Sunday, March 23, 1997


A prayer for Ashley O'Rear

It isn't often that somebody in my line of work finds himself in a situation where he just can't think of anything to say. It's happened to me exactly three times that I can think of. The first was back in 1980, when my father called and told me that my grandmother had died; the second, 15 years later, occured when my wife told me I was going to be a father. The third time happened early Friday afternoon.

- - - - -

I was surfing various Waxahachie web sites on the Internet Friday when I came across a page that absolutely stunned me. It wasn't so much the headline that grabbed my attention, as it was the photo of a cute, 9-year-old girl with a priceless smile.

Reading on, tears began to well in my eyes.

Ashley O'Rear, the daughter of Paul and Susan O'Rear of Waxahachie, and sister to 7-year-old Justin, is suffering from a brain tumor. She underwent surgery Tuesday afternoon and, after a six-hour operation at Children's Medical Center in Dallas, doctors were able to remove about 95 percent of the tumor. But she isn't out of the woods, yet.

According to her father, whose web page is devoted entirely to his daughter's condition, they couldn't remove all of the tumor because it had attached itself to the brain stem, and they didn't want to risk damage to the brain stem by attempting to remove that portion of the tumor. Therefore, about 5 percent of the mass remains in Ashley's head.

And so, what should be a happy time in the life of a young girl has become instead the source of emotional turmoil for her and her family.

- - - - -

It's funny how easy it is to take the really important things in life for granted. I doubt that my sister and I ever realized just how good we had it when we were growing up. Compared to many of our friends, we didn't have much in the way of material things. And yet we never wanted for anything. We always had food on the table. We had toys to play with, books to read and a roof over our head.

Most important, both our father and mother were there when we needed them. We were a family, and we never thought about not having each other.

And I know that at some point in the past several days, Ashley has probably asked herself, "Why me?" Ashley, I wish I had an answer for you, but I do not understand such things myself. I've read stories similar to yours -- darn it, I've written those stories -- but I will never be able to explain why they happen. I doubt anyone can.

- - - - -

The warning signs for Ashley began about seven weeks ago, when she woke up feeling nauseated in the mornings. Everyone figured she was suffering from allergy and sinus problems, but over-the-counter medicines didn't seem to help.

On March 9 the family took off for Colorado Springs for a spring break ski trip. Ashley felt fine until they got there, when she started vomiting again. She also started having headaches. Concerned, Ashley's parents took her to a nearby clinic, which, after a series of tests, diagnosed her with a serious bladder infection.

In her father's words, that was a "false ray of hope."

The next day the O'Rears left Colorado and headed home to Waxahachie. That night, a week ago yesterday, as the family sat watching a movie together, Ashley started seeing double and temporarily lost her vision.

Several hours later, doctors at Children's Medical Center informed Ashley's parents that they had found a brain tumor.

- - - - -

Children are a gift from God. A gift to be nurtured, protected and loved. Paul, thank you for sharing your daughter with me and the rest of the world. I have not met Ashley, nor any of your family, but I wish I could find a way to lessen your family's pain.

My own daughter is almost a year old now, and you're right -- she is the light of my life. It's hard sometimes to imagine what life was like before she came around, and every day both my wife and I thank God that she is ours.

Paul, I know that not all fathers are like us. I know that there are some fathers out there -- and mothers, too -- who have turned their backs on these lives they helped bring into the world. I can't imagine that anyone could ever be so cruel. It doesn't make sense.

Ask 100 "experts" and they'll give you 100 different responses -- none will answer your questions, and none will make you feel better about what's happened. The one thing I do know is that your daughter is very lucky to have such concerned parents. If all that your family has is each other, that makes you the richest people on God's green earth.

Paul, I wish I could think of something more to say. Please try to stay strong, for your daughter's sake. She'll need you now more than ever.

Ashley, I am praying for you. You are in God's hands, and He will take care of you. I pray that you will continue to make daily improvements in your recovery from surgery, and I pray that the lab tests will show the tumor to be benign.

I pray that you'll be back to your family and friends as soon as possible, doing all of the things that 9-year-old girls do. And I pray for your brother, mother and father, that they will discover strength and faith in God to see the O'Rear family through this difficult time.

Editor's note: If you would like to send Ashley a card or note, please use the following address: Ashley O'Rear, P.O. Box 2715, Waxahachie, TX 75168. I've already sent mine.

NOTE: This article is reprinted here with permission of the Waxahachie Daily Light.