When Cancer Becomes a Part of My Story, Will I Respond with Faith or Fear?

Fear can leave us wild-eyed and pounding.

I sit across from the specialist nervously wringing my hands in my lap. Her knee-high boots, fur bomber jacket, golden hoop earrings, and thick black mascara project an image contrary to the care and concern expressed in her gentle eyes and soft voice.

She draws a diagram. The dark lumps are here and here she says. My hand moves immediately to my throat.

The fear is rising like a lump, black and threatening.

I try to focus on what comes next. A needle to extract some of the lump for the microscope to test for – that dreaded “C” word. I nod.

And do I have questions? Yes – many. Why God? But I shake my head.

I think back to the papers that came in the mail on the eve of Christmas Eve. I was scrubbing hard at the stove in my childhood home, my dad chatting steadily, his loneliness painfully obvious.

The papers described how they had cut her open hours after she died to examine every square inch of her lifeless body. And yes, there, on the fifth page, disguised in medical words we didn’t understand, was the undetected cancer lurking at her throat.

The same as her daughter – my sister – had years ago.

If my mother and her daughter had the same cancer, should I be worried?

That’s how I ended up in an ultrasound room, and then later here, across the desk from this soft-spoken woman.

She was giving me statistics now. Odds were in my favour. But are we really a number to God and nothing more?

O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; You understand my thought from afar. You scrutinize my path and my lying down, and are intimately acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:1-3)

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Then months later I find myself in a sterile operating room counting ceiling tiles while waiting for the radiologist who will pierce my neck. The whiteboard to my left lists all the procedures these kind nurses will oversee today.

9:15. Thyroid biopsy. That’s me.
10:15 Liver biopsy.
12:00 Abscess drainage.

I shudder.

After the contents of four needles are handed to the lab technician I go home and wait until my next appointment.

Wait to see if my life will change. Wait to see how God’s good plan will unfold.
But the doctor’s office calls early and says the results are in and the doctor would like to see me sooner.

My mind races. Could this mean …?

No, I reason, the test came back early because it’s negative and they likely just want to set my mind at ease.

My man wraps his arms around me and asks if I want him to go with me. No, I’ll be fine. It’s going to be negative and then it would be a waste of his time. I’m sure its fine.

I smile weakly.

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And so I find myself again, sitting across from the same specialist, her kind eyes find mine and she smiles.

I’ll be fine.

These are the moments that can forever alter your life. And yet these are the moments that are not a surprise to God. In fact, He has them written in His book before the foundation of the world. All of my days were numbered before I was even born.

…in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them. (Psalm 139:16)

She holds papers in her hands.

“Your mother and your sister had thyroid cancer, right?”

I nod.

Had – yes, one lives cancer-free here on earth and the other cancer-free in heaven.

“… and I’m sorry to tell you, you have cancer as well.”

I take a sharp breath.

“But you knew, didn’t you?” she asks.

I knew? I was hoping not – praying not – but perhaps I did know. Perhaps God had been preparing me for this.

She’s drawing the diagram again with those same dark lumps. And she’s talking about a surgeon – the best one in the area, she says – to cut out the whole thing, cancer and all. Who needs a thyroid anyway? And she says she’d like this to be done sooner rather than later.

I nod agreement.

And after surgery, is that it? Is this nightmare done and over with?

Maybe … assuming the cancer hasn’t spread.

Spread?

But we can’t know that now, not until the surgeon has cut me open to peer inside.

Do I have any questions?

My mind is blank, except for one reverberating phrase …

I have cancer. I have cancer. I have cancer.

I shake my head. No questions.

The shock waves are still reverberating through my body as I leave her office.

What does a person do immediately after being diagnosed with cancer? She gets her hair done, of course. I’m sitting in the chair in my pre-booked, unavoidable, appointment, foils all over my head, gratefully listening to my hair stylist chat easily about family and Jamaica and her new house.

And all I can think is…I have cancer.

As I’m driving home, I finally allow the tears to come.

What does a husband do when his wife has been diagnosed with cancer? He brings home flowers, of course.

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Later as he wraps his big strong arms around me and my eyes again fill with tears, we talk about all the what ifs. We talk about how this news changes life. And what about our plans? And how do we tell the kids?

My mind races with all the possibilities and refuses to be quieted. In the middle of the night I lie awake thinking of the worst case scenario. Satan uses the dead of night to make the dark press in closer and he whispers all manner of fears into my mind.

When I can stand no longer stand the assault, I slip silently from the bed and downstairs to my Bible. I need to combat these lies with truth.

I sought the Lord and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:4)

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change and though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea. Though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains quake at is swelling pride. (Psalm 46:1-3)

One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek. That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me. He will life me up on a rock.  (Psalm 27:4-5)

When I return to bed a while later, these life-giving verses are running through my mind, and I finally sleep.

The future is uncertain, but I know this, God is still good. He is completely in control and He is abundantly good. He loves me perfectly and can use all things for my good and His glory.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

I resolve this: To continually choose faith over fear. To use this valley to speak of His goodness and glorify His name. To allow Him to do a good work in me.

