Monday, August 11, 2008

"Touched by a Coffee-Loving Angel”

On Saturday I shared my story, “Touched by a Coffee Loving Angel” at the Horizon of Hope Luncheon in Morgantown, West Virginia at Oliverio’s Ristorante to help support the Betty Puskar Breast Cancer Center and hosted by Debbie Spiker. It was a gorgeous day and filled with courageous stories of inspiration.

I shared a portion of my breast cancer story that made it into Chicken Soup for the Coffee-Lover’s Soul, and I’m grateful for every opportunity I have to share about the angels that save our life!


Touched by a Coffee-Loving Angel
by Connie Pombo


There were no customers in line at the Java Hut when I
dashed up to the counter with my arms waving and
shouting, “I need a cup of hazelnut coffee to go, please!” The
woman behind the register was a stranger to me, someone
new, who obviously wasn’t accustomed to my frantic
outbursts. With hands on her hips she countered, “Do you
always demand your coffee that way?”

Embarrassed, I offered, “No, not always, but I’m late for
work and I can’t live without my hazelnut coffee!” Quickly
eyeing her name badge I added, “Thank you, Linda.”
While she poured my coffee, I couldn’t help but notice the
gorgeous long-stemmed pink roses in a crystal vase sitting
on the counter.

“Is it your birthday?” I asked.

She turned around and whispered, “No, it’s mammogram
day!” She saw the puzzled look on my face and leaned in
closer, “I’m always nervous on the day of my mammogram,
so my husband sends me flowers. I’ve had a few close calls,
so it gets harder every year.”

“How thoughtful of your husband. What a gem.”

Linda reached out her hand with my cup of coffee, while I
blurted out, “I’ve never had a mammogram and my mom
was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago.”

Suddenly, Linda glared at me and snapped, “You’re not
getting this until you get a mammogram and that’s final!”
I was shocked. I thought she was joking until I saw the
steam rising and it wasn’t from the coffee. Linda refused to
serve me and I left vowing never to return. I drove to work
coffee-less and miserable with a pounding headache. The
entire day, I couldn’t shake the java outburst. While driving
home, and later that evening on the treadmill at the gym,
Linda’s words haunted me. I was forty years old and in the
best shape of my life, but I knew it was foolish to take a
family history of breast cancer lightly.

That night after I showered, no doubt because my
encounter with Linda was still fresh on my mind, I
performed a rare breast self-examination. My hand froze.
No, it can’t be, I thought, as my fingers paused over the coffee
bean-sized lump. Panicked, I pounced on the bed where my
husband of twenty years was snoring peacefully, “Wake up,
honey, please. I found a lump. I think I have breast cancer.”
Mark, nearly immune to my hypochondriac tendencies
and only semi-conscious was not amused. “Sure you do
sweetheart, now go back to sleep.” I was horrified. I tried to
explain the day’s events: Linda at the Java Hut, the coffee
that I didn’t receive, the mammogram I should have
scheduled, and now the lump. Out of pure exhaustion, I
drifted off to sleep only to wake up with a note pasted to
my left cheek. I had rolled over on it sometime in the early
morning. It read, “I went running. Coffee is brewing. Call
the doctor. Love, Mark!”

I padded downstairs in my pink bunny slippers and
called our family physician, who reassured me that I was
overreacting but just in case he ordered a mammogram for
that Monday.

The day of my mammogram Mark met me at the clinic.
When my name was called, I almost ran the other way, back
into the parking lot. But instead I dutifully followed the
young technician. The smell of coffee in the nurse’s lounge
wafted through the air and put me at ease. This wasn’t
going to be so bad. But the look on the technician’s face told
a different story. She tried to hide her concern, but I could
feel her become more tense each time she came in with the
radiologist’s order for another view. Finally, she
pronounced, “The radiologist wants you to have a
sonogram.” As I lay there in the dark, I realized this was
serious. The technician said, “You can get dressed; the
radiologist would like to speak with you.”

On March 21, 1996, I heard the words, “You have breast
cancer.” I was in shock as I struggled through surgery,
treatment and finally radiation. But through it all, I couldn’t
shake the feeling that Linda at the Java Hut had saved my
life. Had I not gone for coffee that day and Linda been there
to (not) serve me, who knows what would have happened.
Three months after my surgery, I returned to thank
Linda. I waited in line until the last customer was served
and then asked, “Do you remember me?” Linda hesitated
slightly and said, “Oh, yes! Did you get your
mammogram?”

I fought back tears as I spoke, “Yes, I did. In fact, I think
you saved my life!” Linda looked puzzled. I explained the
events that had transpired since that fateful day in March.
Linda listened intently and then tears formed in her eyes. I
reached in my purse and handed her an angel pin that a
friend gave me right before my surgery. I had worn it every
day since and now it was my turn to pass it on. I reached
over the granite counter and pinned it on Linda’s pink and
white collar. She touched its wings and said, “I’m so
thankful you’re doing so well. Oh, and by the way, I owe
you a cup of coffee. You won’t believe what our special is
today— Frangelica Hazelnut Coffee.”

There we stood in the Java Hut with our paper cups filled
with coffee toasting to my new life. Linda smiled and asked,

“So how is it?”

I grinned, savoring the aroma and reveling in the flavor of
life, “Angelic, it’s absolutely angelic.”

8 comments:

Greg C said...

Enough Connie. No more stories like that. I am at work and it doesn't look manly. My wife was just forced into a similar situation concerning some other tests. Let's keep our fingers crossed. She got her first full female exam in a long time recently. Thank God all was well.

Connie Pombo said...

Okey-dokey...no more, Greg!

SMILE!

Tracy Ruckman said...

Beautiful story, my friend. I'm so glad you're well.

Thank God for your "angel." Wow.

Susan Kelly Skitt said...

I'm so glad you were able to share your story of courage and hope with these women Connie. (And others here too!)

Love you friend! I'm glad that God used this woman in your life... I wouldn't have had the privilege of knowing you otherwise :)

Connie Pombo said...

Tracy,

I'm always amazed how God takes care of his children, and I'm thankful to be alive to see my son graduate with his Master's degree this fall and Jon (God willing) in the spring (2009!). Yeah God!

HUGS!

Connie Pombo said...

Hey Suzanne,

I'll be seeing you soon (right?). I'm thankful for every opportunity I have to share my story of survival...it gives "HOPE" to me too!

HUGS!

Lonely said...

Connie,

Thanks for sharing your story, it is very touching, I am so glad to see that "God" reached down "His Hand of Mercy," and saw fit to touch you, and let you remain here on earth to help many others through your story!

May God's Angels Continue to Surround You,

Terry

Connie Pombo said...

Thanks, Terry! I feel blessed to be able to enjoy 12 years of life and to see my boys through safe passage into adulthood! Some folks complain about their age (I celebrate it!). I let everyone know how old I am (53 years old tomorrow!). Yippee!!!!!!

HUGS!