Two Fargo pastors deal with diagnosis of cancer in women they love

FARGO - For the past year, the Revs. David Wagner and Chris Waldvogel have been on parallel paths. Not just because both are pastors of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in south Fargo. Both dealt with a diagnosis of cancer in women they love. Wag...

Rev. David Wagner with his wife, Kim
The Rev. David Wagner is shown with his wife, Kim. While Kim was battling breast cancer here in Fargo last year, David's co-pastor, the Rev. Chris Waldvogel, dealt with his mother's cancer diagnosis and treatment. (Carrie Snyder / The Forum)

FARGO - For the past year, the Revs. David Wagner and Chris Waldvogel have been on parallel paths.

Not just because both are pastors of Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church in south Fargo. Both dealt with a diagnosis of cancer in women they love.

Wagner's wife, Kim, had breast cancer while Waldvogel's mother, Suzanne, faced pancreatic cancer.

As pastors, their role is to walk with church members through hard times. Suddenly both of the 750-member congregation's ministers faced their own difficult journeys at the same time.

"It was an opportunity for the people here to uphold me," David says.


A similar journey

The timeline for each family's battle was eerily similar, the pastors acknowledge, though hundreds of miles separated the patients.

Kim, of Fargo, was diagnosed with breast cancer after a biopsy in early June last year.

Suzanne, who lives near St. Louis, was told she had pancreatic cancer in mid-June after a bout of jaundice caused by a blocked bile duct.

Both were Stage 3. Both women had surgery. Kim had a double mastectomy July 1. Days later, Suzanne underwent a Whipple procedure in which her gallbladder, duodenum and parts of the pancreas, intestines and stomach were removed.

Both endured rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. And last month, both were told they were cancer-free, though neither woman fully embraces that declaration.

Throughout their battles, the congregation expressed concern for both their pastors with kind words, regular inquiries and prayer.

"The whole community here enveloped us with prayer," Kim says. "I have never seen compassion expressed as it was after being diagnosed. It was overwhelming. There was never a day I didn't feel prayerfully uplifted."


Caring cards

The congregation organized a card shower. Members sent greeting cards to both Kim and Suzanne, with the goal of each woman receiving a card a day.

In the end, they received regular mail for more than three months.

Church member Mardi Schlichtmann says the effort was a quiet way for the congregation to show its support and uplift the two women.

"People want to help, but sometimes you don't know what to do or what to say," she says.

Members were encouraged to send funny or thoughtful cards, kid drawings or handwritten messages.

Suzanne says throughout her diagnosis and treatment she felt at peace and kept her emotions in check, until she started getting the cards from the folks in Fargo.

"A lot of them wrote these lovely notes along with the cards, and it totally overwhelmed me. These were people I didn't know," she says, choking up with tears again.


"I see how much that support has meant to me and my mother," Chris says, "just given her assurance that there's something bigger than her disease at work."

Because the Wagners were in Fargo, members brought food and flowers, helped tidy the house, and accompanied Kim on chemo appointments, David and Kim say.

Beautiful Savior's praise band donated proceeds from its annual cabaret show, held May 5, to the Wagners to help cover extra expenses.

Effect on ministry

David says while he knows medical crises happen all the time, going through one made it more real and opened his eyes.

"I think it will strengthen both of their ministries," Kim says.

So many congregants will face breast cancer or other challenges, she says. Looking at her husband, she adds, "You'll have a respect for what they're going to be going through."

Suzanne says she knows both pastors had extra responsibilities because of what each was going through. "I know Chris had some bad days; I know he was so worried," Suzanne says.


"In many ways I did struggle with a bit of guilt for not being there," Chris says.

Suzanne told him he could pray for her from Fargo just as well as he could have in St. Louis.

She also sees a silver lining to their coinciding journeys.

"I felt bad that they had to go through that both at the same time, and yet the other thought that occurred to me was, it was maybe a lesson to everyone to know that bad things do happen to good people, and God never promises us that we won't have bad things happen. But he does promise he'll be there with us," Suzanne says.

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