This cancer needs to be cut out – yes – but there is so much more that needs to be cut out of me, a cancer that is far more deadly. God is doing His good work of cutting away all of the sin that so easily entangles and trips me up. And if He needs to take me through the valley of the shadow of death to do it, then so be it. I will humbly submit to the Great Physician’s knife.

“Hold still, child. This will hurt. But afterward, you will look more like My Son.”

Yes, Lord.

What is causing fear to rise dark inside of you? Will you join me and choose faith in a sovereign loving God over the fear that threatens to overwhelm?

She Calls Me Mama

There is a little girl on the other side of the world who has cried tears beside the grave of the one who gave birth to her and has felt her heart break into a million pieces.

We’ve never met – this sweet little girl and I – and yet she is my daughter in love.

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I’ve never heard her voice, yet I’ve felt her grief.

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Her mother had written to me faithfully. Her letters were so full of joy. She was a woman of very little means but of great faith and love. Her words were often convicting.

Then one day the letters stopped.

And then the formal one saying, “We regret to inform you …”

It was cancer that took her life, quickly and cruelly.

What could I do for a little girl halfway around the earth who had just lost perhaps the most important person in her life?

And then it was my turn beside the grave of the one who gave birth to me.

I knew then what I could do. I could love that little girl by telling her I know how she feels. I could write her letters and send her gifts, and go before the throne of grace for her and beg for God’s mercy and comfort in her life. I could pray that she would know God’s love, which far surpasses our understanding.

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Shortly after I said goodbye to my own mother, this letter came in the mail. My hands shook as I held the very paper she had carefully penned the words on, and my eyes brimmed with tears.

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Can you call me Mama? Yes! A thousand times, yes!

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I want to hug you too, dear child.

Maybe – just maybe – we go through suffering and grief in order to comfort others. Perhaps that’s the way God has designed it.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

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There is a little girl on the other side of the world who calls me mama.

And I am blessed to be a blessing. I have suffered to comfort.

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What difficulties has God graciously brought you through that you can use to comfort others in their time of need? God wants to use every trial, every bit of suffering to change you, to bless others, and to bring glory to His name.

 

 

Lento or Allegro?

How would you name the pace of life?

I’ve quickly scrawled those Italian words on flashcards and she mumbles their definitions between bites of egg and toast.

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Adagio … a slow tempo.

Larghetto … a little faster than largo.

It is piano lesson day and she was supposed to have them memorized. How did a week pass without my notice?

Presto … very fast.

Prestissimo … as fast as possible.

Sometimes this life feels like it is spinning as fast as possible, out of control.

The clock is ticking and the lunches are still empty, dishes are strewn all over the counter, and the boy has gotten dressed in clothes not at all appropriate for the weather. The phone rings and their voices raise in that incessant bickering, and I feel like I want a time out. Stop the clock. Or better yet, can I turn it back?

Why am I continually racing the clock?

She’s done her breakfast now, but the words aren’t coming easily for her. My suggestion of doing them one more time is met with a groan.

Andantino … a little faster than andante.

I think about those words ranging in tempo from very slow to very fast.

I wonder at the slight difference in how a piece of music is played as the tempo increases from one term to the next.

Sometimes it feels as if life is moving so slowly and other times way too quickly.

Almost exactly a year ago today, the clock was barely moving as we waited in a tiny room of clinical chairs after she was wheeled into surgery in a fruitless effort to save her life.

Largo … as slow as possible.

Then the next morning as I try to hold her restless hands still so my Dad can sleep for a while, the clock has all but stopped.

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Yet there are other times I want to push that relentless clock ahead fast.

Waiting for the test results for what seems like an eternity. Waiting for an outcome, a decision, a direction, some change in me.

But then there are times I want to slow life down.

When I look through the albums at baby pictures and I wonder how he grew to reach my shoulders in the blink of an eye.

When summer afternoons stretch into warm evenings at the farm and their voices echo across the hazy sky, I want to capture these moments forever.

The truth is life just keeps marching on, seconds, minutes and days ticking by at the same pace they always have.

Andante … moderately slow, at a walking pace.

The difference is my perspective.

In those chaotic moments of busyness, will I determine to slow so as to not miss the grace?

In those seemingly endless moments that drag on far too long, will I do the same? Be fully present in the moment so as to not miss His grace, with one eye always towards the sure and certain hope of our future.

She’s remembered all the words now and skips upstairs to brush her teeth.

As I clear away the dishes I am reminded again that we’ve all been given a finite amount of time, and only our Creator knows our number of days. Perhaps the more important consideration is if I’m being a faithful steward of the time He’s allotted to me. How can I take this day and use it in a way that impacts the kingdom?

The clock will end.

This earth will stop spinning.

And we will be ushered into a glorious existence where time will not be marked.

But for now, I chose to move through life at the pace He sets for me. No rushing. No clinging stubbornly to the past. One foot in front of the other.

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