As my time grows closer to being with women April 8th through April 10th at The Connect Retreat: The Resilient Survivor put on by Allina Health Buffalo Hospital, I wanted to post something from the point of view of a cancer survivor. Here is the pdf brochure for The Connect Retreat if you are interested in attending this wonderful retreat.
I think you will find the following essay one that is both powerful and moving. It is written by Theresa Montgomery*. Theresa wrote this essay to her family and close friends both as a way to process her thoughts as she journeyed through cancer as well as to offer others a way to cope when hard times come.
Ninety percent of us will, at one time or another, be faced with one traumatic event in our lives. I hope Theresa’s words will inspire, encourage, and cause you to contemplate and consider some of the ways she chose to act and respond as she journeyed.
Thank you, Theresa, for allowing me to share your very personal and moving story.
Here is her story.
Trial to Triumph
I’ve lived with chronic diseases almost my entire life. In younger years, I mostly shrugged off the unpleasantness and after time, learned to adjust to the situation, and carried on with my life as best as I could. I didn’t think much about God intervening. I don’t remember asking Him for His help or comfort. Well, maybe I said a quick prayer the day before some necessary procedure or surgery. I do remember praying for others in their need, but I didn’t think to ask for myself. As I grew and matured, I was able to reflect on my life and my relationship with God. I began asking myself questions. Such as, where was God for me during those difficult times in my life? I became eager to learn more about who is Jesus. I yearned for a closer relationship with Him. I learned a lot about living with the ever-present Jesus and recognized this knowledge as a pure gift of God.
Today, I’m 66 years old. I was diagnosed this past year with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of my white blood cells. This has been complicated by a serious immune deficiency that I’ve had for some time. When my primary care physician called to gently inform me of this cancer diagnosis, I felt as though I’d been punched hard in my stomach. I was stunned and dazed. However, things were different this time. This diagnosis of cancer meant that I might die sooner, rather than later. Was I prepared? This would surely be the test of my faith and my relationship with Jesus. I knew, without a doubt, what I needed most and immediately. It was to feel God’s presence, to trust that He loved me to know that He would protect me no matter what happens. He would help me to endure my pain and my heartbreak. Initially, I didn’t ask God that I be cured of the cancer growing. I prayed for the healing of my spirit.
I feel so very grateful for all the many blessings I have received since learning of my cancer. Many blessings — that have always been there for me, but I have not always recognized or acknowledged them. But “now I see”. Yes, now “I see” and can feel all the love and caring that has been expressed through others sacrificing their time and energy to help me, their prayers, phone calls and e-mails, cards, letters, and wonderful, kind words. It helped me so much to endure and to bear this situation. Cancer (or any serious health problem) can be very lonely. I didn’t feel lonely very often. God and His angels were up close and personal. Mindful of His Presence in all of His creation, especially in all the people He sent to comfort me (surely these are angels), my family, friends, clinic and hospital staff. Even with total strangers, I could “see” Christ working through them all.
Imaging, to picture something in one’s mind, was a tool I used often for comfort and solace, especially during unpleasant medical events.
Let me explain:
I am lying on my stomach on a hospital bed about to undergo bone marrow biopsy. I’ve been told this is a very painful procedure. While waiting for the biopsy technician to arrive, I am trying to decrease my anxiety without much success.
Until . . .
I close my eyes and imagine Jesus in the room with me. He comes over to the bed and smiles at me. He puts His hand on my shoulder. The technician comes into the room and begins the procedure. Jesus stays with me throughout this whole time, dispelling my fear of pain during the entire procedure. What a gift! I’ve been tuned into His Loving Healing Presence. Wow!
As I journeyed with this cancer diagnosis, I asked Him to help me “befriend” dying and death. I wish to gracefully surrender to His will. Even though I want so very much to continue my life here on earth.
I’ll miss my loved ones.
There is so much I still want to do.
My legacy seems unfinished.
I know what Jesus has promised for my eternal life. Then, why am I still so fearful of dying? I don’t know what it will be like. Will it be a long, horribly painful time before death? I do hope my dying will be a dignified one.
On the other hand, I view death as great peace and joy as I go into the loving arms of our Lord and Savior for all eternity. So, do I pray to live or do I pray to die?
One way to look at this conflict is thinking that I win either way. This gives me comfort and I trust that God will always choose what is right and good and true.
I also believe that there is a purpose for God to allow this cancer to grow in me. I may never know what that purpose may be; however, I want to be forever watchful of His will for me and to discern what path He wants me to follow. Meanwhile, I pray to always be a light for others. I feel my compassion for others has taken a huge leap forward.
When I am in pain for the effects of chemo or its complications, I find it helps to sort out my thoughts by closing my eyes and concentrating on Jesus’ suffering, dying, and death. It has helped me to somehow attempt to share in His suffering by trying to imagine what His pain must have been like. I mentally go into my own pain to really look at it and feel it, both mentally and physically, and at the same time to feel the full extent of my anguish. What happens next is a wonderful sense of His Presence close by and I believe He is pleased. And I, once again, feel His peace and am blessed with comfort, both mentally and physically.
Another imaging of mine is one of the very human Jesus at Gethsemane (Matthew 26:36-42) pleading to our Father to “take this cup from me,” and then envisioning Jesus as He surrenders His will to the Father. As a result of this focus and concentration on Jesus’ suffering and comparing it to my suffering and all of humankind’s suffering, I then become very aware of the deadening of my pain, the loosening of the anxiety and fear. God is very present, very near to me, giving me deep comfort. I know without a doubt how much He loves me as He loves all His people, and everything that He created.
As I write this account of my journey, I have at present completed treatment with chemotherapy. The chemo sessions were postponed twice because of hospitalizations due to persistent complications. When chemo was completed, I was hospitalized three more times for hospital-borne infections. My body continues to heal. Tomorrow, I am scheduled for my three-month post-chemo CT scan to determine if the cancer is gone. I turn to my God and once again pray for my life, hoping for a complete recovery. Simultaneously, whatever God has in store for me, in His grand plan in the scheme of His universe, I pray for strength and endurance and to accept this with my whole heart as well.
Thank you, Theresa, for sharing your story!
All the best,
About Julie Saffrin
Julie Saffrin is the author of numerous published articles and essays. Her latest book, BlessBack: Thank Those Who Shaped Your Life, explores the power of gratitude and offers 120 creative ways to journey toward positive, lasting change.