Fallbrook woman touches others as life, faith, illness play out in print

by Symptom Advice on April 2, 2012

a Fallbrook woman whose Christian faith has played out in print is now using that medium to detail her battle against a life-threatening disease.

For years, Marcy Burge shared her Christian faith in newspaper and church newsletter columns. as her clipping file grew, she also won friends with her character and cookies as she helped build a bridge between a pair of Fallbrook churches.

Fast forward to today, and Burge is back at the keyboard as she marks the one-year milestone in her battle against ovarian cancer. But she has an edge over other Christian writers who scatter their words like seeds across Southern California. she is likely the sole scribe to claim she was visited by a trio of angels during a particularly painful moment.

The visit came after a 15-hour hospital ordeal that ended with Burge coughing up blood as she arrived home and was anxious to bring a close to a distressing day. Burge said the translucent “images” briefly appeared in the tiny house that she rents from Fallbrook Presbyterian Church, the place she has worked at as a secretary for nearly 16 years.

The experience has prompted members of Fallbrook Presbyterian, as well as a nearby Catholic church, to ponder angels. it has not, however, overshadowed Burge?s medical challenges and the cadre of supporters that has showered her with prayer, food and other help.

“It?s my opinion that God sends you what you need at the moment,” said Rev. Greg Coppock, assistant pastor at Fallbrook Presbyterian. “It (angelic visitors) is an interesting issue, as you know. I think too often we put God in a box. God can do anything.”

Coppock and others say Burge, 54, has frequently been cited as an inspiration for others as her public fight against cancer unfolds.

For more than a decade, Burge served as a popular and prayerful secretary at Fallbrook Presbyterian and a member of St. Peter the Apostle Catholic Church, which is a short distance away. For many of those years, Burge edited the Fallbrook Christian Network?s interdenominational newsletter. The publication was distributed at many area churches while the Fallbrook Christian Council was active in the region.

In early 2007, Burge helped launch the Faith Matters section of the Village News, a weekly newspaper that circulates in the Fallbrook, Rainbow and Bonsall areas. she wrote steadily for the newspaper for about two years, at which time local church pastors and ministers began to cycle in as contributing writers.

In those newspaper columns, Burge sometimes touched on her personal difficulties that included the death of her husband about 17 years ago, financial problems, the loss of her home, depression, shattered dreams and thoughts. she also told how prayer, faith and fellowship enabled her to emerge from darkness.

Burge?s columns struck a chord among some newspaper readers and alienated others.

“One of your features that I find most uplifting these days is the Faith Matters column by Marcy Burge,” Pete Swenson, a 15-year resident of the Fallbrook area, wrote in a September 2008 letter to the editor. “While my church attendance is rather spotty, my faith is solid and I always feel a boost when I finish with her message.”

Conversely, a reader who identified himself as “Brian T” responded sharply to a may 2008 column by Burge. The critic, who described himself on an Internet posting as “wholly satisfied with my choice to be an atheist,” described the column as “one of many articles you?ve written with a smug, elitist prejudice that I find quite disappointing.”

Burge transitioned from the newspaper columns to similar pieces for The Chimes, a monthly newsletter printed by Fallbrook Presbyterian. she also wrote a book titled “Finding Lavender” and is working on two other books about spirituality.

A daunting diagnosis

About a year ago, Burge was diagnosed with bronchitis after she complained of wheezing and other breathing difficulties. three rounds of antibiotic treatments failed to ease the symptoms, and Burge began to suffer severe abdominal pains. Coppock recommended that Burge seek treatment at a San Diego hospital, and within hours she was diagnosed as having stage three ovarian cancer.

That diagnosis shocked Burge, in part because her father had undergone “an enormous struggle” with pancreatic cancer before he died in her presence. Burge said the emotional jolt of her cancer diagnosis felt like being “drop-kicked across a football field.”

Nearly 22,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with ovarian cancer a year, according to the American Cancer Society. About 14,000 American women die annually from the disease.

At stage three, tumor cells have been detected in one or both ovaries as well as outside the pelvis.

The survival rate of the disease can be high if it is detected early. Unfortunately, early detection is rare and no effective screening strategies have been developed.

More than 90 percent of women survive five years or more if their cancers are found before they spread beyond the ovaries. But fewer than 20 percent of the cancers are diagnosed in the early stages before it has spread outside the ovaries.

Burge has received chemotherapy and other treatments, and the procedures have weakened her at times and compromised her immune system. she has difficulty sleeping in a prone position. she was forced to limit contact with people and adhere to a special diet. she is on disability leave at Fallbrook Presbyterian.

