Did Saint's Intervention or Medical Miracle Save Woman?

Some believe they've witnessed the miracle of a saint.

A local woman said she was told she had just months to live when the cancer that spread through her body disappeared.

How could this be? Lu Ann Cahn and the NBC 10 Investigators go to the Catholic Church and the medical community to get answers.

"It wasn't like a bolt of lightning. It was soft. It was warm," Janice Bender said.

She and her husband believe what she felt was a saint intervening to save her life from a deadly spreading lung cancer.

"Are you religious?" Cahn asked.

"No," Janie Bender answered.

In Frank Bender's words, "They said it didn't look good."

A pile of medical records, X-rays and scans tell a story of a cancer that quickly came back after Janice Bender had surgery and one horrific treatment of chemotherapy last year.

"She became violently ill," her husband said.

A report on dark areas on bone scans from September called it metastatic cancer, meaning the cancer had spread in the body.

"I was taking liquid morphine under the tongue because the pain was so bad," she said.

"We did not expect her to make it to the end of the year," one co-worker said. "It was not hopeful."

Friends from the Center City law firm where Janice Bender worked made her a prayer quilt.

"I literally had to stop working," her husband said.

If Frank Bender looks familiar, it may be because you've seen him on the news. He's an internationally known forensic sculptor. His work, recreating faces from looking at the remains of bodies, has helped police solve numerous high-profile murder cases. When his wife needed his full-time care, he did continue one project.

"The only job that I was basically able to do was a St. John Neumann sculpture," he said.

Neumann's body lays on display in an airtight glass tomb at this shrine in Philadelphia. The church, with permission of the Vatican, hired Frank Bender to create a new likeness -- a mask to place on the face of the saint.

"He was touching the very body of a saint," said Father Kevin Moley, St. Peter the Apostle Church.

In August, Moley went to the Bender studio and home on South Street to check on the mask. He saw Janice.

"I felt her pain. I felt what she was going through," Moley said. "Then I said, 'I do have the relic of St. John Neumann.'"

Since the death of Philadelphia's Bishop Neumann in 1860, believers say he has healed dozens of critically ill people. The church made him a saint after recognizing three miracles.

Moley knew the Benders were not church-going people but still said, "How could you walk out without saying, as a priest, 'Let me just say a prayer.'"

He touched the relic to Janice Bender's head, giving the Sign of the Cross.

"It was peace. That's what I think he gave me," she said. "It felt like that moment was the moment of the new beginning for me."

She said she started to get better over days and weeks, she got out of bed, didn't need pain medication anymore and that it began with Moley's prayer.

"In a way, I think that he was a catalyst for all the prayers," Janice Bender said.

Was it divine intervention? Was it a miracle? Those in the medical community who spoke to NBC 10 said they don't think so.

The fact is most of Janice Bender's doctors refused to talk to NBC 10. On the phone her radiologist, John Glassburn at Pennsylvania University Hospital, did call her case unusual. He said he thinks a scan indicating bone cancer was just wrong. He believes radiation took care of the recurrence of lung cancer. 

What about the power of prayer, or the possibility of some kind of spontaneous healing?

"There have been a few reports in the literature about spontaneous healing. We really don't understand why," Dr. Scott Greenberg said.

NBC 10 brought all of Janice Bender's medical records to Greenberg, who was not involved in the case. He thinks it looks like she did have bone cancer but thinks new tests don't prove for sure she's cancer-free.

"There is inconclusive evidence," Greenberg said.

Janice Bender's co-workers believe this evidence. She's back at work full time.

"We have witnessed a miracle, no question about it," one co-worker said.

"She's a billboard of hope," said another.

"It's extraordinary," Moley said.

At the shrine, Moley says Frank Bender's new face mask for Neumann is perfect.

"Maybe St. John Neumann wanted this intercession as a gift to him," Moley said.

"Are you going to become a Catholic or religious?" Cahn asked.

"Nobody asked me," Janie Bender answered.

The Benders said they know the cancer could come back but said this reprieve, no matter how long it lasts, feels like a miracle to them.

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