This originally appeared on the Red Cross Kentucky Region Blog. Photos by Kristen Perdue.
When you walk into the Community Baptist Church in Henderson County, you’ll find seven people sitting in the lobby, chatting. There’s hardly a lull, never an awkward moment. Laughs are ever-present. You’d think you’re listening to a group of life-long friends.
They’ve only known each other for six days.
Five people in the lobby are American Red Cross volunteers who have opened a shelter in the church. The other two are Deborah and Shon Bear from Reed, Kentucky. Deborah sits with a smile as bright as her personality, her hair hidden with a beautiful, paisley scarf. She and her husband are at the shelter because they had to be rescued from their home as floodwaters forced them out.
“The water was all around us and they had to come rescue us,” Deborah said. “We had to climb down a ladder from our porch into a boat.”
Nearly a dozen first responders from the town of Reed and Henderson County helped the Bears escape. They’re now safe in a shelter, becoming fast friends with the Red Cross volunteers who discovered she had a milestone birthday quickly approaching.
“Everybody was sneaking around and I was like, ‘what are they doing?’” Deborah said with a grin.
What the volunteers were doing was secretly baking a cake and getting birthday supplies together. In the middle of the shelter on a chilly Tuesday, the warmth of friendship ushered in Deborah’s 50th birthday.
“It was just a real joy,” she said. “They were all here with me. We had a little party; we had dinner, cake, and ice cream. It was wonderful.”
Little did Deborah know she, too, left a lasting impression on the Red Cross volunteers.
“When you lose everything you got and everything’s she’s gone through, it only takes a minute to give back,” said Red Cross volunteer, Lois Calloway.
Turns out, Deborah has gone through more than just a flood.
During that conversation in the lobby of the small church, Deborah was preparing to leave for Louisville. Not for a new home, but rather for six straight days of radiation treatment.
Deborah had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. However, cancer has stormed back into her life. Doctors recently discovered additional cancerous spots. This day, however, she wasn’t focusing on her fight ahead; she was reflecting on her time with the Red Cross.
“They have been a wonderful, best bunch of people,” she said as tears peaked underneath her eyes. “I didn’t dream of all the things the Red Cross does. Everybody has treated me with dignity and respect.”
That was not lost on Lois who also knows cancer too well.
“Today is my husband’s,” the volunteer paused, “… would have been my husband’s 73rd birthday.”
The cruel grip of cancer took her husband away four years ago, which is why she knew it was so important to stand next to Deborah as she celebrated her birthday.
“You think at least [on that day] she didn’t have to think about radiation and cancer,” Lois said.
As the conversation in the church-turned-shelter family room came to an end, Deborah reflected on her time with her new friends. She made sure every volunteer received a hand-written thank you note.
“If I could say any good thing about Red Cross, they’re angels […] It’s like God sent them down when we needed them in a crisis,” she said.
While the group will separate, Deborah hopes to join them once her treatments are finished, not just as a friend but also as a fellow Red Cross volunteer.
“I want to thank everybody from the Red Cross. When I get everything said and done, I’m going to go online and [sign up] to do some volunteering for Red Cross,” Deborah said with a smile.