VoK: MariJo Arthur

Back to Article
Back to Article

VoK: MariJo Arthur

MariJo Arthur, is fighting cancer for the second time at age 71.

MariJo Arthur, is fighting cancer for the second time at age 71.

Kara Reiger

MariJo Arthur, is fighting cancer for the second time at age 71.

Kara Reiger

Kara Reiger

MariJo Arthur, is fighting cancer for the second time at age 71.

Lily Bartin, features writer

Walking around Downtown Kirkwood on a rainy Saturday afternoon, I had little hope of finding anyone with a story to tell. I ducked into Great Harvest Bakery to escape the downpour. Scanning the café, I noticed a woman eating alone. After deciding to approach her, I immediately changed my mind not to disturb her. So I turned around and resolved I would let her eat her meal in peace. Yet I couldn’t leave. Before walking back out into the rain, I went to introduce myself and asked if she had a minute to talk. With tears in her eyes she told me, she was going through cancer for the second time. Her name was MariJo Arthur, she fought cancer once before, and now, at 71 years old, she’s fighting again. Throughout it all, her love and compassion for others shines through in the impact she has on the people in her community.

Smile lines etch softly at the corners of Arthur’s lips. Her eyes are kind and a little sad. She is tired but radiates warmth, and as she speaks her life’s hardships, her smile wavers but her eyes still shine with hope. Even as she battles bone cancer, having already lived through breast cancer, her friends and doctors said she remains a shining example of selfless care for others. When others are in need, she handwrites her support

“Some words I would use to describe MariJo are kind, compassionate, loving, giving and generous,” Dana Dean, Arthur’s next door neighbor, said.

According to Dean, the whole neighborhood absolutely adores Arthur. She lives in Glendale, and her roots in the Kirkwood community run deep. Arthur raised her family here, and both of her children graduated from KHS. To her neighbors, Arthur is a cornerstone of the community. Last year, Arthur received the heartbreaking news that she once again has cancer. She had just celebrated 17 years breast cancer free, and then in May 2017 she was diagnosed with bone cancer. She said the diagnosis was extremely difficult for her, and that treatments can feel overwhelming at times.

“I do chemotherapy twice a week for two weeks, then I get one week to rest,” Arthur said.  “And then do it all again, week after week. The pain that I was in, it was at a 9 or a 10 to the point where sometimes I can’t get out of bed.”

According to Arthur, she is a person who takes action rather than waiting for results. She does all that she can to keep up her health and strength when cancer weakens her.

“My doctor said if you don’t use it, you’re gonna lose it,” Arthur said. “So I try to walk daily. I’m trying to eat the right food and drink all the water in the world.”

Through her hardship, Arthur considers herself lucky to have received nothing but support from her community. Her neighbors try to assist her financially, and she describes her doctor as her angel.

“My friends and my neighbors have been just divine,” Arthur said. “So far I’ve never had to pay for one cab fare to the hospital. My medical oncologist and her whole staff at Mercy Clinic have been absolutely wonderful.”

Her neighbors eagerly help her in any way they can. Dean describes the community as a great environment where everyone tries to pitch in.

“My husband mows her lawn for her,” Dean said. “Everyone in the neighborhood has just banded together and helped out with whatever she needed.”

As well as help from her neighbors, Arthur cites the hard work of her medical oncologist at Mercy Hospital, Dr. Susan Luedke, as part of the support that gives her strength. Luedke and her team have been working with Arthur since her first diagnosis. Years later, she’s treating Arthur again.

“I have known MariJo since 2001. So I’ve been seeing her at intervals throughout that period of time,” Luedke said “When you follow someone like that, it’s hard not to care and to get to know them.”

According to Luedke, Arthur has a bright personality and magnanimous energy. She has won the hearts of the Internal Medicine department.

“You couldn’t meet a more outgoing person than MariJo,” Luedke said. “She’s such a lovely, giving person. At times she a little ‘out there’ but she knows that. It’s just hard not to love her.”

