of Beau Biden, Ted Kennedy, and John McCain.
It would have been easy, and maybe understandable, to fall into self-pity in the face of an overwhelming health challenge. But as Christians, times like this show if we buy what we're selling about faith and trust in God.
Connie is showing what that faith looks like in action. She quickly focused not on herself but instead on what she can accomplish for others half a world away.
And that faith journey takes us to the remote village of Gaitu, Kenya. That's where about four years ago, Connie, who attends the United Church of Christ, joined members from Covenant United Methodist Church in Port Orange on mission trips. She saw up close the desperate need for adequate medical help for the villagers.
Gaitu is about five hours north of Nairobi. The village is in a barren area without a lot of opportunity for advancement. People exist mostly by farming or selling goats and chickens at the local market. Public facilities are generally inadequate.
"It's an hour's drive from Gaitu to the closest medical facility," Covenant UMC Senior Pastor Bette-Jo Foster said. "The need is so great. When we were there four years ago, we provided care for more than a thousand people over three days.
"In 2017, when we went back, they had started a clinic where people could get medication, and a doctor would be there three or four days a week. That cut the total number of people we saw down to 500, which was great. They were getting better care."
But not good enough. By 2019, the number of patients increased to more than 800.
Connie decided they needed a regular full-time medical facility where people could get more immediate help. That's when she began to focus on raising money to build the center.
After her recent diagnosis, the drive to get that center built has kicked into overdrive. The goal is to raise $422,000.
Donations toward that goal through a Go Fund Me page have so far topped $26,000.
Achieving the goal doesn't depend completely on the generosity of others, though. Connie is donating proceeds from selling a condo and another piece of property she owns to the cause.
"You can't take it with you," Connie said. "I hope it gets built, and I'm there to christen it. That's my goal."
Connie had brain surgery in early January to begin her treatment for the disease. Doctors wanted to do the operation the day after the diagnosis, but Connie said no way.
Did we mention how determined she is?
In addition to everything else, Connie grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and attended The Ohio State University for two years before finishing school at the University of Central Florida. Like many Buckeyes, she has an over-sized devotion to TOSU's football team, which was scheduled to play Clemson in the national semifinals on January 1. The surgery had to wait until the Buckeyes finished that game.
Following Ohio State's 49-28 victory, Connie had surgery and quickly informed everyone that securing funding for the medical center was now her top priority.
The decision to delay surgery until after the football game got a lot of publicity. The mission to get the medical center built was farther down in most of the stories.
"Someday, a clinic was going to be built. It wasn't going to be if, but it was when. We were going to be part of it. I didn't know what God's plan was, but I knew it would be good," Connie said.
"I've just been so touched by the people in Gaitu, their love of God, and their cheer and happiness. Their kindness and caring for one another, and an older child picking up a younger one who is crying and comforts them. They have nothing, but they are so happy. It was touching, life-changing, and goal-setting."
She also was touched by Foster's missionary zeal.
"She is one awesome person. I like her style. For a younger person, she just exemplifies what a pastor should be today. Watching her preach in the Gaitu church, they anointed over 250 people each and prayed for each one of them," Connie said.
"I sat in the pews with the rest of the team and watched. It was love, strength, and godliness that touched the people of Kenya. I'm really proud to know her."
Since her surgery, Connie began chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Doctors say she is doing well under the circumstances. Connie keeps a positive attitude through it all.
"That's Connie," Foster said. "She's a very passionate, very caring woman. Getting this facility built is her life's work now, however long that is. She believes her life is in God's hands. It hasn't slowed her down an iota."
Connie, meanwhile, calls upon her faith to help her focus on what she can do instead of what she can't.
"I've had a good life," she said. "I'm not afraid. God has blessed me, and He still does. We're going to get this center built."
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for flumc.org.
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