I received a phone message from my doctor saying she would try calling me back. I started to panic waiting for her call so I prayed that God would have her call at just the right time. At 9:40pm, I went out my front door to get something in the garage and just then a girlfriend walked up. She said she wasn’t planning on knocking but was going to leave something on my doorstep because it was so late. Just then the phone rang. It was my doctor. She said, the biopsy was malignant. So I asked her, “So, I have cancer?” “Yes”. She didn’t say the “C” word. I stood outside weeping in my friend’s arms. She was listening to everything the doctor said.
In my sadness, I felt God’s love knowing that he answered my prayer so obviously. You see, I wasn’t inside the house with my children or husband falling apart in front of them. I was able to compose myself before going inside and knew at that moment that God had a plan in all of this and he wanted to let me know that his timing is perfect and that he would take care of everything. This was the beginning of God continually teaching me to not rely on myself but on him.
I had Stage Ib breast cancer and soon began a challenging treatment plan that included a mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery. As I went through treatment, I grew to know how much God loved me through other people. I don’t know how people get through life without God. People took care of my children, brought me meals, visited, gave me gifts, prayed for me and with me. They read me scriptures when I couldn’t read myself. They gave me faith!
During this time I grew to appreciate my husband so much more. He has a very demanding job but had to spend a lot more time at home watching the kids during my doctor’s appointments. Our children are afraid of cancer, hospitals and surgery. My husband had to take on the role of mother and father during 4 months of chemo. We live with the knowledge that the cancer can come back anytime and that affects our emotional well being.
In addition to my husband, my Christian friends also helped me through all of my negative thoughts and fears. For example, I had thoughts like: “God is punishing me; he wants me to die because I’m such a bad wife and mother and that my family would be better off without me. They helped me to find the truth in the Bible instead of in my own feelings.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
As the scripture says “that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead,” I’ve learned that God is in control, not me and that he does everything for my good. Romans 8:28
To anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer, I encourage you to surround yourself with people who care about your spiritual well being.
“Do not be afraid of those (cancer) who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
When I was seventeen years old, I was a typical high school senior, enjoying life and dreaming big. But in the midst of applying for colleges, running on the cross-country team, and anticipating being named valedictorian, I found out I had an extremely aggressive and rare type of cancer. I was given a slim chance to live, and the only option was leaving school to do months of intensive chemotherapy and radiation.
My life as I knew it was over, and I was thrown headfirst into a completely new and frightening way of life. I began chemotherapy the day after I was diagnosed and only 3 days after I entered the hospital. I was told I would not return to school and that my hair would fall out within two weeks, which it did. I was treated with the most intensive treatment possible because of the aggressiveness of my tumor. My doctors said it had grown to the size of my fist and spread up into my chest within two weeks. Because of the severity of my treatment, I spent two to three weeks a month living in the hospital for six months. My prognosis was not good, to the point that my parents planned on using my college savings for funeral expenses. My mom told me later that she and my dad thought by the time my senior yearbook came out, it would be dedicated in memory of me.
I felt so many different emotions during my entire cancer process. I remember in the first few months I was in so much pain and was really foggy; I don’t remember much during that time besides just trying to make it through day by day. I was so disbelieving; sometimes I would just think to myself, “This can’t really be happening to me, maybe it’s all a dream.” It was so hard and often depressing when I realized that it was true, it really was all happening with no end in sight. I was also confused about why this was happening. I really didn’t understand how God could allow me to go through such a horrible experience, especially because I was a Christian and thought that it must be because God was punishing me somehow or didn’t love me as much as other people. I now know that is not true (Psalm 119, Psalm 116, Lamentations 3:19-33), for me or for anyone.
Although I started out trying to have faith that God was with me and was in control, my life was falling apart before my eyes. With each round of chemo, the pain and sickness increased because of the buildup of the chemotherapy drugs in my body. During my second to last round, I was throwing up constantly, couldn’t eat anything for weeks, my weight had dropped to 95 pounds, my body couldn’t fight off any infection, and I basically lost all hope. I remember telling my family and wanting to tell the doctors that I couldn’t do it anymore. I would rather die than go through another round of chemotherapy.
