Christmas kindness

Standard photo/Marisa Patwa

Cathy Ward with her partner Shirley Atwood at their holiday-decorated home in Chandler last Thursday.

A Chandler woman dying of breast cancer, who is not likely to live to see her favorite holiday of Christmas this year, was slighted a few Sundays ago when a random man rolled down his window to her winter-wonderland-decorated house and yelled, "It's only September!"

The incident took place Sept. 30, a few hours after 47-year-old Cathy Ward had gotten back from Race from The Cure to a surprise from her friends and family who decorated her house with Christmas lights and giant, blow-up snowmen.

Ward's friend, Terra Nord, was so angry that someone would be so unkind to a stranger that she posted about the incident on Facebook. The post went viral, and as of Monday, it had been shared more than 144,000 times and received 51,000 comments.

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"You never know what a person is going through in life," Nord said. "All everyone ever needs to do is love one another and quit being so hateful and quick to judge. I realize people might think it is crazy if they don't know the whole story. But (there is) no reason to be just plain ugly."

Nord said if she didn't know Ward, she would have thought the same thing as the person who yelled at her.

"I probably would have said it to the person next to me, 'Look at the house in Chandler, they already got their dang Christmas lights up,' " Nord said. "But I would never roll down my window and shout that at someone."

For Ward, who was first diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer in 2005 at the age of 33, it's the love and generosity of her close friends and family, especially her partner, Shirley Atwood, that has helped her get through her rough diagnosis.

Ward and Atwood met through a mutual friend in Boonville when they weren't looking for love: Ward had just been diagnosed, and Atwood had no interest in dating anyone.

"My friend was like, 'I've got someone I want you to meet,' " Atwood, 60, said. "And I was like, 'no.' "

But that all changed when they actually met face to face.

"There was just something that clicked," Ward said. "I can't explain it, but we got along so well and we had so many of the same interests, and I don't know, it just felt right."

Atwood said she loves Ward's sense of humor.

"She's always ready to laugh," she said. "Sometimes it's irrelevant jokes, irrelevant boob jokes and she's like, 'We have to laugh to get through life, well, we really have to laugh to get through cancer.' "

Atwood said Ward had been cancer free for five years when doctors found another lump in her breast.

"They found minute little pieces of cancer, and within a week, she had a double mastectomy," Atwood said. "Then she had a hysterectomy to get rid of estrogen, because it's estrogen-fed."

Atwood said another five years later, the cancer had spread all throughout Ward's bones.

Ward said her life has been a rollercoaster since her first diagnosis.

"It was a constant up and down," Ward said. "Because you felt like, if you started aching, you're like, 'Is it back?' "

Atwood said just two months ago, they found out the cancer had spread to her liver and lungs.

"And the doctor said there was nothing else they could do," Atwood said, "and that she might make it another three months."

Ward said she was devastated when she found out.

"Because I went into the appointment thinking, 'There's got to be another treatment that we can try, or another option that we can try,' " she said. "And when we talked about it, and there wasn't another option because the cancer had evolved in my liver, and all of the chemo meds are processed in your liver, and if you continue therapy, it would just build up and I'd just get sicker and sicker, and so what's the point?"

Ward said Atwood has been incredibly supportive of her over the years, sticking by her side no matter what.

"I've had moments where I've just been like, 'I'm done with all this,' " she said. "And she's like, no you're not, we've got to keep going. And she has been right there through everything, and we've talked about everything and we talk about the diagnosis and even now with kind of being toward the end of my life with the cancer, we still talk about things and talked about hospice and is it the right time to go ahead and get them involved. We talk about it all."

"We really don't want to," Atwood said. "But we have to."

Atwood said Ward is a true "warrior princess."

"She's always fought, always, and she's fought with grace, and she's always smiling and laughing," Atwood said. "And she just keeps pushing and and wants to help others. And she's so gentle."

Since Nord made the Facebook post, Ward has gotten countless Christmas cards and visits. A Chandler police officer stopped by to pray with her, and she's also been surprised by all kinds of Christmas carolers, from more than 150 students and staff from Chandler Elementary to a couple from Owensboro who drove out to her house at night to give her the gift of song. People have also been dropping off pizza and homemade cookies and fudge to her, and members of the Chandler United Methodist Church even brought over an entire Thanksgiving dinner for her and Atwood to enjoy.

"She is so worried about her funeral expenses," Atwood said. "When she had to quit working, she lost her life insurance."

Nord said she made the now viral Facebook post about her friend in hopes that it would inspire people to be kinder.

"If that happened the first night, what else are people going to start doing?" Nord said. "And Halloween's coming out, and people like to play pranks on Halloween. This is why I did it -- so maybe people will have a little sympathy and to think about what that person is going through."

Ward said she was just coming back outside at night to see the lights when it happened.

"It's like, dude, I know that," Ward said. "But I may not be here at Christmas, or I may not be able to enjoy the holiday and my friends and family took it upon themselves to do all of this so I could enjoy it everyday until I can't enjoy it anymore."

Ward said she is shocked that the Facebook post about her has gotten so much attention.

"And it's all because one guy made a nasty comment," she said.

Ward said she loves everything about Christmas.

"I love the fact that people are nice to each other around the holidays," she said. "And people don't think we can be nice to each other the rest of the year. But around the holidays, people are nice and kind and generous, and it's like, why can't we do that all the time?"

Anyone wishing to donate to Ward can do so at the Go Fund Me page set up by Atwood, https://www.gofundme.com/fighting-even-harder-against-cancer.

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