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Life in Liberty: Strength despite pain
Kathleen Lancia keeps serving the community after losing her husband to cancer
Kathleen Lancia poses for a portrait. - photo by Photo by Kayla Rand

The passing of a loved one is heartbreaking and take a hard toll. However, some dealing with that pain still manage to continue at a steady pace, and even use the hardship to help push through other obstacles in their lives.

Kathleen Lancia married her high school sweetheart, Ray Lancia, in their home state of Rhode Island, but relocated to Liberty County after he joined the military. Moving every few years was difficult for the family, but they found peace by being involved with every community they called home.

The Lancias started fostering children when they were stationed in Germany because they thought they could make a difference in children’s lives. They became licensed by the Department of Family and Children Services specifically to foster teenage girls. This group is the least likely to get adopted.

In 1996, the Lancias moved to their final duty station, Fort Stewart, and brought the foster teen of an American soldier from Germany along with their family. Kathleen Lancia specifically stressed the importance of education to all of her children. After a conversation with her granddaughter to “practice what you preach,” she decided to enroll in a master’s program for pastoral counseling, which she is currently pursuing. By the end of their fostering days, the Lancias had parented nine foster teens, all of whom completed their high school education.

“I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It’s an incredible experience,” Kathleen Lancia said. “I really wish people would do more fostering. However, we elected to stop fostering when my husband got sick.”

Aside from fostering, the Lancias were Girl Scout and Boy Scout trainers, and involved in community-service organizations such as Kairos Prison Ministry and HandsOn Savannah. While Ray continued serving, Kathleen landed a secretarial job at United Way of the Coastal Empire, which opened many doors to future community service.

While serving in the military, Ray Lancia suffered a head injury. When he retired in 2000, he experienced complications. Once addressed by a doctor, he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, and he needed brain surgery to implant a shunt to drain brain fluid.

Almost immediately, the Lancias joined the National Hydrocephalus Foundation, which teaches people about the disease and helps support those who have recently been diagnosed. Because of the severity of his condition, they had to cut back on the amount of volunteer work to cater to his health. A friend recommended they attend Tres Dias, a program that helps people solidify their walk with God and deal with issues they are experiencing.

While in the program, someone told Ray Lancia to attend the Kairos Prison Ministry. He did not want to, but he went any way. To his wife’s surprise, he returned crying.

“He told me he misheard God when (God) said to feed his sheep,” Kathleen Lancia said. “Ray was thinking it was children all these years, but it was these men in this ministry. We’ve been with them ever since.”

Typically, someone who is incarcerated is released into the community in which they were arrested with no family, support or money. This tends to lead them back to prison because it is a safe and familiar environment. With the Kairos Prison Ministry, people are taught to be successful members of society, given the word of God, and supplied with a support group that they can continue to be a part of when they are released.

During the most difficult part of his condition, Ray Lancia was hospitalized and diagnosed with cancer. Both he and his wife had to put a halt to everything in their lives. He endured extensive chemotherapy, had his bladder removed and was pronounced cancer-free. However, a follow-up scan revealed that it had worsened to the point of no return.

In June, the Lancias celebrated 42 years of marriage. In August, Ray lost his battle with cancer.

“It’s hard when you’ve been married that long to create a sense of being,” Kathleen Lancia said. “You have invested your life with someone for so long now, you have to reinvent yourself. God heals in many ways. He could choose here and now, years down the road, or in Ray’s case, call you home.”

After Ray’s death, Georgia State Prison in Reidsville set up a wall of remembrance, and he received a posthumous award from the Kairos Prison Ministry. Kathleen remains involved with United Way and the National Hydrocephalus Foundation, while continuing to be strong despite losing her husband.

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