In Her Shoes – Women and Cancer

 

“But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me,
I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10 NKJV

 

This month we are blessed to hear from three women who have walked with God through the valley of the shadow of cancer.  Each testimony will bless your heart and remind you of God’s ever faithful love.  Below is a list of resources.  If you would like to share about your cancer journey or the journey of someone you love, we would treasure hearing from you at the end of this article. 

Our first testimony is from my sweet sister in Christ, Sarah from Iowa, who was diagnosed with a brain tumor and the very real possibility of cancer.  She delights in sharing about God’s faithfulness through her time of trial.  Thank you, Sarah!

God Is My Refuge 

 

Somewhere around the middle of 2012 was when I first began to realize that something might be wrong.  There were no major symptoms, but just a series of incidents that were significant enough to begin to cause some concern, such as some memory loss, a couple of severe headaches, and a dizzy spell or two that all seemed unusual.

 

From the very beginning, God’s hand was amazingly evident in every detail!  First of all, our family has a friend who is a neurologist, and she was the one who, after hearing about the incidents I had, was able to get me a referral to see a doctor in early October.  He did an EEG and an MRI, which revealed a small mass in my right temporal lobe that was causing some minor seizure-like activity in my brain.  He was of the opinion that it needed to be removed, even though it appeared benign, and he referred me to a doctor at the University of Iowa Hospital, because of the world-class excellence of the neurosurgery department there.  I first saw him on October 22, and he was able to get me scheduled me for surgery on November 14.

God graciously allowed me to continue teaching right up until the day before my surgery and make preparations for my aid, who took over the classroom in my absence.  This dear woman was another clear evidence of God’s sovereign provision, since she had been a part of our classroom since the beginning of the year and works wonderfully well with the kids!

The surgery lasted 7 hours and went very well, however they had to leave a small part of the tumor, because it was located so near to the brain stem.  We had been told that very likely I would have to do further treatment at some point or possibly have another surgery in the future.  I was released from the hospital 4 days after surgery and permitted to go to stay with my parents during the recovery time.  God’s timing was so perfect, as the time recommended for recovery took me right up to Christmas break, and it was such a blessing to be able to be with my family during that time!

When the pathology report came back, I was told that it was the best possible news I could have received!  Not only was the tumor benign, but amazingly they do not believe that I will ever have to worry about it again, even though they couldn’t remove it entirely!  I was totally overwhelmed by God’s goodness and mercy in giving me such complete healing!  The prayers of so many people on my behalf during this time were truly humbling and encouraging, and it was wonderful to be able to share this news, for when many people pray, many thanks can be rendered to God for His answer!

As I daily recovered my strength, it was great to be able to resume more and more normal activities, and when school started back up in January, I was able to go back to teaching.  It really only took about a week before I really felt like I was back into the swing of things, and in fact, in many ways I felt even better than I had before the surgery!

God has continued to give me many opportunities to share what He did through all of this, and to Him be all the glory for everything, for He is truly sovereign in every detail of life and wonderfully good in everything that He allows!  I would not trade this experience, because I learned so much through it – especially about what the Body of Christ looks like when it is truly functioning as God intends it to, the nearness of God that we can most fully experience when we are hurting the most or feeling the most needy, and His absolute sovereignty in every detail of our lives!  I praise Him for entrusting me with this small trial, so that I can be better able to be an encouragement to others with the same comfort that God gave to me during this time!

One of the verses that became especially precious to me through all this is Psalm 59:16 –

“I will sing of Your strength and will
joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning.  For You have been a
stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.”  CSB

Truly, God is my strength, my joy, and my refuge, and life’s trials only serve to make that truth more real and more precious than ever!

 This next testimony is from the heart of a beautiful friend named Kay who lives in Alabama.  I learned so much and was extremely encouraged by what she shared, and I know you will be, too.  Thank you, Kay!

 

My Cancer Journey . . .

– When your Mom gets breast cancer and you’re in elementary school, and when she passes away from it when you’re 12, you always have in the back of your mind that you’re going to get breast cancer, too.