My fear of cancer and treatment never ending, rather than my fear of dying, was often the hardest part of having cancer. This fear of the future really challenged my faith and trust in God so much. During the first few months, I was in a lot of pain and was nauseated and throwing up constantly, which was extremely difficult. But I don’t think I was very depressed because I had so many friends supporting me. I am so grateful to God for those friends and my family, but I had to be vulnerable and honest enough to express to people around me how much I needed their love and presence (just being there). I couldn’t just wait for people to come, because a lot of times people felt too uncomfortable, scared, or just didn’t know what to say to me so they would often stay away. The disciples in my church were amazing though; I had so many visitors! There were times when I didn’t have many visitors, and that hurt, but again, I had to express to people how much their visits meant and humble myself enough to ask people to spend time with me and tell them what a hard time I was having.
After doing chemotherapy for a couple months, I started to feel a lot more depressed, hopeless, angry, and miserable. And what was worse was that I didn’t want to talk about those emotions because I thought I would just be a drag to other people around me and they wouldn’t want to spend time with me because I was depressing them. The treatment was making me feel worse and worse and one of the side effects was major pain in my feet, so I couldn’t walk for a month and a half. The only person I really talked to about all of my depression was my mom, but a lot of it I just carried around in my heart and mind, which made the depression and anger a lot worse. I had so many questions and didn’t want to face a new day. I lost motivation for eating and doing a lot of other activities because they just took too much effort, and very few things could make me happy. During this time I remember never wanting to read my Bible or pray and just really turning away from God in general. You know how the Psalms talk a lot about feeling like God has abandoned them? Well that’s how I felt constantly, and my emotions turned into an apathy where I just didn’t care anymore. I realized later that hardening my heart so that I stopped caring about God or anything else is really what made me so depressed and miserable.
Also, not talking about my emotions and thoughts (I thought most of them were really crazy or abnormal) made me feel very isolated and alone. I felt like I had to carry the burden of my cancer and was constantly worrying and thinking about things, so much that it drove me crazy sometimes. I felt like no one cared and had so much insecurity about what people thought of me, especially since I lost my hair and thought I looked so ugly and different. I wish I had relied more on other people and especially on God during that time, but I also see that those low times helped me discover how much I need God (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
My last round was supposed to be harder than all the rest. I felt like there was no way I could bear it and keep going. I had to fight to believe that somehow, I could get through. My family and friends and I started praying that somehow, this last round would be easier than all the others. It took courage for me to even pray for that, because I knew that medically, there was no way this round would be any better. I threw up less and recovered faster from that round than from any of the previous rounds. There was no medical explanation for why was easier, because it was a total miracle. The treatment worked to dramatically shrink the size of the tumor, and after the six months of chemo, I had a final surgery to remove the last piece of it.
I got to go back to school for a couple months before I was going to begin radiation treatments, but this was an awkward, difficult time with me still feeling incredibly weak and sick and so removed from my old way of life. Being around my friends at school just made me feel like more of an outsider as I learned bits and pieces of what had happened during the past six months, while they had been making the most of their senior year, and I had been fighting for my life. I felt like someone pretending to live a normal life, but really I was isolated and different and still had two months of daily radiation treatments to complete. Those many months after of doing radiation were a struggle to trust God. It took courage to not just get through it, but to believe and have faith that God was using my suffering for a purpose.
Even after I finished chemotherapy and was doing radiation (which had barely any side effects that I could feel), I felt very depressed, afraid, and unbelieving about the near future. I was starting college a couple months after my treatment ended, and I felt so afraid to try to be back in the “normal” world again and make new friends. I was known as the “cancer kid” at my high school and everyone would stare at me when I came to school (even though they tried to hide it). I was so afraid that the same thing would happen in college and that I would not be able to keep up with the work or make friends like everyone else could. I also lost a lot of weight and my hair was really short, so I felt insecure about my appearance and felt like I didn’t fit in. I had soooo many anxious, worried, fearful, depressed thoughts during this time about my future, and the only thing that helped was talking to friends and my mom about these thoughts and then praying with them about the thoughts. You need people’s help to turn you to God; you cannot get through this time without his love, comfort, and hope (Psalm 40).
