As I grasped the handlebars of my motorcycle, roaring down the highway at 45 mph, I thought, “This is it! I did it! I beat cancer!” It was my first time riding my little Suzuki in over a year. It took two days to charge its battery and work out the kinks before it would start up. Now I was riding and feeling free as a bird. I still understood my condition. Remission is not always long-term, but at that moment, my worries over cancer were tossed to the shoulder of the road, like a piece of debris bouncing off into the distance. I felt victorious. A year earlier, I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I had just donned my fighting gloves, tentatively entered the ring, about to start one of the hardest battles of my life. Here is my story.
The Faith Talk
My pastor asked me to share with my church family what God has been doing in my life. He called it a faith talk. So, I wrote the following and shared during the Sunday service.
My story goes hand in hand with the story of my friend Amy Arnold. We met when I was 4 and she was 5, lived next door to each other, and grew up together. We were more like sisters, played like sisters, fought like sisters. We would find out whose mom was making the better dinner and then eat at that house. We communicated at night with flashlights out the window. She taught me how to drive, and found my first job as a waitress with her aunt. About 15 years ago Amy and her mom moved to California.
Last May I received a phone call from one of our mutual friends that Amy had been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer. Amy was in a lot of pain, tired, and unable to make phone calls to let her friends know about it. The cancer had spread significantly through her pancreas and liver. The doctors were saying it was untreatable, and it sounded like she didn’t have much time left. Of course this was a shock to me. After hearing the news I couldn’t sleep at night. I would wake up and pray. I knew God wanted me to do something. I told my husband, David, I felt that God wanted me to go to California and help with Amy’s care. He was very supportive, also praying, and agreed this is what God wanted. I am an LPN experienced in providing end-of-life care. It was not something I wanted to do for a close friend, but after a lot of conversations with God I sensed He was leading in that direction. I called Amy, we had already spoken a few times on the phone, but this time I asked if she would like me to come out and help with her care. She said, “I know I shouldn’t ask you to do this, but I really do want you to come.”
So I headed to California on June 15. This is where it starts to get interesting. When I first got there Amy was in rough shape. She had lost a lot of weight, was in great pain, and medications made her lethargic. She was already receiving chemotherapy treatments.
Amy told me that she had accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior when she was a child, but in her own words she had “put her faith on the back burner.” Once I arrived, she wanted to start reading the Bible together. She was very tired, so I read to her when she felt up to it, and she would listen. We began with the gospel of John. In the meantime, we continued going to doctor appointments, chemotherapy, for several blood transfusions, and she started to receive nutrition through her access port because she wasn’t able to eat enough to maintain her weight. Gradually she started to have a turnaround. The tumors were shrinking significantly, her blood tests showed the cancer levels were decreasing, and her energy started to return. She began gaining weight and the pain was almost gone. We kept reading the Bible. Amy had lots of questions and was like a sponge, eager to learn all she could about God. Once she was feeling better we started going to church with her mom. By the end of August, she was doing so well she was literally running circles around me. Her tumors had shrunk over 50%, and she rarely had pain. She was able to drive again, and was almost back to normal. The doctor said she was in “partial remission” and I knew it was time for me to go home.
I returned the last week of August. A few days later I called my doctor. I had been noticing something wasn’t right, was feeling tired, and felt like there was something wrong in my abdomen. He wanted to see me that day. After the examination the doctor left the room right away. I knew that wasn’t a good sign. Then he returned and said he wanted to schedule a CT scan as soon as possible. I had the scan the next morning and found out I had a very large tumor in my abdomen. Over the next few months I had surgery, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of endometrial cancer (stage 3), and started an eight month program of chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
During this time I felt that God was teaching Amy and me two lessons, over and over. The first was this: trust God. Trust God in all circumstances. Trust Him when the diagnosis is bad; trust Him when the diagnosis is good. Trust Him. Turn to Him. Believe in Him. Trust Him.
Amy and I continued to read the Bible together. We read almost every night on the phone. I thought I was doing this for her. She told me she was doing it for me, to encourage me in my faith during my battle with cancer. She was right. Amy’s faith really grew. She went to church regularly and she and her mom hosted a weekly Bible study at their house. When the pastor said in the Sunday sermon she should reach out to her neighbors, she got home and beelined it to her neighbor’s house inviting him to church. When the pastor said to reach out to her friends, she made it a point to talk to friends that week about her faith. When he said to serve she signed up for what she was able to do at the church. A family member told me this was one of the happiest times of Amy’s life.
Meanwhile I was at home, sleeping most of the time. Grumpy part of the time. The Bible reading with Amy became the highlight of my day. We read through the New Testament (except for Revelation). We were starting the Old Testament, and then in May, she took a turn for the worse. I was completing my treatment, and the week I was pronounced cancer free, Amy was told her cancer had grown and spread extensively. Amy continued to fight the good fight, but went home to be with God on June 19.
This leads me to the second lesson God was teaching Amy and me: “Life does not end with a period, but a comma.”* This is a quote from a devotional book I was reading last summer. God kept teaching us this concept over and over. Life is eternal. The amount of time that we spend on this earth is just a drop in the bucket compared to eternity. The majority of our existence will be spent in heaven with God. God is preparing us a place, an eternal home. The earthly things we cling to here, thinking they are so important, won’t compare to what He has in store for us there. It is something that I never wanted to think about before. The afterlife seemed so unknown and a little frightening, but that life is more real than our life here. It is hard to understand, but I am getting it little by little and it is comforting. God is in control, He is a loving God. He wants us to trust Him through all things, and we have a hope in His eternal future for us. I am going to see Amy again; I have no doubt about that. And I am so thankful that God gave us our time together this past year and for letting me be a part of His plan.
* Martin Luther King, JR. beautifully said, “Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.” Eulogy for the Martyred Children, September 18, 1963.