Cancer didn’t care about my healthy lifestyle or my diet. It took up residence in my body anyway. And in doing so, it pulled the “I’m in control of my life” rug right out from under me.
Even with my multiple surgeries and the little hormone therapy pill that reminds me of my diagnosis every single morning, I sometimes struggle with where I fit in the cancer community. A nagging voice likes to take up residency in my head and whispers, ‘You didn’t have enough cancer. You didn’t even have chemo. Get over yourself and move on.’
I think it’s a common problem for most of us, cancer or not. We tend to compare our pain to the pain of others. And we must fight the voice that tells us we are not qualified for the assignment God put in front of us. Surely there is someone more qualified. Someone who walked through rougher waters and came out stronger. Someone who is better fit for the task at hand.
But that is not how God works. Sometimes he just wants us to humble ourselves and do the thing he’s placed in front of us. And that is where I find myself today.
If you are reading this and going through chemo, I’m sorry. If you were just informed of a relapse, I’m sorry. If you are living with metastatic cancer, I’m sorry. I can’t begin to imagine the pain, and I cannot empathize in a way someone going through the same thing as you can empathize.
But I can share encouragement with you as someone who, like you, had her whole world stand still as all of the oxygen was sucked out of the room when she heard the words, “You have cancer.”
The Gift of Losing Control
It’s human nature to live our lives with a sense that by doing the right things at the right time, we have some sort of control over the outcome of a situation. To an extent, this can be true. For example, my son was not happy about the amount of time he got on the field last football season. So he spent nine months hitting the weight room and eating extra meals to be stronger and a few pounds heavier at the start of this season. By mid-summer, he was raring to go, and he did get some good playing time this fall. His hard work paid off. However, he injured himself a week before the first practice and missed almost a month of practices and two games. He improved his outcome by working hard, but he had no control over the injury that took the first part of his season away.
Cancer is kind of like that. Sure we can eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and do many other things that are good for us. Those things may put us in a better spot to fight cancer when diagnosed, but they won’t necessarily keep the diagnosis from coming.
I was young when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. And I was fit. I ran several miles a week, got plenty of sleep, and I didn’t drink or smoke or put other harmful things in my body. Except for raw cookie dough and the occasional Coca-Cola (but not together because that would be gross. Cookie dough has to be paired with milk.) Cancer didn’t care about my healthy lifestyle or my diet. It took up residence in my body anyway. And in doing so, it pulled the “I’m in control of my life” rug right out from under me.
It took a bit of effort to pick myself up off the floor, but in the end, it was a good thing. To come to a point of helplessness, knowing there was nothing I could do but daily lay the diagnosis at Jesus’ feet was scary but freeing.
The pressure to do all the right things was off. And in my profound need for my Savior, I found him in the most beautiful ways.
Maybe you can relate to some of my experiences.
There was biopsy day when I sat in the hospital waiting room with my hubby, both of us anxious and scared. At the very same moment, my name was called, my phone pinged. It was a message from my friend Wendy, but really it was a message from Jesus:
"So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10 NIV)
That was the whole of the text. There was no other message. Just those sweet words of the prophet Isaiah. Wendy had no idea that I had been clinging to that verse. That every night for the previous two weeks, I’d been waking up in fear and repeating those words over and over in my head until I fell back to sleep.
Then there was the early morning wait in the pre-op room with Corey. The day I would have my breasts removed and find out if cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I felt like I should be scared and anxious, but I was at complete peace. In fact, I even remember telling Corey that I was so relaxed I felt like I was just waiting to hear my name called at the hair salon. That was the day that I learned what is meant by the biblical phrase “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:6).
I later felt that same peace while my dear friend sat in my hospital room with me so Corey could meet a friend in the hospital cafeteria for lunch. Marti and I barely spoke a word during the hour she sat with me, but we didn’t need words. The sun filtered through the window blinds, and the Spirit of Jesus filled that space. It was a holy moment. And it was a moment that never would have existed without the pain.
Dear Cancer friend, look for those holy moments and cherish them. When we are at our neediest, Jesus loves us so well.
The Gift of Perspective
I remember crying out to God over and over after my diagnosis, “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.” I wasn’t ready. But is anyone ever really ready? God allowed this awful thing in my life that had me begging in desperation for relief. And some in our world would say a loving God would never do such a thing. But it was right in the middle of this hard thing that God met me more intimately than ever before.
He never once left me alone in my pain. I fully believe Jesus sat right with me in it. And though he didn’t answer my early prayers as I hoped he would, he did heal my body and give me the gift of a new perspective.
In this after-cancer life, I’m living. The work of learning to surrender during cancer has helped me to surrender other hard things that have come my way. There is a depth to the goodness of Jesus that I did not understand until he took my hand and walked through the fire with me. And because of that, I am thankful for a diagnosis almost seven years ago that left me crushed and collapsed in sorrow and fear.
Through cancer, Jesus brought me to a place where I believed in my innermost being what I have always known in my head. That God is good. Always. And in all things.
My hope and prayer for you, as you walk this hard, scary, and often lonely road of cancer, is that you, too, find the beauty that doesn’t present itself in the sunshine-and-roses days of our lives. That you will experience a new kind of nearness to your Savior and that the ugly word cancer will be the catalyst for beautiful things in your life.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
Kim Harms is an author, speaker, and part-time librarian with two decades of freelance writing experience. She has a degree in English from Iowa State University. She and her husband Corey have three super-awesome sons and one crazy dog. A two-time breast cancer survivor, her first book, Life Reconstructed: Navigating the World of Mastectomies and Breast Reconstruction (Familius), is a guide for women walking the breast cancer road. She is currently working on her second book, a devotional for women going through breast cancer. She also offers breast cancer resources at her website, kimharms.net. She can be found on Instagram @kimharmslifereconstructed.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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