– So when you find your first lump at 16, have it removed and it comes back benign, you’re relieved.

– And when you start having mammograms at 30, and they routinely show lumps that are non-cancerous you are relieved.

– And when you have a lump that doesn’t change, but doesn’t go away, you don’t really worry, but you get it checked out.  But, when the hospital Breast Cancer Center calls you back, and you walk in and see the doctor and the head of the BC Support Group, and before they even open their mouths, you know “this is the moment you’ve been dreading for 36 years!,” you’re still shocked, surprised, and numb.

At that point I was thankful for 3 specific things in my life: an amazing husband, a wonderful care team, and God’s immeasurable grace.
The medical care team told me they believed we had caught it early, but that we would need to do some more testing.  At that point things flew very quickly.  I was glad I’d thought through what I’d do, because you have to make life-altering, and body-altering decisions rather rapidly.

I chose a completely traditional medicine approach at that time.  If I had it to do again, I would probably do it differently – but I trust that God had me where he wanted me when He wanted me, so I choose to have no regrets. The doctors thought lumpectomy might be enough. With my history (which also included positive aunts on my father’s side), I chose double mastectomy.

Following surgery, the doctors told me they were glad for my decision; they found tumors in both breasts that had not appeared in any diagnostic procedure. Mastectomy was the only logical choice, and it had been the choice God had led me to make.

I cannot describe God’s overwhelming presence throughout the entire journey. Frankly, sometimes I almost miss cancer because I miss that extra grace that God gives in trials like that.  And, when you know your life is in God’s hands, you can trust that He is in control and going to do with it was it best for you and best for bringing glory to His name. Period.

I had many extra opportunities to talk with others about the Lord during this time. Many could not understand peace in the midst of my storm. On the other side, many were a great encouragement to me during this time.  I started a Facebook Page (link here) just to keep everyone updated. It was a HUGE comfort to ask for prayer and KNOW that friends were truly praying for me.  It was also very cathartic to be able to write out what I was going through each step of the way.  I’m also encouraged to go back and read through God’s provision and presence at every single step.

What did people say “right?”  “I’m praying for you” and “I love you” were always the best!  I loved the specific people – “we pray for you every day at breakfast!” or “the kids and I pray for you each night at bedtime.”  It reminded me that, if I was feeling bad at 8:00, the family that put their kids to bed at 8:00 was praying for me! Also the tangible “what can I do?” was wonderful.  It was offered often, but the ones who really waited and listened for me to answer were special. Also those who gave me permission to have bad days and a shoulder to cry on, even if words were never spoken were a blessing.

What did people say “wrong?” “OH, that’s terrible! My Grandma died from that!” or “Have fun in the bedroom now, you won’t be attractive to your hubby after they cut your breasts off!”  “Oh, you must be so terrified for your daughters!” (That one WAS one of my greatest fears, and I had to address it with the Lord. But someone reminding me really didn’t help anything!) Yeah, those three were pretty bad! Most of the time, people were great! Sometimes people put their foot in their mouth – but we usually just laughed together after that. I appreciated the effort and the selflessness of trying to say something sweet, even if it came out wrong.

If you found out you had cancer today, I’d encourage you to pause. And then pray. I was grateful for quick care. But, frankly, there really was no rush. We’d been watching things for over 6 months; we could have waited 6 more months and little would have changed.  Pray and ask God to guide you (and spouse, if you are fortunate enough to have one involved). Then seek the counsel of those who have walked the path already. I learned more from other “survivors” than I did from Google, WebMD, medical journals, and the American Cancer Society together! Then pray some more and ask God to direct your specific path. Talk with your pastor and pastor’s wife.  They probably have a great deal more experience with “big things” than you do – even if it’s not cancer. Then walk your path with peace and confidence.

