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Laura Bush talks faith at cancer center fundraiser

 
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2:30 P.M. EST November 15, 2010 | MEMPHIS, Tenn. (UMNS)

Former first lady Laura Bush addresses the luncheon crowd at the ninth annual Methodist Healthcare Foundation Cancer Center luncheon held at the Memphis Peabody Hotel.  Bush, a lifelong United Methodist, spoke about the turbulent times she experienced as first lady.   Photos by Joseph Martin for Methodist Healthcare.
Former first lady Laura Bush addresses the luncheon crowd at the ninth annual Methodist Healthcare Foundation Cancer Center luncheon held at the Memphis Peabody Hotel. Bush, a lifelong United Methodist, spoke about the turbulent times she experienced as first lady. Photos by Joseph Martin for Methodist Healthcare.
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The weekend after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush, his family and many of his cabinet members gathered for Sunday worship at Camp David’s Evergreen Chapel.

There, the Rev. Robert Williams, a United Methodist chaplain, offered the national leaders words of comfort based on Psalm 27:13 – “I believe I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”

The Bible verse – and Williams’ sermon – struck home with Laura W. Bush during those dark early days after 9/11. The Psalm helped her realize that the tragedy had resulted in more than just fear, the former first lady said.

“We saw the worst in the terrorist attacks, and then we saw how so many Americans were lining up to literally give of themselves, to give their blood, after Sept. 11,” she recalled. “Think of all the ways Americans supported people, and they have ever since.”

She has since used that Scripture in her family’s Christmas cards.

Turbulent times

Bush, a lifelong United Methodist, spoke Nov. 12 about the turbulent times she experienced as first lady during the ninth annual Methodist Healthcare Foundation Cancer Center luncheon.

More than 1,150 people attended the event at The Peabody in Memphis – a record crowd for the cancer center benefit. It also was Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare’s quickest sellout. Tickets were $100 per person, with sponsorships raising thousands of dollars more.

She and the former president plan to make perhaps their most prominent post-presidential appearance yet on Nov. 16 at the groundbreaking of the Bush Presidential Center at Dallas’ Southern Methodist University, Laura Bush’s alma mater.

She praised the United Methodist-affiliated hospital for establishing its Center of Excellence in Faith and Health to connect area religious communities with patients and help clergy in dealing with the medical issues of their flocks. The center is currently working with 300 congregations in the Memphis area.

“I think (it) is a really wonderful idea,” Bush said. “The center is grounded in the principle that congregations can play a significant role in health care and be a strategic partner in their members’ health journeys.”

As her experience at the Camp David chapel illustrated, Bush can attest to the solace that faith can provide in troubled times.

Left to right, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare employees Sheba Coleman, Lori Mitchell and Lori Bratton pose with Laura Bush at the benefit.
Left to right, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare employees Sheba Coleman, Lori Mitchell and Lori Bratton pose with Laura Bush at the benefit.
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‘Harrowing transition’

Her years in the White House coincided with what she called a “transformative time, a sometimes harrowing transition into a new and uncertain century.”

She was in the office of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy preparing to discuss early childhood education when she learned that the planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. She did not see her husband until that night when he met her inside a White House bunker.

Her work as first lady had a greater sense of gravity and consequence because of the events of those days, she said. The former teacher and librarian was already championing greater literacy. After 9/11, she also began advocating for the rights and education of women and children in Afghanistan – an issue that remains dear to her heart.

“These years changed us as a people, and as a nation.”

But she has not lost faith in the American people or God.

Life after the White House

After leaving the White House nearly two years ago, the Bushes are once again in the public eye. Since May, Laura Bush has been traveling the country to discuss her memoir “Spoken from the Heart.” Her husband also has been doing interviews to accompany the release last week of his presidential memoir, “Decision Points.”

The former first lady said she was glad to take time before the Bush Presidential Center groundbreaking to speak on behalf of cancer care at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare. The hospital treats as many as 3,000 cancer patients each year.

Cancer has taken its toll on the Bush family, she told her luncheon audience. George W. Bush was 6 when his 3-year-old sister, Robin, was diagnosed with leukemia – a virtual death sentence in the early 1950s. Future President George H.W. and Barbara Bush traveled from their home in Midland, Texas, and checked their daughter into Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York. But it was no use. Robin died seven months later.

Gary Shorb, CEO and president for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and Glenda Shorb pause for a photo with Laura Bush.
Gary Shorb, CEO and president for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, and Glenda Shorb pause for a photo with Laura Bush.
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“George remembers the sacrifices that his parents made and the countless prayers and neighbors who cared for his family during this time,” the former first lady said.

“We know how important it is for family and friends and the Methodist cancer care resource center to support people. … Sometimes it’s other cancer patients and their family members who offer a newly diagnosed patient encouragement and hope for the road ahead.”

Life after cancer

In the audience for Bush’s speech were a number of cancer survivors, including Joyce Sneed, a licensed practical nurse at Methodist Healthcare who had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000.

Sneed, who had just gotten off her hospital shift, was wearing a brilliant smile and colorful scrubs emblazoned with pink ribbons – the symbol of the breast-cancer fight. She was grateful for her free ticket to attend the luncheon and see the former first lady eight days before her retirement.

After her initial diagnosis, she said, her doctor did not expect her to survive. During treatment, she had a stroke and other health complications. But she said God spared her, and her brush with mortality prompted her husband to seek treatment for his alcoholism.

She has now lived long enough to see her son get married and have “three gorgeous babies.” She was diagnosed again with breast cancer in October 2009. But she said she is at peace with her uncertain prognosis.

“I told God I would go through it again for what I got out of it,” Sneed said. “My message is that it’s all about God. Difficult times help you focus on what’s really important.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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