"I HAVE never, ever said I was dying of cancer. I am living with the knowlege that I have cancer. And my life is rather normal." That was Marvella Bayh's characteristic protest last October, with half a year of life left to her. Her life was certainly not normal, except in the way she perceived it. To the rest of the country hers was the most exceptional life, for both its bravery and practicality, for the way she took the most cruel news about her fate, fell to her knees, then stood up and turned that news into a gift of strength for anyone who ever saw or heard her.

She was a thoroughly beautiful woman. Whatever toll the cancer took never showed, at least while we could see her, certainly never showed while she was going from speech to speech on behalf of the American Cancer Society, or granting television interviews, in which she appeared as a hostess, not a subject.That flourishing beauty of hers was like a feat. We did in fact see a woman living. And if there really was that other, terrible fact, that the cancer in her body was spreading to the bones, then only the force of her generous faith could drive that thought away-which it did.

How or why she behaved so remarkably in her final year is almost beyond understanding. Surely, the option was hers to treat death as a personal business, and spend her last year of life alone with her family and out of public reach. Instead, it was she who did the reaching, which seems always to have been her way. Yet she never gave the sense of eager martydom. She said all along she was "praying for a miracle," and, according to her friend, she came to feel her prayer had been answered by the serenity granted her.

She also said the disease had taught her "how little control we all have over our own lives." What Mrs. Bayh did with the amount she had was enough for a lifetime.