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For the Boatrights, faith blooms in the beauty of a Christmas cactus

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By Greg Summers

Christmas cactuses may be in short supply at some stores this year, but they aren’t on Jean Boatright’s closed-in back porch.

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And no matter how hard her husband, Jerry, tries, he just can’t get away from them.

Some may think Jean has gone a little overboard in her admiration of the tropical-type plants, but not Jerry. It’s just fine with him.

Jerry said his bride of 50 years can’t stand to see any kind of plant die. Most of the cactuses were bought from retailers at basement-bargain prices after the holidays. Jean nursed them back to health, not even knowing what color they were until they started blooming.

She keeps a pink dish pan filled with potting soil on top of the kitchen freezer. Jean said the potting soil is “just in case” she spots a wilting plant that needs of a good home.  

“I’ve always loved flowers,” she said. “It’s my therapy during winter, where in summer, I can get outside and mess with my flowers.”

Jean readily admits that it’s not normal for anyone to have 55 of the Thanksgiving and Christmas plants blooming in shades of orange, pink, purple and red. In total, the Boatrights, and their Maltese, Precious, have 111 cactuses.

But then, nothing is normal for, or about, the Boatrights. In the past three years, she, and her husband, have learned the importance of stopping and smelling the roses.

Since April 2006, the couple has been in surgery for a combined 16 times, 10 of which were cancer-related. Jean has fought through breast cancer, two mastectomies, skin cancer and multiple blood clots.

“I was so sick from the chemotherapy I couldn’t even stand up to take a bath,” Jean said. “I felt like I had a herd of elephants sitting on my chest.”

For Jerry, it’s been prostate cancer, kidney cancer, a bladder tumor, skin cancer, gallstones and an emergency appendectomy. He’s had his prostate and one kidney removed. 

In the midst of their own situations, Jean’s sister, the late Jackie Carter, died from an inoperable brain tumor after a bout with lung cancer.

“With what we’ve been through, we could might near write a book on cancer,” Jerry said.

Given that, it’s no wonder that Jean finds solace among the neatly-potted, brightly colored plants that line the shelves near her kitchen door.

Jerry admits that his wife is the cactus specialist of the family.

However, the notion that his wife has given new life to plants on the verge of the dumpster through some tender loving care hasn’t been lost on him.

It’s something he identifies with. Jerry sees himself as a wilted cactus that a master gardener gave new life. 

When another round testing for kidney cancer turned up spots on a lung and on his bladder tumor, his prognosis of survival was slim. The cancer, he said, had metastasized, and spread, with no cure. With treatment, Jerry was given two years to live. Without it, he was given six months.

Their pastor, the Rev. Mitch Ingram, was with the Boatrights when they got the news. Jerry said he refused to buy in to the diagnosis.

“I didn’t hurt and just flat out refused to accept it,” he said.   

But while the Boatrights were consulting with doctors, specialists and oncologists to chart the best  course of treatment and Jerry was undergoing additional testing, something miraculous happened.

One night before a fall 2008 revival service at Freedom Freewill Baptist Church, about 15 pastors prayed over Jerry.

Jerry said he starting getting cold chills and then got so hot that his body felt as if it were on fire.

“You could feel the Lord all over the place,” he said.

“I know exactly what happened when Jerry told me,” Jean said. “He got healed that night. There is no other way to explain it. It was God.”

When Jerry went in for bladder surgery, the tumor was gone. Then, additional testing showed the spots on his lungs also disappeared. Surgeons and doctors couldn’t explain any of it.

“You gotta have faith in the Lord no matter what your situation is,” Jerry said. “If I would’ve listened to that first doctor, I’d probably be dead or so sick right now that I couldn’t do anything.”

Jerry said he now shares his faith with others whenever he can. He takes his situation one day at a time, knowing that God will meet his and Jeans’ needs.

“To me it doesn’t matter if it’s Walmart or Bojangles, I’m gonna tell the story everywhere I can,” Jerry said.

That includes telling it to one sales clerk that Jean was dickering with over several pots of marked-down, Christmas cactuses. No matter how hard Jerry tries, he can’t get away from them. But he doesn’t mind. In fact, he sort of likes it.

“We’re on a timecard and when it gets punched is when we go,” Jerry said. “You just gotta live for the Lord the best you can while you’re here.”