Weathering the trauma of a debilitating illness
By John W. Kennedy
On Dec. 4, 2005, Curtis and Melissa Snow attended Sunday
morning church as usual at Abundant Life AG in Neosho, Mo., with their six
daughters and 16-day-old son, Isaac.
But that afternoon, Melissa complained of a fierce headache.
She had slurred speech and her words didn’t make much sense. She had trouble
Curtis took Melissa to an emergency room in nearby Joplin.
Doctors ran a battery of tests. Three hours later a neurosurgeon emerged with
grim news: Melissa had an inoperable brain tumor.
Two days later, Melissa had a hole drilled in her head so a
biopsy could be performed. Doctors found the tumor hadn’t metastasized, even
though it likely had been there for three years.
When Melissa returned home Dec. 20, her younger children
didn’t recognize their mother, who had a shaved head and a face bloated from
steroid medications. For the next three months, Curtis, 40, remained by the
bedside of his wife of 16 years.
Family and friends rallied around the Snows during an
arduous 2006. Melissa experienced seizures, underwent chemotherapy radiation
and needed a wheelchair to get around.
Melissa’s sister Tanya immediately took a leave of absence
from her job in Ohio and moved in for five months to help raise the girls.
Afterwards, Melissa’s parents moved in for six months to do the same. A dozen
young women from the homeschooling network the Snows belong to helped with
housework and caring for Isaac. For six months, 15 nursing women in the area
pumped breast milk to nourish Isaac. Local churches brought meals five days a
week for more than a year.
Despite periodic improvements in her health, by January 2007
the end appeared near for Melissa. She had gone 35 days without eating, being nourished
only by liquids. She slept up to 23 hours a day because of the lethargic
reaction to heavy doses of medications taken for the pain that wracked her
Hospice workers came to the home for the impending
“I had to pray the Gethsemane prayer and give her up,”
Curtis recalls. “Some of it was selfish. I didn’t want to raise seven kids by
myself. But I came to realize God controls everything, and if Melissa died He
would give me the grace to handle it.”
Melissa didn’t die. In fact, her appetite returned. She
regained her strength. The seizures stopped. Melissa decided to slowly wean
herself of medications that cost $5,000 a month because they didn’t really help
with the pain.
Melissa has learned to give her burdens to the Lord as well.
Before the cancer struck, Melissa prided herself on running a taut household on
their five acres near Neosho in the southwest corner of Missouri. But she has
learned there is more to life than planning homeschool lessons, making meals
and cleaning the stone farmhouse.
“The main lesson God has taught me is to be still and be
quiet,” Melissa says. “It’s OK to let people do things that aren’t necessarily
the way I would do them. When I was sick and dying, organizing the household
wasn’t a priority.”
Melissa has used a blogging site typed from her laptop
(http://caringbridge.org/visit/melissasnow) as a therapeutic means to
communicate her health status.
“I don’t know how we could ever have made it without other
people praying,” Melissa says. “God could have healed me immediately, but
that’s not part of His plan. Instead, He has helped me walk through this.”
Healing has been experienced in the family before. Daughter
Anna, now 8, was born with a hole in her heart as well as Turner Syndrome, a
genetic chromosome disorder. Surgeons prepared to operate on Anna’s heart at 6
months of age, but found it already fixed. The family knows the healing
came from God.
Certainly medical attacks are nothing new for the family.
Curtis has been hospitalized with multiple bouts of kidney stones. In 2004, he
contracted 50 blood clots in his lung and came close to death.
Curtis figures that’s part of being involved in ministry. He
is executive director at the Neosho Teen Challenge Crisis Center. It is a
pre-induction facility where 20 students just off the streets or fresh out of
jail stay for six to eight weeks before moving to a more rigorous program
In 1999, Curtis sensed God urging him to leave his secure
job at La-Z-Boy for the promise of a low annual salary — and no
health insurance — at Teen Challenge.
Curtis knows the long-term benefits of Teen Challenge
firsthand. At age 20, he faced a 15-year prison term for five felony drug
charges. A judge allowed an alternative sentence: Complete the Teen Challenge
program at Hot Springs, Ark. There, Curtis lost his addiction and found the
As 2008 begins, Melissa continues to make gradual progress.
She and Curtis are clinging to the hope God eventually will remove the tumor
and enable her to return to a normal life.
While Melissa teaches her younger daughters (Emily, 10;
Anna, 8; and Molly, 4), 15-year-old Elizabeth has assumed supervising the
schoolwork of Marilyn, 12, and Abigail, 11. Elizabeth also does the bulk of
“This has brought me closer to my sisters,” Elizabeth says.
“We’ll definitely be best friends for life.”
Meanwhile, Melissa continues to face her challenges with
faith. Some days she must rest in bed all day because of fatigue, as well as
constant pain in her head, muscles and joints. But more often than not, she has
enough stamina to travel weekends with the family when Curtis preaches in
regional churches to raise funds for Teen Challenge.
Melissa recently stopped taking the last of medications
designed to alleviate pain. The steroids contributed to Melissa gaining 80
pounds. Family photos from early last year show her with a bloated face that
makes her appear much older than her 38 years. Today she looks more like her
“I’ve quit trying to figure it out,” Curtis says. “God
doesn’t prevent problems from happening. Sometimes we may need to get a little
battered and bruised.”
Curtis says he has learned to trust God on a deeper level.
“It wasn’t that difficult to trust God with my life,” Curtis
says. “But to trust God with my wife’s life is totally different.”
TPExtra: Photos of Melissa Snow and her family
JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of Today’s Pentecostal
E-mail your comments to email@example.com.