I write to people and just tell them that I’m praying for them and to uplift them.”

— MariJo Arthur

Although as a medical oncologist, Luedke’s job is primarily cancer diagnosis and administering chemotherapy treatment her job extends beyond. She said she tries to take a more personal approach with her patients by considering their emotional and spiritual health as well as physical. According to Luedke, one of the most important but difficult parts of her job is helping patients cope with a diagnosis. Luedke said she knows a cancer diagnosis can be devastating, so her team works to lesson the pain of receiving this news.

“When MariJo was first diagnosed, she was absolutely terrified,” Luedke said. “We all tried hard to help give her strength and explain to her what was going to happen, and that it’s not the end of her life.”

In her field, Luedke said she is accustomed to recognizing when people are in need of extra care. In her experience with Arthur, she has watched her go through loss and pain, but through it all, Luedke has watched her grow.

“She needed a lot of support. It’s pretty obvious when people are hurting, but she was able to get through it and as the years have gone on she’s gotten stronger,” Luedke said. “She’s had a lot of personal tragedy in her life, and it’s hard not to care about people you know when they’re having personal tragedy and pain.”

Despite the issues in her own life, Arthur turns the focus away from herself. Even when pain keeps her bedridden at times, she finds a way to spread her thoughts and prayers to others. She has long believed in the importance of letters, having led a personal prayer ministry at her church for 47 years. According to Arthur, if someone needs some love, the best thing to do is to write them a letter.

“Even if you don’t see them, write them a note. Even if it’s a postcard, let them have that because getting mail is just a real treat,” Arthur said. “It’s just special to receive a letter.”

According to recipients of her letters, the notes have touched their hearts. She has had an overwhelmingly positive response from simply sharing with them that she cares.

“People write me and say, ‘Thank you for caring.’” Arthur said. “Some people have said ‘You don’t know what it meant to us. We have a shoebox filled with your cards.’”

Two frequent recipients of Arthur’s letters are her young neighbors, a 4-year-old and newborn. She writes special cards to all the children on the street. According to her neighbors, the children are always delighted by her notes.

“She loves all the children in the neighborhood, and she has for decades,” Dean said. “She sends the kids letters for every holiday, she addresses them with their names and puts stickers on them. It just really makes them feel special.”

Of course, Luedke has received her share of handwritten letters from Arthur. While she never expects that people thank her, Luedke says it’s always nice to hear that she has been able to help.

“Her notes are amazing,” Luedke said. “It’s just really nice to know when you’ve made a positive impact on someone’s life, even when they have a bad disease and there’s a chance they may not be cured anymore. It is very fulfilling and it keeps me going.”

Arthur not only writes to her doctor, but she takes care to send thoughts and prayers to other cancer patients she meets at the hospital. While it’s a small gesture, according to Luedke, it really makes a difference.

“MariJo writes notes to other patients that she met back in the treatment room,” Luedke said. “They’re amused and curious at first, but very appreciative, it’s just a really sweet thing for her to do.”

As a religious woman, Arthur believes strongly in the power of prayer. Her personal religious ideology is very important to her, but that doesn’t stop her from extending her support to people who don’t share her beliefs.

“I write to people and just tell them that I’m praying for them and to uplift them,” Arthur said. “Some people aren’t believers. I just tell them that God loves them anyway, and I support them. Why not? Life is too short.”

Arthur stresses the importance of caring for one another, especially at a time when the world can feel divided. She believes if there’s one thing we can do to make the world a better place, it’s show people we care.

“If you find someone who needs something, reach out, put your hand out and say, ‘I’m here for you, I care,’,” Arthur said. “It’s the ‘I care’ part that means the most.”

After the interview, I thanked her for speaking with me and reached to shake her hand, instead she enveloped me in an embrace and thanked me instead.

“May the Lord bless and guide you darling,” Arthur said.

If MariJo’s story has touched you, and you’d like to write her letter, TKC will be collecting notes outside of SJ to bring to her this week.

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.

Email This Story