Jul. 2—PLATTSBURGH — Just before Sr. Debbie Blow, OP, co-founded the North Country Mission of Hope, she was diagnosed with cancer, and now she steps back as executive director with its reemergence.
"There's always a right time," she said.
"There's no perfect time sometimes. After lot of prayer and discernment, speaking with my spiritual advisors, and some of my congregation friends, and Sister Stephanie (Frenette, also a Dominican Sister of Hope), I have a very, very full plate.
"Most recently, and this is probably the piece that really sealed the deal in that sense, is that about two months ago, I was diagnosed with cancer again, and it was the second time."
In 1997/1998, Blow went through radiation treatments.
"But two months ago, they discovered the cancer had come back in the same breast," she said.
"I had to have a mastectomy, and that was just three weeks ago, and we're waiting for a treatment plan. Needless to say, that reality influenced the decision, along with the large amount of work that's involved as being the executive director of the Mission as well as caring for Sister Steph, who is completely disabled now."
'MY SPIRIT NEEDS TO HEAL'
In the last three years, Blow has sustained pearls of loss. Her mother, Shirley Prevo died; followed by her very good friend and mentor, Sr. Pauline Plante, CSC; her step-mother, Joan Blow and her favorite aunt and uncle, Jane and Bob Provost.
"That's another whole piece of all of this because I've been so busy with the Mission, and the demands of caring for others, and the care of Steph, and dealing with the situation in Nicaragua and Ukraine and Venezuela, plus all the local disasters that we assist, I think it would be fair to say, my spirit needs to heal," she said.
"I need to grieve. and losing a part of my physical body, it wasn't significantly important to me from that point of view, but it was one more grieving piece. So, that's why. I co-founded, I love this mission. I believe in what we do. I love our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua."
WATERFALLS OF TEARS
The absolute hardest part for her was telling Mauricio Flores and Magaly Velasquez, the Nicaraguan administrators, she was stepping down Thursday night.
"They both cried," Blow said.
"When I told the officers the night before, there were lots of tears as well. Then, I told the whole board last night, and then sent the News & Notes out. Again, I think in back of many of their minds, we all knew that this day would come some day. But, I think it was still a shock."
Blow balanced many balls and worked with literally thousands of people in terms of Mission support, Mission trips, as well as donors and volunteers.
"It was difficult, very difficult," she said.
"There has been a lot of tears. I'm leaving something I love. But I'm leaving it because I believe, it's absolutely in my heart of hearts, it's the right time to do so. And, I believe the mission is ready to be taken to its next level. Whatever that level or whatever our service is and to whomever our service is, it's okay. I think the foundation is strong."
Blow said to a couple of people that it's better that she leaves while things are great and not just die.
"There's is a little bit of humor to this, because as painful as it is, apparently on the very last Mission trip we did, there was a group of seasoned veterans around one evening, I didn't know this until this morning, basically asking each other, 'What is going to happen to the Mission if something happens to Sister Debbie?'" she said.
"The response was, according to this eyewitness, who was there as part of this conversation saying, 'There wasn't really much conversation because we couldn't fathom what would happen.' So, then her next sentence to me was, 'Well, at least you're not dead.' I said, 'Yes, there is hope. At least, I'm not dead.'"
Blow will serve the Mission in the capacity of a volunteer and consultant.
"I want it to be a smooth transition to whomever is going to take over the role," she said.
"I tried to tell the board last night and Mauricio and Magaly, you are not replacing me. You're filling a position.
"If we all looked at our roles in life that way, it's easier. It's easier for all of us. I know that I am loved and respected. I know that people have been inspired by what the Mission does and who we care for. I truly believe that will continue. I really do. So as difficult as it is, I really just believe it's the right time."
Board of Directors President James Carlin said it's difficult to put into words what Blow has meant for the Mission of Hope as well as to the people that they serve here and in Nicaragua.
"Her impact that she's had is in many ways immeasurable and unknown," he said.
"It's so widespread that we will never know all the people that she's touched and the lives she's improved through her work at the Mission of Hope.
Personally, for him, it's difficult because they've been good friends.
"I've been part of the Mission family for 14 years," he said.
"It's difficult to wrap my head around her not being that face for us. Then, as president of the board facing the reality that we now have to find somebody, not to replace her, but someone to take that position and move the Mission forward.
"So, it's been a bit of a daunting, difficult-to-wrap-your-head-around week. The implications of her leaving are vast, but the need for what she does and what the Mission of Hope does is greater now than ever.
"We need to pick up where she left off and build off her legacy. There is no other choice, so we'll have to figure it out."
'NOT YOUR WEAKNESS'
This week, Blow received a book, "The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse."
"It's an incredible book," she said.
"Each page is a story in itself and has these extremely powerful lines. I just opened the book, and when I opened the book it said, 'Tears fall for a reason. and they are your strength, not your weakness.' I was like blown away by that. I thought, yeah. Exactly."
One of Blow's favorite readings from Scripture is from the Book of Ecclesiastes: "To everything there is a season, and a time for everything under the heavens."
"It's time," she said.
"There's a time to build. There's a time to grieve. There's time to create space for the future, in my mind. and I love that phrase, creating space for the future."
Recently, she and the other Sisters in her congregation, received a booklet, "Creating Space for the Future," from the Leadership Conference of Women Religious in the United States.
"I thought, wow, that says it," she said.
"That's really a powerful statement. So, someone else will step up, and someone else will be the face of the Mission, and someone else will build on the legacy that we started.
"Somebody said, 'But, you've built such a legacy.' I said, 'No, you have. The donors, the volunteers, the people who traveled. There wouldn't have been anything if they didn't believe in what we were trying to do.'
"So, that's the legacy. That's what will go forth."