Letters from strangers give woman reason to fight cancer for fourth time

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PROVO, Utah — In the 1946 classic movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart’s character, George Bailey, wishes he had never been born. His wish is granted, and he’s able to see the positive impact he had on so many lives.

KSL reports that Carolyn Billings, of Provo, had a similar experience six years ago, and wondered if her life had any meaning.

“What am I doing with my life?” Billings prayed. “What’s the point?”

That question came after Billings was diagnosed with bone cancer for the fourth time. Being single, she said she needed a reason to fight.

“I always joke and say, ‘What is the lesson I’m apparently not learning and what is it you’re wanting me to do?'” she said, addressing God. “What is it I’m supposed to be focusing on, and am I having any impact on it?”

Billings has had a great impact at Brigham Young University, helping countless athletes as a trainer. Today, she’s the school’s director of Sports Medicine. However, the 48-year-old still wondered if she was truly making a difference. Her answer came from three total strangers.

It started with Robert in December 2015 at an Orem grocery store.

“Robert was just sadness,” Billings recalled.

Robert had lost his job and didn’t have enough money to pay for his groceries. Billings not only paid the difference, but she also went to the store’s ATM, withdrew $150 and secretly put it in his sack.

When asked why she did it, Billings never hesitated. “God gives me that stuff. It’s all his, and I’m just managing it.”

Then last July she met Elizabeth in the cafeteria of the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. Elizabeth’s 13-year-old son was upstairs battling leukemia.

“I could just tell her heart was breaking,” Billings said. “She was lost and just needed direction on how to get help or just what to do.”

For two days, Billings spent hours with the family, sharing her cancer stories and a Book of Mormon.

Last October, she saw Tanya at the airport. The woman and her two active children were on their way to her father’s funeral.

“Tanya was at the end of her rope,” Billings said. “She was going to give up.”

Along with her gift of listening, Billings gave all three something else to listen to — CDs from her good friend and LDS musician Hilary Weeks — songs that helped Billings with a crisis 20 years ago.

“When those kind of events happen, and the string of things — the string of good — and you see the result it had in her life, yeah, that’s a miracle in my opinion,” Weeks said.

The miracle recently came full circle. Since none of those three people Billings had helped had any idea how to contact their benefactor, they sent emails for her to Weeks. The first came from Tanya in October.

Weeks read the letters to Billings.

“She doesn’t know this, but she saved me,” Tanya wrote. “I haven’t had someone be kind like that. She made me believe I could survive.”

“I’m hoping you can thank her for me,” Elizabeth wrote in November. “I figure you are sisters because you are too good of a team in how you help people see the Savior.”

Then in January, an email came from Robert. He said, “People don’t think there are miracles today, but I know there are.”

Billings believes these letters were the answers to her prayers.

“I don’t know why I needed it so much,” she said, “but I think I just needed to feel I had done good.”

So good she found something else through all of this — a reason to fight.

“I think the underlying message is my time is not done,” Billings said. “There are still things to be done, and (God) wants me to continue on with helping people and loving people.”