Dialogue: Friends Collaborate to Help Those Touched by Cancer

Friends Collaborate to Help Those Touched by Cancer

The long-distance friendship of two Creighton students Ė Anthony Maranise, pursuing a doctorate in interdisciplinary leadership, and Mirjana Walther, a senior in elementary education Ė resulted in an award-winning book to assist people affected by cancer. Cross of a Different Kind: Cancer and Christian Spirituality was inspired by Maraniseís 21-year remission after being treated for acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 5 to 7 years old; Walther created four illustrations for the book.

Maranise lives in Memphis, Tennessee, while Walther is a Bellevue, Nebraska, native; they met online and discovered mutual interests surrounding their Christian faith. Maranise is a board-certified chaplain and has researched and written on the intersections between sports and spirituality, education, health and religion.

The book is a field guide for anyone touched by cancer, including those battling cancer, cancer survivors and those who have lost loved ones. It received a Best Book Award in the Religion-Christianity category at the American Book Fest in Los Angeles last year and has been nominated for other awards. Proceeds from sales of the book and illustration litho-prints benefit nonprofits, especially St. Jude Childrenís Research Hospital in Memphis, where Maranise received his treatment.

CREIGHTON MAGAZINE: How has your personal experience with cancer affected your life?

Walther: Many people in my life have dealt with cancer, and watching their battles, each story is amazing and inspiring. Itís always been something close to my heart.

Maranise: Iím often asked if I can remember my experiences with it ó the chemo, the spinal aspirations, etc. ó because I was so young at the time, and that question always astounds me. How could I ever forget? Though it was absolute hell-on-earth, especially with the nearly constant nausea from the chemo and pain from the equally frequent blood tests, there were good ó dare I even say, beautiful ó moments throughout the experience.

I actually tell people that St. Jude is the holiest place in all of Memphis ó maybe even in all the South ó because of the bravery of the children treated there. I remember that bravery. I remember friends I made who were other patients, brilliant physicians and incredibly dedicated nurses. I remember the generosity of my family and even total strangers who gave up places in lines or seats for me when I was so sick.

CREIGHTON MAGAZINE: How has cancer influenced your faith?

Maranise: That early experience of standing sort of ďat the veilĒ between life and life eternal encouraged, strengthened and solidified my faith. I have seen Godís face reflected in my family, friends, doctors, nurses and other caregivers who, pouring out their love in care for me and others like me, nearly constantly reflected Godís face before me. I donít know if, had I not experienced cancer so young, I would have this interest and the goals of encouraging others in the faith I so dearly love.

Walther: I have learned a lot about the strength and the significance of the battle itself. Everyone deals with it differently. I have learned so much about how St. Jude came to be and all they do to help their patients. I really came to understand how cancer affects way more than the person who has it. Mostly, I learned that you really canít go through something like this without faith. Itís so necessary and can turn something so ugly into something so touching and beautiful.

CREIGHTON MAGAZINE: What led to creating this book?

Maranise: Iíve felt my own ďcallingĒ to research, teach and write about matters of the heart and soul, particularly through the lenses of Judeo-Christian theology, for more than 14 years. Iíve personally experienced all three possible ways that a person can experience cancer. Iíve lost loved ones to it; Iíve personally fought my own battle against it; and now, I live as a survivor. Those three means of experiencing cancer form the three sections of the book. In my years of academic study and personal application, especially as a chaplain and cancer coach, Iíve seen and experienced firsthand how great the spiritual and existential struggles can be for persons facing cancer in any of these ways. This book is about assurance, and not necessarily the assurance of faith alone, but that others have gone through, are going through, and will go through the same things. Itís a reminder that we need not face our journeys alone.

Walther: Throughout my life, I have always been interested in art and loved to draw and paint. Anthony asked if I would be interested in doing the artwork for the book cover after seeing some of my work. I drew a couple of ideas and Anthony decided to use one for each section of the book. When he told me the proceeds would go to St. Jude, I couldnít say no. What an amazing way to give back and help.

CREIGHTON MAGAZINE: What does it mean to you that the book has won and been nominated for awards?

Maranise and Walther: We were pretty shocked when we got the news of our first win, the American Book Fest award. It never occurred to us that we would be an award-winning author-illustrator duo. The awards and nominations are great and all, but we both agree that our biggest reward comes in being able to help children at St. Jude fight (and hopefully win) their own battles with cancer. God puts the right people in our lives; we think our story proves that.