EDITOR’S NOTE: Sentinel Editor W.S. WIlson was embedded with Rev. Gazaway’s National Guard unit this summer.
TRAFALGAR – Dora Gazaway has had a lot on her mind lately.
Her true love is at war halfway around the world in Iraq. Their newlywed son is living in Georgia. Their 19-year-old daughter is in Kentucky at college.
She is battling cancer and temporarily blind in her right eye.
Memories of another son’s December 2002 death in a house fire remain vivid.
It has been this way for just about a year now, since her husband, Rev. James Gazaway, shipped out for Mosul, Iraq, as chaplain of the Indiana National Guard 113th Engineer Battalion.
Through it all she has been bolstered by the seemingly boundless generosity of the Trafalgar Christian Church, by family, by friends, and by her ardent faith.
“I believe that ... each day that you live as a Christian strengthens your faith,” she said in the living room of the Trafalgar Christian Church parsonage about 30 miles south of Indianapolis. “I’m supposed to be a stronger Christian now than I was a year ago. One year ago I was supposed to be stronger Christian than I was the year before that.”
Says Mrs. Gazaway: “Never say ‘never’ to God.”
This tour of duty, the reverend’s second long stretch abroad, began about three weeks after her cancer was diagnosed.
The first one was to Bosnia in the year 2000. It began five months after Jeremiah died.
Her first thought upon learning she had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma: “How can I do this with him gone and the kids gone and nobody here?
“That didn’t last too long, because I started picturing him (her husband) being here watching me be sick and losing my hair and that would be more frustrating for him.
“He had already done all of this training and started bonding with the soldiers that he would be going with. It wouldn’t be fair for them to have him yanked out and a chaplain that knew nothing about them – that they didn’t know – to go with them.”
As for the eye, the lymphoma and chemotherapy lowered her resistance to infection. A vile germ took root. One thing led to another and her retina separated. Surgeries were unsuccessful. The lens has been removed. When things clear, perhaps in a matter of weeks, she’ll get a new one.
“I’m not winking at you,” she says cheerily. It just helps to keep her eye closed.
She isn’t supposed to lift anything heavier than a kitten, or to bend over at the waist because the added pressure could harm her ailing peeper. She apologized for a little clutter in the house and asked that her photograph not be taken.
This tour has had some distinct advantages, she said.
For one thing, she and the man she married April 23, 1977, have been able to talk on the phone more easily than when he was in Bosnia. “Well, it has actually been pretty good. I don’t think it has ever been more than 10 or 12 days between phone calls. Sometimes more often – especially when things would happen where I’d be in the hospital.”
Another plus is that the Gazaway kids are older and more independent.
On the other hand, she was too sick to sit up and use the computer for days on end, thanks to the lymphoma and chemotherapy.
Her hair started coming out in clumps three weeks into the chemo. She followed her doctor’s advice and shaved her head, a chore made especially unpleasant by her husband’s fondness of her long hair. At times it has been waist-length. When he left, it hung to her shoulders. Today it is coming back in fine form, perhaps two or three well-styled inches.
Her prognosis is encouraging. “I’m actually, hopefully in remission,” she said. “I’ve had one clear scan. That was in mid-September. My next scan is scheduled for mid-December. If that one is clear, then I get to go six months between my scans.”
She says she isn’t the kind of person to get mad very often, but she has been blue from time to time. “I’ve had enough people around me that it doesn’t usually last very long.”
Since Rev. Gazaway left, there have been a number of sudden trips to the hospital. The church has been especially helpful in this regard. Church members organized a steady flow of one-serving microwaveable meals, and have just been there.
Her parents have been “tremendous support.” So have her brothers and sisters and her children.
“But more locally, my church has been absolutely wonderful,” she said.
The reverend doesn’t tell her much about the dangers of his job assignment. “I got used to that before, when he was in Bosnia – that he is just not going to tell me. Those are the kinds of things that will gradually come out in the months – and it may take many months – after he is home.
“It is kind of an unspoken; we agree to not discuss it. You know, you get a few minutes on the phone. Who wants to talk about that?”
The 113th’s return date is not firm, but it is expected that soldiers will be able to spend Christmas with their families. Mrs. Gazaway is cheered by the prospect of preparing a nice traditional Christmas meal for her husband.
“My dad has watched me all year and worried about me and seen me choking down handfuls of pills and every time he sees me choking down those handfuls of pills he says, ‘What you need is a dose of James Gazaway.’”