Pastor celebrates October in Pink
By Ellysa Gonzalez, A-J Media
Ruby Moultrie is the pastor of Brownfield First Untied Methodist Church and a cancer survivor Wednesday, Sept. 25, 2013 (Stephen Spillman / AJ Media).
On Sunday mornings throughout the month of October, Ruby Moultrie can be spotted behind the pulpit giving sermons in a pink stole at First United Methodist Church in Brownfield, Texas.
The color pink holds a special meaning for her after the events of the last two years.
“Pink has become a color I cherish,” Moultrie said. “I tell people that we will wear pink all of October here at this church. I will wear it every Sunday. Pink has become a celebratory color for me. If I thought I looked cute in pink, I’d probably have a pink car. … I celebrate every day of my life the victory over cancer.”
In 1996, Moultrie was told she had breast cancer. A follow-up appointment with her doctor revealed the diagnosis was false. About 15 years later, she was diagnosed again — this time it was positive. But Moultrie doesn’t see her diagnosis as a burden. She sees it as a blessing.
First time around
“I hate to say this, that I love the fact that I had cancer,” she said. “I appreciate the fact that I did because I’ve grown a lot in how to care for someone else and to tell another person, whether they’re 50, whether they’re 75, when they get that news of cancer somewhere, anywhere in the body, it doesn’t have to be breast cancer, that we serve a God who knit our bodies together and he knows how to find whatever cancer is trying to find a route.
When a mammogram revealed an abnormal finding in her breast in 1996, Moultrie was told she had breast cancer. Her appointment was the Monday before Thanksgiving.
“That day I was just like ‘God, let me hold it together until I get out of this building,’ ” Moultrie said. “They were so non-caring people, this place that I was in. … As soon as I walked out, tears flowed like a river. I got into my car and headed back to Levelland in the blaring sun. I started singing ‘How Great Art Thou’ and knew that I would be all right.”
The person who told her she had cancer offered to schedule her surgery for Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. That Wednesday, Moultrie met with Owens.
“I said ‘I know I have cancer. They already told me I have cancer,’ ” Moultrie said. “And he said, ‘Ruby, you don’t have cancer. I don’t know what they told you.’ I said, ‘I had a sonogram. I did all the work. I just walked through those steps.’ He said, ‘You don’t have cancer.’ He said, ‘I would tell you if you had cancer.’ ”
Sixteen years later
Moultrie was diagnosed with breast cancer again in June 2011.
At the appointment, Moultrie said, the doctor did a mammogram, a sonogram and an MRI. She was joined by her best friend and “sister,” Dianne Blume, who had also joined Moultrie for the mammography appointment 16 years before.
“She’s been my sister since 1995,” Moultrie said of Blume.
Moultrie met Blume at Walk to Emmaus, a three-day Christian spiritual renewal event, in 1995.
“We’re like a glove,” Blume said. “We just click. We fit. We’re sisters.”
Since their meeting in 1995, Moultrie and Blume have scheduled their yearly mammograms at the same time.
Their mammograms last year yielded an unexpected discovery.
“About the middle of June, June 9, my phone rang here at the office, and I was interviewing a lady for a secretarial job,” Moultrie said. “I said, ‘Brownfield Methodist Church.’ And the doctor said, ‘Ruby, this is Dr. Rosen, and you have cancer.’ Kind of like that.”
Moultrie’s first phone call was to Blume.
Tears and different emotions began to flow.
“I was angry,” Moultrie said. “I wondered, ‘Why me?’ I did all the stuff in about two minutes, and then I decided, ‘I’m a pastor. I can’t break. I’m supposed to handle this better.’ And so for about two weeks, I would put it on the back burner.”
Facing the facts
The follow up revealed Moultrie’s tumors to be at stage zero and not past her breast. Meetings with her doctors and surgeons to talk about her options resulted in an appointment for surgery on Aug. 15 to remove the cancerous material.
The weight of the diagnosis and oncoming surgery took second place to her job as a pastor, Moultrie said.
Nonnie Cawthon, congregation member at First United Methodist Church in Brownfield, said this was no surprise to the church family.
“She’d rather take care of other people than herself,” Cawthon said. “She’s always so busy taking care of everybody else.”
When people would ask if she was OK, Moultrie would automatically reply with, “I’m fine,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I started journaling that cancer became real,” Moultrie said. “That it was ‘Ruby the person,’ not ‘Ruby the pastor with cancer.’ And I started journaling and writing down. … I decided to journal and face it like every other female Christian facing breast cancer.”
On Aug. 15, Moultrie arrived at the hospital at 6 a.m. and was wheeled to surgery for a double mastectomy at 11 a.m.
Before surgery, Moultrie’s doctor asked her if she wanted to have a double mastectomy even though the tumor was only found in one breast.
Moultrie decided to do it. After surgery, her doctor told her it was a smart decision because scans showed tumors on the other side as well.
“I remember looking at her, and our eyes looked at each other, and we just knew God was in control,” Blume said. “That was strange. She had a feeling that she needed to have them both.”
Moultrie said that’s how she knew it was a God-led decision.
Strength in faith
After surgery, Moultrie spent a few weeks recovering in Levelland with Blume and her family
“She came here to my house, and my husband and I took care of her,” Blume said. “I hurt for her to see what she went through. My dad went through cancer, and we had to watch that. You just had to hold on to God’s promise. We just knew he was going to take care of her.”
Cawthon said she and her husband and many other congregation members checked in on Moultrie constantly and helped when and how they could.
“We’ve gone to doctor appointments with her,” Cawthon said. “We have taken food to her house. We’ve cried, laughed and held her hand.”
The love of her congregation members could be felt strongly when she returned to Brownfield, Moultrie said.
Cawthon said Moultrie’s strong faith in God is one of many factors she believes has helped her through.
“I decided if I was to have cancer, then I would have cancer as a witness to everyone,” she said. “That means way past the doors of the First United Methodist Church of Brownfield. If I was to have cancer, then God would show me how to go through radiation, go through chemo, go through all the stages to be a better pastor with that. And if I was to have cancer, God would also use that to say prayer works.”
Moultrie said her recovery is a result of God’s work through her.
“It’s really been an OK journey,” Moultrie said. “I hope I can still say that in five years when somebody looks and says ‘oh, that cancer is back.’ I don’t think that will happen. I hope I can say I can walk through it a second time.”