Our purpose on this planet is to glorify God. Psalm 86:12 tells us:

“I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore.” KJV

I also found comfort in Philippians 1:20:

“According to my earnest expectation and my hope, that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death.” KJV

 

Frankly, if God wanted me to die from cancer, everything would be better because of it. He had a plan, and I was blessed to be a part of that plan.

 

I’m thankful I’m still here. But I remind myself, am I glorifying God today as much as I was when I was walking the path of breast cancer?  Cancer, in its own way, was something God allowed in my life that drew me closer to Him – and for that I am thankful.

 

This last testimony is from the mom of a dear college friend.  Thank you, Donna in California!  You are a blessing.

 

GOD IS GOOD ALL THE TIME

It was about the beginning of December that I noticed something wasn’t quite right.  I made an appointment, and a verse started going through my mind – we had the sentence of death in ourselves.   The nurse practitioner found a large mass and seemed alarmed.  She told me to schedule a mammogram and ultrasound.  Thenext day the verse went through my mind again and I was by myself: “Lord, are you trying to telling me I am going to die?”

I stopped what I was doing and looked up the verse: II Corinthians 1:8-11:

“For we would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble
which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength,
insomuch that we despaired even of life (sounds like cancer surgery, chemotherapy, being sick as a dog, and finding out you
have Stage IV cancer
):  But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but
in God which raiseth the dead: Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth
deliver: in whom we trust that he will yet deliver us: Ye also helping together
by prayer for us, that for the gift bestowed upon us by the means of many
persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf.” KJV

 

I want to just make a plea here for you to familiarize yourself with God’s word.  It is so easy to do that in this day and age, with all the technology available to us.  You can listen to scripture on your iPod or iPad, download it, put it on CD’s, hear it in your car or when you are getting ready in the morning, you can get preaching from Sunday (online) – there are so many ways to get the Bible in to renew your mind – what a harvest of blessings that will bring to you!

You know, God really is good all the time.  He knows I am prone to worry.  He knew I might just fall apart if I got news of cancer.  So, He gave me these verses ahead of time, so I wouldn’t go off the deep end and despair.  I haven’t been upset about having cancer.  Other people are more upset than I am.  God was good to prepare me.

I had the mammogram and ultrasound, and the doctor said he saw something and scheduled a biopsy.  Three days before my biopsy, I was asked to play the offertory for Sunday. I chose Be Still My Soul. The phrase kept jumping out at me – in every change, He faithful will remain. God will be faithful to me in every change.

On January 22nd

I found out it was breast cancer and the doctor who gave me the news was so sweet.  I really was doing fine until she started being sympathetic and told me to put my trust in God.  That made me cry, and she cried with me. My Bible reading for that day was Exodus 14-16: 14:13 says, “Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will show to you today.” God told me in His word that morning, before I went to the appointment,
not to be afraid.

The oncologist said, “This is a sneaky kind of cancer.”  It’s not a lump – I never felt a lump – it’s a thickening, so it’s harder to detect.  And it’s lobular, so it doesn’t show up on a mammogram until it is very large.  She told us what our options were and one of them was the mastectomy and reconstruction.

Obviously, what I think is best for me would be no cancer.  But God had something else in mind.  If you had asked me 5 months ago if I thought it would be good for me to have cancer I would have said, “Of course not!”  But if it is true that God only does what is best for me, then it is good for me to have cancer.

We’ve been praying for some loved ones, to be saved, for some time now – and we don’t really know if they are unsaved or just away from the Lord.  One of them responded positively to an email update.  If I had to get cancer in order for him to get right with the Lord, it’s totally worth it. If I have to endure some light affliction in order for his immortal soul to be in heaven one day – that’s such a small price to pay.  I’ve always wished I could be able to reach some of my coworkers for the Lord, and this cancer has really opened doors for me. I want them to see that God is good, all the time … even when you get cancer.

