My story goes hand in hand with that of my friend Amy Arnold. We met when I was four and she was five, lived next door to each other, and grew up together. We were more like sisters, played like sisters ... fought like sisters. At dinner time, we’d find out whose mom was making the better meal and then eat at that house. We communicated at night with flashlights out our windows. She taught me how to drive, and found my first waitressing job. Several years after we graduated from high-school, Amy and her mom moved to California.
In May of 2012 I received a phone call from a mutual friend that Amy had been diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. Amy was in 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 said 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 it was hard to sleep at night and I frequently woke up to pray. It seemed like God wanted me to do something. Finally I told my husband, David, that I felt like God wanted me to go to California and help with Amy’s care. He was very supportive, also praying, and agreed that this was where God was leading.
I am a nurse experienced in providing end-of-life care. It was not something I wanted to do for a close friend, but after sensing God was leading in that direction, I called Amy and asked if she would like me to help with her care. She said, “I know I shouldn’t ask you to do this, but I really do want you to be here.”
I headed to California in mid-June. When I arrived, Amy was in rough shape. She had lost weight, was in severe pain, and her medications made her lethargic. She was already receiving chemotherapy treatments.
Amy 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, and for several blood transfusions. She received nutrition through her access port because she wasn’t able to eat enough to maintain her weight. Gradually her health began to turn around. The tumors shrank significantly, blood tests showed the cancer levels were decreasing, and her energy started to return. She gained 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 fifty percent, 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 home to New York 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 observed swelling 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. After the scan the next morning, I found out there was 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 three), 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 over the phone. I thought I was doing this for her. She told me she was doing it for me, to encourage my faith during my battle with cancer. She was right.
Amy’s faith really grew. She went to church and hosted a weekly Bible study at her house. When the pastor said in the Sunday sermon she should reach out to her neighbors, she got home and bee-lined 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 and grumpy part of the time. Bible reading with Amy became the highlight of my day. Then in May, Amy took a turn for the worse. I was completing my treatments, 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 the Lord on June 19, 2013.
This leads to the second lesson God was teaching Amy and me: “Life does not end with a period, but a comma.”* I read this quote in a devotional book, and 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 a 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 didn’t want to think about before. The afterlife seemed so unknown and 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. 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 one last year together, 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.
Sara’s story is an excerpt from her book, The Bald-Headed, Tattooed, Motorcycle Mama’s Devotional Guide for Women Battling Cancer & Those Who Love Them, Copyright 2013 by Sara Nelson O’Brien.
All photos courtesy of pixabay.com.