What cancer can do is limited.
What God can do is not.
My battle with cancer has always been about looking forward. However, as today marks one year since I went under the knife to have a brain tumor removed, I find myself reflecting upon my journey so far. My path through this valley has been aided, my hand held by many incredible women who walked parallel to me in their own lives. Looking at how far I’ve come, I see it fit that I begin to offer my advice to those fighting their own battles behind me. A wonderful woman I know once said “Advice is just that: advice – a person’s opinion. Take it or leave it, but know you are free to do as God calls you regardless.” And so the Girl’s Guide to Cancer began to take shape. The first installation, that is; the battle, the people, and the beauty.
And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst.
No matter the situation: stage, grade, location of the cancer, your age or ability to financially handle medical bills, hearing the words “you have cancer” will shake you. Your diagnosis means a long journey of hills, valleys, and trials to come. Every person’s reaction to their diagnosis is their own, though I encourage you to ask God to show you His plan in this. If you struggle with this, I highly recommend either finding a devotional written specifically for cancer patients, or reading God Will Carry You Through. Growing distant from God will only increase the pain you feel, whether its physical or emotional. Instead, know “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge.” This verse was the first that came to mind in a still, sterile hospital room one year ago. And with it came the comfort in knowing “all the days ordained for me were written in [His] book before one of them came to be.” Learning that God is greater than this and finding joy in the journey ahead is essential to your health. You must learn that this is the path God planned for you when He created you, and only He can give it purpose. Remember the life of Paul, a devoted servant of Christ, was often spent praising through hardship. Isaiah chapter 40 is another piece of scripture I hold very dearly, and called on consistently during my hospital stay. God does not tell us there won’t be deep waters to tread, or fire to walk through, but rather that He will be at our side, that we won’t drown or be burned. This is why you need God to fight cancer. God will give us more than we can handle so that we learn to lay it at His feet, repeatedly. I had to learn to cast my fear on Him with every hourly neurological test in the hospital after brain surgery. I had to learn to do so before each monthly oncologist appointment and bi-monthly MRI. I will have to learn to do so during my yearly checks until I reach remission. Cancer is a long battle, and God is our greatest protector, but we must remember to let Him fight for us and be still. Let Him work in you, and you will then be raised up as a member of an army of Godly women, stronger warriors than before. Some of us have less hair, some less physical strength, but you are never alone. This journey will be heartbreaking: it will be difficult and painful and frustrating, but remember the words of C.S. Lewis. “Hardships prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.”
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
1 Corinthians 12:27
The people around you are a gift from God. Don’t take that for granted. When I was diagnosed, my family focused on each other and God, which meant between lengthy insurance calls and office visits that involved driving to Dallas, dinner was an afterthought. Fortunately, we were blessed with friends who brought us cooked dinners, ready to eat when we returned home after a day of tests. Cancer highlights the value of the closest friends God has blessed us with. Aside from being an inner circle we knew we could share private worries about tests and appointments with, they organized meal drop-off, hosted prayer groups, and drove me to treatment on the rare occasions my parents couldn’t. Your family in Christ will not only lift you up in prayer and support you in your fight, they will remind you to turn to Him in incredible ways. I was given chemo care kits, chocolate chip muffins (talk about “eat[ing] your food with gladness”), along with incredible devotionals. For those wondering, Streams in the Desert and Embraced are two of my favorite reminders of God’s love. These devotionals were given to me by two incredible women because I shared with them not just my physical ailments, but my spiritual worries. Communication with those close to you means they can lift you up to God when you can’t do it yourself anymore, and allows them to intercede between you and the world. Hair loss is common during cancer, and, in the words of one of my incredible P.A.’s, “takes away the choice” of who you tell. Well-wishes and promises of prayers are still appreciated to this day, though after enough phone calls and conversations are interrupted to be reminded you have cancer by someone you don’t know from Adam, having a close friend to politely send said stranger along their way is a blessing. Be warned, having cancer often leaves total strangers feeling entitled to know private, personal details about your life and health. It’s hard not to comply with answering such questions and requests, as they are often posed out of misguided compassion. They are not, however, entitled, and you needn’t comply. There is no harm in politely telling someone who is performing a medical inquisition on you that you appreciate their kindness, but need to be on your way. Any time you feel overwhelmed with attention, remember how many complete strangers have prayed for you. Matthew 18:15 reminds us “Do not forget to show kindness to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it.” Just as you are a blessing to others, let others be to you!
You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way.
Song of Solomon 2:4
Here’s the rub, y’all. The part where I get real and all pretenses about bravely and beautifully fighting cancer are erased. Cancer is ugly. Don’t wash your hair for a week after brain surgery, lose all your hair, too tired to shower, turn moon-faced and baggy-eyed from steroids ugly. Yet you aren’t. I’ll be completely honest, you probably will think so. I just finished a month on steroids and headed straight to Hawaii. Male-pattern-baldness hair, troublesome skin, and fifteen pounds of water weight in tow. I didn’t want to wear shorts, let alone a swimsuit. Yet after taking in God’s awesome majesty, and countless reassurances from my parents, I felt beautiful. Whether I rocked the beach is a matter of opinion, but I am beautiful, all the same. Peter tells us “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” It is incredibly tough to feel beautiful when you barely have the energy to pick out your outfit, but turning inward to find worth, as well as surrounding yourself with a crowd of believers who affirm that voice within you that continues to know the truth, is what you need most now. In the words of the same brilliant woman who told us how to take advice above, “Don’t waste your cancer.” Not only will considering this some misfortune or punishment you are enduring embitter you towards God, it will rob you of any chance at following the path He has made for you. Use this as a chance to deepen your faith every time you worry, center yourself on God every time you lose hope, and ask your family of believers to hold you up when you are feeling weak. Fill yourself with the spirit and others will find an unspeakable beauty within you, whether you see it or not. “But who can feel ugly, when their heart feels joy?” -C.S. Lewis
You were assigned this mountain to show it can be moved. But remember, you are not moving it alone. There is an entire family of believers waiting to guide you through and help you each step of the way, to lead you to the rock when you fall short. One day you will be there. Until then, I am. Tap the “comment” or “contact” button and I will help you as best I can, even if all I can do is pray, or attempt to connect you with someone who can.
“Today rest in knowing the same God who holds the universe together is holding you, and He will not let you go”
In the spirit of the upcoming holiday season, The Cheerful Heart is raising money to support St. Jude in their fight to heal every child with cancer and find a cure, so one day no one ever has to hear the words “you have cancer.” If you would like to donate to St. Jude, click this paragraph. Please leave a comment below with how much or who you donated for so I can keep a tally!