Her diagnosis and subsequent difficulties have sparked an outpouring of support. Cards and meals have flowed in, a nutrition expert gave her diet recommendations and members of Advertisement[ Christ the King Lutheran Church ] the Fallbrook Presbyterian and Catholic churches pooled donations to her buy a reclining chair that makes it easier to sleep.

Friends and church members have prayed alongside the chain-link fence that separates her rental home from the Fallbrook Presbyterian parking lot. they have also decorated the fence with hundreds of pink bows and ribbons.

“She has touched many, many people and I think it?s time to return some of the love to her,” said Jean Tiffany, a Fallbrook Presbyterian elder who has attended the church for more than 40 years. she describes Burge as like “a daughter” to her.

The Rev. Pat Crowley, a Catholic priest based in Hemet, and some friends of Burge held a healing prayer session with her after a cancer treatment. Crowley is active with the Virginia-based Association of Christian Therapists.

“Marcy is very much in touch with the reality of her own situation,” Crowley said in a recent email interview. “She is a person of deep faith and trust in God. Marcy is a ?heart? person. Her life is not about herself. it is greater than she is. she not only creates life, she gives life even in her suffering. what a tremendous example of comfort and strength. she ministers in her own woundedness.”

Burge credits the outpouring of care and concern for much of her resiliency.

“The support and prayers received from my faith communities has been overwhelming and have lifted my mind and soul in such a way that is phenomenal on so many levels,” Burge said in an email interview. “People have prayed long and hard for my recovery, and those prayers have been heard.”

Burge said the angels visited her after a particularly grueling day that she endured in preparation for chemotherapy treatments. Burge was driven to the hospital by Chris, her 24-year-old son. Coppock greeted them when they returned home. she described the angelic visit as follows:

“I hungered for rest and to put an end to this most disturbing day. it was then that I saw them. in the darkened living room three figures sitting across from me as if in chairs. The one on the right and left with head bowed in prayer, the one in the middle looking straight at me.

“I yelled out to Chris, who was just walking in the door from carrying in some of my stuff. he caught a glimpse of the one on my left and in a second these images disappeared. they appeared to me to be angels sent from God to comfort and pray for me. to let me know he saw our distress, that we were not alone in any of it. that the Lord himself sent his messengers to fill us with awe and hope.”

News of the angelic visit began to circulate at Fallbrook Presbyterian, and Pastor Jerome Marroquin mentioned it in a subsequent sermon.

Although angels are mentioned periodically in the Bible and the Koran, their appearance is not an everyday occurrence in the Christian or Muslim faiths.

Even internationally-known evangelist Billy Graham has admitted that he has never seen an angel. in a book on the subject printed in 1986, Graham wrote that he has “heard or read literally thousands” of accounts of angels or angelic interventions. Yet he goes onto caution readers that “?for both the Bible and human experience tell us visible appearances are very rare ?”

The ephemeral beings are mentioned directly or indirectly nearly 300 times in the Old and New Testaments, Graham wrote in his book “Angels, God?s Secret Agents.” many newer books also probe the existence of angels. The book “In The Arms of Angels – true Stories of Heavenly Guardians” details 35 angelic encounters involving one or more people. Most of the accounts in the book, which was published in 2004 by Loyola Press, tell of visits amid or after tragedies, disease or disaster. many of the accounts involve human visitors who mysteriously help people and then seemingly disappear or fade into the background.

There seems to be little doubt among many members of Fallbrook Presbyterian that angels indeed appeared at the little house on church property. Pastor Marroquin said he is not surprised that Burge would be the recipient of such a visit.

“Honestly, if it was going to happen to anyone it would be her,” he said. “She has a deep, contemplative prayer life.”

Tiffany, the church elder, said she doesn?t have a shred of doubt.

“I believe whole-heartedly in it,” she said. “It?s a tremendous sign.”

Tiffany and other members have been thrilled to see Burge resume writing for the church newsletter. she returned to The Chimes in the December edition, and has been a regular contributor since then. Her March column is titled Walkin? the Walk, not just Talkin? the Talk.

Burge attended the March 11 traditional service at Fallbrook Presbyterian and was drawn into a couple of quick hugs before she and Tiffany drove to a restaurant for breakfast.

“It was like the Lord just pulled me here,” Burge told one well-wisher after the church service.

Burge also attended the March 18 service at Fallbrook Presbyterian, and Marroquin gave the congregation an upbeat report on her current condition. Burge seemed to flow from one hug to another as she slowly exited the sanctuary after the service.

Burge?s return to writing and her profound faith and recent service attendance have prompted some Fallbrook Presbyterian members to predict she?ll be back at her desk in the church office before long.

“I have in my heart that Marcy is going to be fine,” Tiffany said.

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