Now, almost six years cancer-free, I can see how God is using all of the challenges I went through to reach other people. I’ve become a volunteer and speaker for the American Cancer Society. I’m on the Santa Clara County Board of Directors for the American Cancer Society, and I’ve spoken at numerous events where I get to share my life, cancer experience, and faith with people suffering from cancer.
As a young cancer survivor, I’m able to give people hope and inspiration in their suffering. I have the opportunity to interact with and influence amazing people who are trying to make a difference in the community. Many of the American Cancer Society workers give people tons of help and change so many lives, and some of them want to make a difference more than most people I know. But their help is temporary, because it doesn’t save people’s souls. I get to share about how God has saved my life and given me a purpose that goes beyond just bettering people’s lives on earth. Never in a million years would I have imagined that these things would have happened to me, but as I’ve gotten involved in the community, I’ve seen just how much God is able to use my suffering to help people, and it makes it all worth it.
If you’re reading this and you have cancer, this is an extremely challenging moment in your life, but it’s also going to define you and you get to choose whether that is for good or bad. I think God only allows people he believes in to struggle through this disease (1 Corinthians 10:12-13, 2 Corinthians 1:8-11). Having cancer is the best and the worst thing that ever happened to me because of all that it taught me about myself and about God. I can honestly say I am a better person and have a deeper relationship with God now than if I had never had the disease. Not that I am perfect or have this amazing relationship with God, but what is amazing is how much God worked miracles, stayed by my side, and blessed me with incredible love from people throughout the whole time of my treatment (and throughout my whole life-Psalm 139). I think the biggest thing I learned about God is that he never left me, and if he never left my side during cancer, he will certainly never leave my side during the rest of my life (Isaiah 49:14-16; Psalm 27:10).
My story begins in the hospital - I was having major abdominal surgery to remove Endometriosis. I awoke from anesthesia to my doctor telling me they found a tumor, and I would have to wait for the biopsy to know if it was cancer. After 3 days, she called me and gave me the news that I had ovarian cancer. It was the last thing I would have expected, since no one in my family had ever had this. In complete shock, I told my husband the news and called my mother. Initially, I felt a strange calm, where my only thought and focus was “ok…what do I need to do to fight this?” The fear really set in when we met with an oncologist to discuss the options. Supported by my mom and husband, we decided against the invasive staging surgery, since my CT scan was clear, but wanted to do the full round of chemotherapy treatment to be sure all the cancer cells were gone – I felt sick to my stomach - so afraid of what was to come. I sought out support from others who would understand what I was facing. I found an ovarian cancer support group, and found comfort in talking with those who had been through it before and survived!!
Next was the 4 months of 6 chemotherapy treatments, consisting of Carboplatin and Taxol. Enduring nausea, pain, baldness, as well as reactions to medications, it was hard to see the reasons for all this suffering. If it hadn’t been for the support of my loving family and friends, I don’t know how I could have done it!!! My faith in God kept me hoping. In my darkest hours, I prayed – I cried out - to God and an indescribable peace would rush over me that I had never experienced before. It’s as if I hadn’t fully understood my need for God until I hit the point that nothing on earth could help bring me comfort anymore. I found scriptures like Psalm 120:1 “I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. ” and Deuteronomy 31:8 “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged."
Things I would recommend: I put scriptures that would inspire and encourage my heart on index cards - kept the stack near me at all times. I kept a journal to write down all that I was feeling. I continued to go to support groups. I fought my temptation to “do it all myself” - pride can be our biggest downfall…people want to help – give them a chance to lighten your load! We had people bringing us meals, cleaning our house, and taking time to just talk or hold my hand. Just know that you are not alone in this battle!
