Now that it's been more than three years since my diagnosis, and I'm more than halfway to that five-year "cancer free" prognosis, I can look back and see how God worked in my life during those first dark days and the months of treatment. I want to share this to encourage women - -or their friends and family members -- who may be early in this process, when it's often the hardest to have perspective.
Some of the facts I've learned about breast cancer also bring encouragement. While the American Cancer Society reports that the chance of developing invasive breast cancer at some time in a woman's life is around one in eight (12 percent), the good news is, it's no longer labeled a terminal disease. Thanks to improvements in treatment and early detection, millions of women are surviving breast cancer today.
Millions of women have gone through it, and they have survived. In every community across America, there are breast cancer support groups and there is help, information, and plenty of hope to go around. It helps so much to arm oneself with information for this battle, and to surround oneself with "soldiers-in-arms," because a battle it is!
I will never forget the night before I took my first round of chemotherapy, I made the mistake of reading all the side effects that were going to happen. When the nurse drove the needle into my chest port, just looking at that full bag of toxic, poisonous drugs hanging on the IV stand, I was absolutely overwhelmed. I remember thinking, "Lord, I'm already a quadriplegic and I deal with pain. I feel like you've abandoned me here." Yet, as I watched the IV with its steady drip of poison seeping into my veins, the Bible had an answer for me. From Hebrews chapter 13: "God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'" I can't begin to tell you how much that verse helped me on that first day in the chemo clinic.
With that first day in chemo, I began the prayerful habit of looking to God's Word for emotional balance, and by saying out to the Lord: "Thank you that I'm not alone. You are here, bearing my burdens and caring for my needs. You have not abandoned or forgotten me. You give me strength for this challenge." Just rehearsing those truths was so powerful -- even sitting slump-shouldered in a big chemo chair. So take heart, the Lord of the Universe is in the good fight with you.
I also discovered that when I employ God's Word in my prayers, His peace keeps me from emotionally throwing in the towel. When feeling near to the point of emotional defeat, I was encouraged again by the book of Hebrews, this time in chapter 10 where it says to anyone who is fainthearted, "So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." And, oh, what he has promised - our sufferings in this world aren't even worth comparing with the glories that lay right around the corner on heaven's horizon. So today don't throw away your confidence; you will be richly rewarded!
I also found it helped to have a courageous friend to look to for an example. I remember after I had my mastectomy for my breast cancer, my doctor implanted a catheter port in my chest wall -- my quadriplegic veins are pretty thin, and this little port is like a small checker underneath my skin into which they can stick a needle to either draw blood or give chemotherapy.
But a port needle is a big needle! I remember the first time I had to take chemotherapy, it really hurt when they stuck it in. I looked around at some of the other people hooked up to their IV's and wondered if it hurt them as much as it did me. When I went in for my second round of chemotherapy, I cowered when they approached me with that big needle. But then I watched the nurse stick the woman next to me: I couldn't believe it; she didn't drawback or flinch or anything! It didn't seem to bother her at all.
I remember thinking, "if she can handle it with grace, I sure ought to be able to." That woman inspired me, and so I asked the nurse, "Is there something I can do like her to make this less painful?" to which she replied, "Just take a deep breath right before I stick you; then let it out quickly when I plunge the needle in." And you know what? It worked! I didn't feel anywhere near the pain I did before. And now, many months later, as well as many port flushes later, I'm like that woman I first saw in the chemo clinic -- I don't flinch or anything. I found her courage.
I once heard someone say that human beings naturally lean toward cowardice and fear - you hang around someone who's afraid, and it will breed fear. Spend time with someone who is cowardly and you begin to feel timid and cowardly too. But if you spend time with someone who is brave and courageous, guess what: Their courage will breed courage in you. And God knows this. It's why he says in Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." God knows that when we are brave, we influence others to be brave. So we've got a command, God commands us to be courageous; be strong; be brave.
And we need to especially be courageous when others are observing the way we face our trials, whether they be cancer, family crises, job loss or whatever. You never know who you can inspire with the hope and courage that you show as you take on your battle and endure. And I hope my words today have done just that for you.