By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
The 80 year old Hawaiian schoolteacher whose miraculous cure from cancer was recently determined to be the second miracle needed for the canonization of Blessed Damien de Veuster of Molokai has ended her long silence and is now speaking publicly about her experience.
Audrey Toguchi and her husband of 50 years, Yukio, live in the hills above Pearl Harbor. A deeply religious woman, who is known for her joyful faith, says she doesn’t like to be called “the miracle woman.”
“I’m just a regular Joe Blow,” she recently told the press after more than a decade of silence about the event that saved her life 10 years ago. “I still don’t know why this happened to me.”
Mrs. Toguchi received her first diagnosis of cancer in December 1997. It was liposarcoma, an uncommon tumor that arises in deep fat tissue. In her case the tumor was in her left buttock. She underwent several operations followed by radiation.
Less than a year later, in September 1998, an X-ray showed three new growths on her lungs. A needle biopsy of one showed it was consistent with the liposarcoma found in her the year before.
The doctor gave her six months to live, at best, and suggested chemotherapy as the only option.
But Mrs. Toguchi had another idea. “I’m going to Molokai to pray to Father Damien,” she calmly told her doctor.
Father Damien de Veusters was a 19th-century Belgian missionary of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary who spent the final 16 years of his life caring for leprosy patients on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai. Although his remains were moved to his native Belgium, a relic of his right hand was returned to his original grave on Molokai after he was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1995.
“Mrs. Toguchi, prayers are nice and it’s probably very helpful, but you still need chemotherapy,” replied her doctor, Walter Y. M. Chang, M.D.
Against the wishes of her doctor, husband and two sons, Mrs. Toguchi caught a flight from Honolulu to the remote peninsula of Kalaupapa on the island of Molokai to pray at the grave of the missionary.
“Dear Lord, you’re the one who created my body, so I know you can fix it,” Toguchi prayed. “I put my whole faith in you. Father Damien, please pray for me, too, because I need your help.”
A month later, she returned to the doctor for tests. Everyone expected the tumors to have grown but instead, they had all shrunk. By May 1999, they had disappeared without a trace, and without any treatment.
Dr. Chang and a half dozen other doctors including a cardiologist, oncologist, pathologist and radiologist, couldn’t explain it. Even though Dr. Chang doesn’t belong to any religion, he urged Mrs. Toguchi to report it to the Catholic Church.
She did, writing a letter about her cure to Pope John Paul II. After an extensive review, theological consultors to the Vatican Congregation for Saints’ Causes announced in April, 2008, that Mrs. Toguchi’s recovery defied medical explanation and was the result of the intercession of Blessed Damien’s intercession.
On July 3, 2008, Pope Benedict XVI approved the case as Blessed Damien’s second miracle, opening the way for the Belgian priest to be declared a saint.
Mrs. Toguchi returned to Blessed Damien’s grave after her cancer disappeared and this time, she took her husband, Yukio, who comes from a Buddhist family and attended Methodist church growing up on the sugar plantations of Maui.
“I’m not the praying type,” he said, “but I just wanted to say ‘Thank you.'”
Every day is a blessing to the Toguchis, and Mrs. Toguchi says she still prays to Blessed Damien, asking him to help others.
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