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A beacon of hope

This article is reprinted from the fall 2011 issue of HOPE.

Sister Betty Hopf (left) prays with Shannon Turner on the last day of her radiation treatments at the Hux Cancer Center.

Shannon Turner walked into the Hux Cancer Center in Terre Haute, Ind., as a breast cancer patient to undergo radiation treatments. Six weeks later, on July 18, 2011, Shannon was celebrating her last treatment of radiation. One of the people she wanted to share that milestone with was Sister Betty Hopf, the cancer center’s chaplain.

Before Shannon exited the cancer center’s doors to continue her journey of healing, she stopped by Sister Betty’s office because she had asked the Sister of Providence to pray for her. Sister Betty placed her left hand on Shannon’s shoulder, her right hand held Shannon’s and, as Sister Betty has done for thousands of others, she asked for God’s blessing.

It was a beautiful tribute to hope.

Hope is what Sister Betty brings to the patients of Hux Cancer Center (HCC) whether it is via prayer, or conversation or sitting together in silence. Sometimes the greatest gift one can give others is simply being with them during their most fragile times.

“I think I ‘do’ very little, and so it’s hard to describe what I do,” Sister Betty notes. “Pastoral presence for me means being there for the person in whatever way they need me to be.” She emphasizes it is “God’s work,” not her work, that meets people’s needs.

Sister Betty Hopf stands by a statue in the Hux Cancer Center titled “Light of Hope and Healing” created by Kentucky artist Meg White.

Sister Betty has been chaplain at HCC for the past 3 ½ years. Prior to that, she served as a chaplain at St. Joseph Medical Center in South Bend, Ind. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, a master’s in elementary education from Indiana University and a master’s degree in pastoral theology from SMWC. She is certified to work as a chaplain.

Her HCC chaplain duties involve pastoral ministry to patients and hospital visits, too. She has done memorial, funeral and graveside services, but has celebrated with many cancer patients who have had a good outcome following treatment. She also does a great deal to help patients’ family members and loved ones.

“I get attached,” Sister Betty says. Those she comes into contact with get attached, too. As people came into HCC and left on July 18, Sister Betty would call to each one by name and they returned the greeting. All expressed joy to see her.

Dr. Robert Haerr, M.D., a radiation oncologist with HCC and Union Hospital in Terre Haute, said Sister Betty has a “very calming” influence. “To people, the word ‘cancer’ is a bad word, but she reminds people they can get well.” She does not give false hope, but Dr. Haerr said she “reassures” people of all faiths and also those who follow no particular faith.

“I believe that all have a spirituality,” Sister Betty points out, “but maybe not a religious affiliation. When asked, I let them know that I follow the Catholic faith, but that we all have the same God, and at HCC I approach God and faith in a nondenominational manner. When they ask if I have a church, as do most ministers, I say, ‘This is my church.’ They seem to appreciate the fact that I don’t teach or preach about Jesus as much as I try to witness by word and example.”

What Sister Betty does apparently works well. While talking with people whose lives she has touched, there is no doubt she has made a positive impact. That is definitely the case for Audrey and Larry Goodman of Linton, Ind.

Larry is pastor of the Howesville Church of God of Prophecy located 18 miles north of Linton. He came into contact with Sister Betty while visiting some of his parishioners in the hospital, the same people Sister Betty was ministering to. His wife, Audrey, also knew of Sister Betty via their parishioners, but has her own deep love and respect for Sister Betty which has grown strong as a result of Audrey’s current cancer treatment at HCC.

“[Sister Betty] is an amazing woman,” Larry said, noting that HCC is an outpatient facility and such facilities often do not have their own chaplains on staff. “She’s always sweet and wonderful and she’s a blessing … just a blessing. Whatever your need, she will do.”

Audrey has the same high praise for Sister Betty and is also thankful for her family and church family’s support. “[Sister Betty] will talk with you and take it to the Father to talk about [your needs],” said Audrey, who has been through chemotherapy and radiation and will face more treatments.

“It’s a journey we don’t take alone,” Audrey said of cancer. “I hope she keeps doing what she’s doing because she’s just a blessing.”

Sister Betty says she enjoys her work as chaplain and hopes to continue it for a long time. And, as chaplain, what brings her the most joy and peace? “Knowing that I have been able to lighten patients’ burdens just a little,” she said, “and that I can be their ‘rock’ and sign of God’s love.”

Sister Betty Hopf wrote the Elf-Help book, “Healing Touch Therapy.”

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Becky Igo

Becky Igo worked as a marketing manager for the Office of Congregational Advancement. She was an Indiana State University grad and former newspaper reporter/editor who worked with Providence Center, Volunteer Services and the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin.

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