Sometimes, amid the greatest joys, in this life, lay some of the most difficult trials, heartaches, fears and uncertainties. The year, 1998, was one of those years for me. I was married, one year before, in 1997, having waited many years for this joyous event. Consequently, my husband, Blair, and I were full of hope and excitement as we anticipated our married life together.
In our early years, we had many adjustments to make, as all newlywed couples do, and we were happy to make them. As we both were aware of how God uniquely put us together, we were humbled by the fact God had made a way for us to know Him, as our God and Savior, as well as to join in marriage – two of our greatest joys in life.
Nearly one and a half years into our marriage, I became pregnant. We were jubilant at how God had blessed us, not only with each other, but now, with a new life. The day of discovery was Blair’s first Father’s Day. Even if our baby was in my womb developing, it was now a reality we were anxiously awaiting. In many ways, I was living a dream I had long dreamt of.
As many of you are aware, pregnancy does strange things to your body. Therefore, when a lump appeared in my right breast, six months into my pregnancy, the doctor didn’t seem unusually concerned, although she said we needed to do some
testing as “cancer cells love pregnancy cells.” Conclusive tests had to be made to discern what was actually happening, and how to proceed. Our journey into the unknown began then, yet we were confident in the knowledge that we knew the One who knew what our path was and where it would lead. Additionally, we knew, from the many years before our marriage, how faithful God was to us. We were dependent upon Him now, as ever we would have been previously, in other circumstances, having traveled through many difficult trials already.
This news of even a slight possibility of cancer stunned us. We knew the implications of cancer and there wasn’t any way to get around it. Cancer spreads. Cancer kills the body – it takes life slowly or quickly. We were aware that our new life together could very easily be, if God willed, short lived. We were filled with grief, but quiet confidence in our Lord. We knew, down deep, that His way is best and He would help us walk this walk of faith, wherever it lead. Nevertheless, our thoughts were reeling; our emotions heightened by this unexpected event. The questions, “Why?” and “What?” hung over us. “Why were we chosen to go through this?” and “What did it all mean for us?”
The first trip to the clinic, for an ultrasound, produced concern, therefore, a meeting with a surgeon commenced with an aspiration, where a needle is inserted into the lump to draw out any fluid that might be present, to determine if there is a solid mass. Many times this is all that is needed, however, not in our case. The procedure identified the need for a biopsy by removing a portion of the lump, in order to test it. One of the comforts of being pregnant during this procedure was the
last thing I heard, as the anesthetic took affect – my baby’s heartbeat: steady, clear and loud.
Consequently, the days of waiting for the test results tried my patience. Admittedly, I was nervous when the telephone rang that autumn evening in October. Blair was out, so I had to “hold myself up”, so to speak, when I heard the surgeon’s voice on the other end of the phone as he told me the results were positive for cancer and he needed to see me the following evening to talk about what to do next.
At a time like this, fear is an almost unstoppable foe. It is relentless and obtrusive – it is ever-present, with an insatiable desire to consume, overcome, paralyze and thwart any sign of faith, hope, or love. While the war rages within the body, so it rages within the mind and soul.
There we stood, when Blair heard the news, struggling with this enemy of the soul – of faith, this destroyer that sends the mind soaring, with all the awful possibilities. Fear – bold – raging and roaring does not give rest, nor comfort. We were well counseled not to let fear consume us. One prominent distinction about cancer is its fear-filled grip; desiring to overtake the soul and extinguish any flame of light, crippling the ability to function in the life giving grace of God. This, I believe is where the main battle rages – over fear, as there are so many uncertainties. We can feel so helpless.
As we met with the surgeon, that Friday night, we found he was urgent in his conclusion – surgery was necessary, as quickly as possible. The cancer was growing fast. There was no time to wait. His recommendation was to do a mastectomy
(the complete removal of the right breast) the following Monday, only three days away. We opted for Wednesday, instead. Things were moving very fast; moreover, we now needed to find an Oncologist in order to figure out what options we had regarding the use of chemotherapy.
The surgery went well and after one month of recovery time, chemotherapy began. Tests revealed that I had the kind of cancer no one would want. It was “poorly differentiated” and growing extremely fast. Amazingly, some chemicals are safe to take while pregnant, so this was the path we took. My goal was to do everything possible to stay alive for Blair and our baby. I just finished my third round of chemotherapy, when, on my weakest day, physically, my water broke and our Kathryn was on her way into the world. The labor and delivery went normally – no drugs were taken, and Kathryn was healthy, alert and curious. Ironically, she had hair – I did not.
Fifteen years have passed since that trial of faith. Thankfully, I am cancer-free and Kathryn is extremely healthy. My husband, Blair, Kathryn and I now live in Tirana, Albania, working to train and teach biblical counseling within the context of the local church. I am again, living a dream.
In our time of suffering and weakness, God sent many to strengthen us in prayer, and help with many practical needs. What we couldn’t do for ourselves, others did. Often, their faith carried us through, when ours was waning.
I was able to work nearly to the end of my pregnancy by coordinating, teaching and training an in-hospital community water exercise program. Working helped me to get out of the house to give to others and take my mind off of myself, and my situation.
Because of the ability to keep working, I was able to talk freely of my faith, in God, and how He was helping me through all of the various stages of treatment. There were many tears shed and battles to believe, yet one scripture verse hung steadily before me – “Take no thought for your life”, Matthew 6:25. I believed my life was completely in God’s hands and I determined to let Him decide how He thought best it should glorify Him.
Sometimes we are called to suffer through things we wouldn’t ordinarily want to, if we were given the choice. Would you, or anyone you know, want to actually choose suffering? Only Jesus comes to mind. He was obedient to death, the death on a cross, to bring glory to His Father and redemption unto eternal life for us. I have found, through the deep suffering God allowed in my life, a fellowship of His sufferings that cannot come about by any other means – suffering unites us with Him, in a very profound way.
When we suffer, we know we are heard by God, and looked upon with sympathy and compassion. God won’t let us be crushed under the weight of sorrow and agony. Moreover, although Jesus was a Son, “he learned obedience through what he suffered” – Hebrews 5:8. We, too, can determine to do the same; using our suffering for the greatest good possible – making every effort to lovingly, completely, obey our Father’s commands and teachings, in order to bring great glory to Him.
No one knows how to best help us, as our Father in Heaven does. In His great goodness and mercy, He chosespaths of suffering that we might know Him more fully. It was here, in this valley, He wanted to make Himself known in bright shining clarity. People could recognize that God was helping us radiantly shine for Him, as we looked to Him for help, Psalm 34:5. My testimony comes from Psalm 34: 1-10. God helped these words to be true of me – of us. To Him give praise!