My pastor came over that day and prayed with us and said he agrees with me about my verses and feels the Lord is going to use this cancer for ministry to others.  He gave me Philippians 1:29:

 For unto you it is given (it’s a gift) in the behalf of
Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”  KJV

 

Suffering is a gift from God.  He said there are 3 reasons people suffer – for stupidity, for sin, and for service.  And part of the reason may be stupidity – I hadn’t had a mammogram for 8 years, so we might have caught it sooner, but maybe not since it’s so hard to detect.  My doctor did say I have had this cancer for years.  (I just want to put in a little plug here.  If you do need to get a mammogram, you are better off to get the thermal kind, so you are not getting all that radiation.)

He said God is not doing this to me, He is doing this for me.  Then he gave us Psalm 71:18. I love this one:

“Now also when I am old and grey-headed, O God, forsake me not;
until I have showed thy strength unto this generation and thy power to every
one that is to come.” KJV

God will use this to show His power to my children and my grandchildren.  I was actually kind of excited about having cancer.  I do want my children and grandchildren to love God and cling closely to Him all their days.

I thought I was handling everything pretty well, but even if our minds are doing well, our bodies can be reacting to the stress. That night I had flashing lights on the side of my vision that last for several minutes.  Before my appointment (to check my eyes), I went to a nutrition class for cancer patients, and saw a man with a scar from one ear to the other, over the top of his head, and his hair was just starting to grow back.  I thought, Oh my word, he must have brain cancer!

After class I told my nurse about the flashing lights and I said, “You don’t think that could have anything to do with my breast cancer, do you?”  She said, “Well, breast cancer goes to the brain, so your doctor will probably order a brain scan, in fact she’ll probably order a full body scan, just to make sure.”

I went to the car and cried.  I don’t mind having breast cancer, but I don’t want to have brain cancer. I found out it was an eye migraine caused by stress.  The Lord has given me grace for breast cancer because I have breast cancer … and that’s why I’m okay with it.  But He has not given me grace for brain cancer, because I don’t have brain cancer.

Some of you may think, “I could never handle what she’s going through!”  Yes, you could.  If God gives that to you, He will also give you the grace to bear it.  Grace is spiritual strength.  It is that ability to be obedient to our Savior, even under pressure.  It’s what keeps us from falling under the load.  You will have the spiritual strength to endure whatever the Lord brings into your life because He’s a good God.

The end of that week I had a biopsy of the lymph node that was positive for cancer, and later had a bone scan that showed cancer all down my spine and in my pelvis.  So, I am Stage IV.  Once breast cancer has metastasized to other parts of the body, there is no cure. They still felt I needed surgery, so I went ahead and had a 9 hour surgery at UCLA that included the mastectomy, removal of 60 lymph nodes (59 of which were cancerous) and the reconstruction.  Just before surgery I was tempted to be frightened.  But, I had taken a verse with me to the hospital (Colossians 3:15 – “And let the peace of God rule in your hearts … and be ye thankful”). That verse calmed me right down, and I started thinking of all my blessings. I remembered all the cards, emails, kind words and prayers going up for me.  There are some perks to having cancer – you find out how much everyone loves you.  I was thankful for my husband and all my wonderful family.  I felt very loved and cared for.

Right now I am doing very well.  I don’t have any symptoms, I don’t have any pain.  The Lord has been so good to me.  I haven’t had to endure what most cancer patients go through.  I didn’t have to have chemotherapy and be sick or lose my hair.  My treatment is a pill I take every day and then I get a shot once a month.  I have a couple more out-patient surgeries for reconstruction. I do have Stage IV cancer, but my doctor said I could live for years on this treatment.

I hope all this has helped you realize how good God is and that you can trust Him with anything, even that hard thing that makes you tremble.

 

Resources

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2 thoughts on “In Her Shoes – Women and Cancer

  1. Susan, I am so thankful this post helped you. I also was so encouraged and blessed by these ladies! Wherever God is involved, hope abounds. Thanks for stopping by WOGM. 🙂

    Like

  2. Thank you for these posts on this topic. It blessed my soul and eased my worries. For some reason for many of us, cancer seems like a death sentence. To be able to live through it with faith intact and shining is nothing but supernatural. Thank you for sharing!

    Like

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