Cancer survivor finds comfort in Stations of the Cross

Alice Brown performs her adaptation of the 14 stations of the cross at St. Mary of the Woods Roman Catholic Church. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune)

Still, Lydecker never missed a rehearsal.

"I don't get to perform anymore and reach people," Lydecker said in a raspy voice during a recent chemotherapy session with Brown by her side. "This reaches people. We're hoping people leave knowing they're not alone."

The Stations transcend the Lenten season and the Catholic Church, she said, adding that the troupe plans to perform at a United Church of Christ in June.

"While Easter comes only once a year, the reality is that people walk the cancer journey 365 days each year," Brown said.

On a recent Friday, Lydecker rose from her chair next to the altar at St. Mary of the Woods Catholic Church, lit a candle and stepped to the podium to present Brown's take on the second station — Jesus taking up his cross. Though the words reflected Brown's perspective, Lydecker identified with the script.

"The bottom line is, I didn't want to be the poster child for cancer — nobody does," she strained to tell the audience, her hoarse voice crackling. "It's just the cross we take up. Underneath our diagnosis, we're still the people we always were — looking for answers, needing positive support and praying for God's grace."

Later, Brown rose from her chair to share the ninth station — Jesus falling the third time.

"I had gotten through surgery, chemo and radiation, and before my hair even had a chance to grow back, my best friend was diagnosed with cancer," she told the audience.

"In less than a year's time, she went from being my rock and my refuge, to looking cancer in the face herself. It was just too much. My spirits hit rock bottom and I was powerless to pull myself up — until I saw my friend walk by carrying her cross. … Now, we walk together, my friend and I — hand in hand, heart to heart."

She returned to her seat beside Lydecker. They each exchanged knowing glances and reached for the other's hand.

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