When I was diagnosed with advanced Stage 4 breast cancer in February of 2008, I was emotionally devastated. What began as a small, barely perceptible pain in my left breast that even my doctor claimed was “probably just a cyst”, turned into the most shocking news of my life. Over subsequent weeks and at the conclusion of many different tests, Cancer was discovered in my breast and then my lymph nodes and soon it was also discovered in my lungs and my liver. I had stage 4 cancer and I soon learned that there is no stage 5. . .and there is no cure. I will never forget how I felt that night after hanging up the phone with the doctor. I was crushed emotionally and I’m sure to my husband Jeff, I was like a scared little child sobbing in his arms. I felt as though I was just handed a death sentence. I was overwhelmed with fear and disbelief that this disease was so quickly advancing throughout my body. We just knew it was bad and we sat on our bed crying together hoping that our kids wouldn’t see or hear our pain. After we prayed together, Jeff encouraged me to call some friends that he knew would support me spiritually and give me faith. . .friends who would keep me focused on God. He went and did the same.
What you need to know if you are in my position is that though your battle is with a deadly cancer, there is always a bigger war being waged against your faith. This is a war you can always win no matter what happens to you physically. But you can’t do it alone and you have to decide to turn to God, remain with God and fight spiritually! My family and church began praying for my health but even moreso for my faith and there are no words to express how deeply grateful I am for that faithfulness to me – I believe that every prayer has moved the hand of God in my recovery so far.
As I battled to understand and accept God’s will, I remember one day Jeff reading Philippians 1:21-24 to me to strengthen my faith:
For to me, living means living Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live.
This scripture teaches me that Living as a Christian is about one thing – Living for Others – being fruitful for Christ.
I remember one day having enough faith to tell God that if I was going to die, to somehow use my cancer to help someone in my family to be saved.
My cousin Loraine and I grew up like sisters. . .as kids we were inseparable. . . We spent every summer together throughout our childhood and teen years. We even both chose to go to college at CAL Berkeley and that’s where I studied the Bible and became a Christian.
That was 22 years ago and of course, the first person I wanted to share my faith with and help become a Christian was Loraine. But, for the first time in our relationship, we couldn’t become unified – she didn’t want to be a disciple; she chose the world and our friendship gradually began to deteriorate. The Bible makes it clear that darkness and light can have nothing in common. Truly my heart was broken – though I gained a relationship with God, I lost my best friend. We grew apart as our lives went different directions and it was hard to imagine us ever being close again.
7 years ago, when I heard that her husband left her, my heart ached for her sadness and the challenge she now had raising her daughter as a single mom. I remember driving up to Stockton to bring her to church and having my friend Michele study the Bible with her – because I knew only the Bible could give her hope. Again, she chose to not become a disciple.
I saw her life take more dark turns with the unexpected death of her father and soon after, her mother passing from cancer. After another broken relationship, I heard she was hospitalized because the despair she felt made her want to hurt herself. I prayed and prayed for her and even though it felt like she didn’t want my friendship, I kept e-mailing her scriptures and bible studies with the hope to somehow get God in her heart again.
Galatians 6:9: says “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.”
When I found out I had cancer, I called her and she put everything in her life on hold and came down w/her daughter Alyson to be with me as I began my treatments. All of a sudden it was like we were sisters again. We went to church together and we began studying the Bible everyday. She came to our annual Women’s Day and God began inspiring her and opening her heart and “at just the right time”, she was becoming a disciple before my eyes and changing for God.
When you go through a trial like cancer, there is one thing you need more than anything and that is HOPE. Even beyond my chemo treatments, I have to say that my greatest hope came the day Loraine said to me, “I don’t know why you had to have cancer, but if THIS is the reason – so that I could become a true disciple, then I KNOW you’re going to beat this!”
I was able to baptize Loraine on September 21, 2008 and she is now my sister in Christ and I can truly say as the apostle Paul did in Philippians 1:12: “I want you to know, my dear brothers and sisters that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.”