Instead of mourning her physical loss, a cancer survivor uses her disease to help others find healing.
Ruth Bachman didn't get depressed after her hand was amputated because of cancer.
"I didn't have time to," she said. "I had too much work to do, starting with teaching myself how to write again."
She also had to relearn how to use computer keyboards designed for two hands. She's able to reach all the keys with a minimum amount of movement. "Fortunately, I have big hands," she said. She paused before adding with a chuckle, "I mean, big hand."
She intends to use that hand to raise $1 million for cancer research. She has become an inspirational speaker and is donating 100 percent of the money she collects.
"So far, I've spoken mostly at churches," which don't tend to have a lot money for speaking fees, she said. "So it might take a while to get to $1 million."
But she's determined to make it, the same way she was determined that losing her left hand -- she was a lefty -- wouldn't slow her down.
"I've made this a mission," she said of her fund-raising. "Every day, I do something toward making this a reality."
Her ability to make a humorous reference to being one-handed is proof of her attitude. Her first instinct upon being told that she'd lose the hand was to "wish the cancer had been any place else, because then I could hide it," she said. "But I can't hide the fact that I don't have a hand. Everybody sees it right away, so I have no choice but to deal with it."
Bachman, 61, -- part of the flower family -- realized that having people ask about the missing hand was an opportunity to broaden the discussion.
"Talking about it gives me the chance to create a healing community," she said. An accomplished public speaker who used to oversee the Guthrie Theater's education program, Bachman said she decided that her missing hand could be used to represent loss. "A lot of changes take place in our lives over which we have no control," she said. "The important thing is moving forward after the changes."
A new arrangement
Bachman had an aggressive soft-tissue cancer that she first noticed as a lump near her wrist. The cancer typically spreads so quickly that her oncologist dared try only two chemotherapy treatments before recommending amputating the hand and part of the forearm to keep the disease from racing up her arm and into the rest of her body.
"I asked if there was an alternative to amputating," she said. "My doctor said, 'Yes. Death.'"
The surgery was performed in June 2003. Now, she describes herself as a "right-handed woman, wife, mother and grandmother in apparent good health."
Bachman calls her fund-raising project the Hourglass Fund. She likes the imagery.
"The sand represents us, and the narrow spot in the hourglass represents the tough times we go through," she said. "Look at the sand going through an hourglass: It's the same sand on the bottom as it was on the top, but it's arranged differently.
"That's us after we go through a tough situation -- and it doesn't have to be cancer; it can be any sort of difficult time, from losing your job to having to bury a parent. We're the same person we were before. But we have to discover what the new arrangement of the sand is and what it means. That's the challenge."
The money she is raising will be split between the University of Minnesota's Masonic Cancer Center and the Center for Spirituality & Healing. One treated her body, while the other treated her soul.
"I am a woman of fact, but I'm also a woman of faith," she said. "I have found a great source of strength in knowing that God is always with me."
She has created a website that tells her story and lists her upcoming appearances. For now, the list is short but she vows that it is going to grow.
"My goal is to speak to every club I can find," she said. "I'm not saying it's going to be easy [to raise $1 million], but I just need to keep going forward."
Jeff Strickler • 612-673-7392