June 25, 2011 Reported at auburnpub.com. Printer friendly version here. A Genoa woman rededicated herself to helping others in her community after a near-death experience four years ago gave her a new purpose in life.
“I remember being in a wonderful bright place and feeling so warm and just perfectly happy,” Fran Sampson said, remembering her brush with death in December 2006. “Then I just felt like I was being pulled out kicking and screaming back to my hospital bed. After that, I just asked God, ‘What do you want me to do now?’”
Fran Sampson’s experience occurred after she suffered a stroke brought on by a condition called myeloma, which is a cancer that affects white blood cells. Unknown to her, cancerous white blood cells were collecting in Sampson’s bone marrow, causing the hard part of her bones to weaken. Eventually, the softening of her C-1 vertebra caused the bone to shift, pinching an artery and cutting off the blood flow to her brain.
“For three days after the stroke I was not responsive, but on the fourth day I opened my eyes and everyone was there around my bed, even my son from Minnesota,” Sampson said. “I knew if he came all the way from Minnesota it must not be good. They truly expected me to die.” Sampson said her doctors told her the multiple myeloma was treatable, but not curable. With treatment, they said, she could expect to live another five to seven years.
She underwent months of chemotherapy treatments and was injected with stem cells to promote the growth of healthy cells. Sampson is still given frequent treatments to strengthen her bones, and a yearly bone marrow biopsy is used to gauge the percentage of cancerous cells in her body. “I’m on year four now, and it’s hard, but I’m still living,” she said. “The stroke affected my balance, so sometimes when I get tired I have to walk with a cane, and it’s also affected my memory.” Sampson, who was raised a Christian but admitted she hadn’t always remained dedicated to the church, said the bright light she saw while unconscious reaffirmed her beliefs in a higher power.
“I knew that God sent me back because he had a plan for me, he wanted me to do greater things,” she said. After being discharged from the hospital, Sampson said she began working closely with the United Church of Genoa and other area volunteer organizations. “Doors have opened, windows have opened,” she said. “I’m now working on a lay ministry and taking Bible classes to learn about the God that I serve.” Sampson works closely with the Genoa church and also volunteers at the Genoa Fire Department, where for years before her stroke she was an emergency medical technician.
Without official seminary training, Sampson said she can only perform funeral and wedding services and occasionally lead Bible discussions for the church, but those tasks are infinitely rewarding to her.“You wouldn’t think that at a funeral service you would find happiness, but the first thing I always say to the family is that death doesn’t have to be the end; I know that from experience,” she said. “Funerals should be treated as a celebration of life. “Death is just a step toward greater things. The body in the casket is just that, a body, the soul and the spirit have moved on.”
For her service to the church and her exuberant faith, Sampson was asked this year to lead the United Baccalaureate Service of the churches for the graduating seniors in the Southern Cayuga Central School District. The service took place Sunday. “When Marcia Slocum first asked me to give the speech, I didn’t know I was the keynote speaker,” she said. “When I found that out, I started thinking about what I would say to these people who just got out of high school.”
Sampson decided to share some of her life experiences with the students and advised them to keep those people who made sacrifices for them in their minds as they go off to start their own lives. “I’ve been very blessed in my life with family and friends,” she said. “Until now, I never really appreciated what others had to give up to make my life go on. They have touched my soul and I felt they love me.”
Excerpts from Fran Sampson’s speech at the United Baccalaureate Service for graduating seniors in the Southern Cayuga Central School District: My name is Fran Sampson, and it is truly a pleasure to be speaking to all of you tonight. Congratulations! Graduations are such wonderful occasions! Everyone here shares your excitement and relief. You’ve made it! Forget about all the moments of uncertainty, frustration and fatigue along the way. High school is over, and now onto your next step in life. There is no greater satisfaction than the feeling of success, of accomplishment, of completion. of not having to go back. Sometime in the next few days, thank the loved ones that helped you make it to this point. Remember, no one does anything alone.
I’m sure each one of you has set a goal in life: college, the service, the workforce here or away, vocational education.
It doesn’t matter where you go in life, it matters what you do in life. And at events like this, there is anticipation about the future, about better things to come. You have already, or will very soon celebrate this important achievement; in fact, it might be the most important success of your life, because you have proved that hard work pays off, that discipline and study, exercise and practice, get a good result: a high school diploma and entry into the world that lies ahead. Dream! Imagine! Hope! And celebrate your successes.