May 03, 2012

Where is God in the midst of cancer?

I read this tender testimony of a life touched by cancer.  I have not met Teresa but her words echo those of dear friends who have walked, and are walking, this journey.   This is a message of hope; of transformation in midst of painful circumstances.  Teresa has given permission for her story to be told.

In her own words:

My son Zakk wanted me to write my story for his next news letter. I was honored and I thought that I would share it all with you!

What we want in suffering: an explanation from God. What we receive in suffering: a revelation of God.

When I first found out that I had cancer, I thought that I was losing a lot. I was losing my breasts, my hair, my femininity, my health, my vitality, and quite possibly even my life. Little did I know that what I was gaining was going to be far more beautiful and valuable than I could ever imagine. 

I got the phone call that nobody wants to get. The voice on the other end was telling me that I had breast cancer and as I hung up the phone I fell down into a crumbled up mess. How was I going to tell my kids? Was I going to be a financing burden to my husband? Was I going to die? How long did I have to live? Was I going to see weddings and grandchildren? Having cancer was like looking down the barrel of a gun pointed right at my face. I have always been afraid of death since I was a little girl, and now I had to stare at it point blank in the face.

Death. If you want to clear a room out start talking about death. We are all terminal, and we all have to die at some point. The question is, at least for me, was I ready, eternally ready. 

I remember calling my son Zakk in a crying mess telling him that I was scared to die and that I was uncertain of my salvation. There is this bible verse that has always haunted me: “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’

Did I really know God and did He really know me? Along this journey God answered my question in ways that I could never imagine.

What came next was a series of doctor appointments and you are emotionally numb. You are just going through the motions and doing everything that your doctors are telling you to do. A week after that dreadful phone call, I found myself in the hospital getting ready for a double mastectomy and axillary node dissection. I got a minor infection, but all in all it went pretty smoothly as losing your breasts can be. Because of the node dissection under my arm, where they have to cut a major nerve, I lost full range of movement of my right arm and have some numbness down to my elbow. Next up was the chemo. Little did I know that if the cancer wasn't going to kill me the chemo was going to. My first dose was way to toxic for my body to handle and I became very ill. I couldn't keep anything in or down and I became extremely dehydrated...I was so sick that I literally could not walk. I remember thinking that this is what it feels like to die. I also remember thinking that if this is what it was going to be like that I didn't want to do chemo anymore and I knew what that meant. I didn't realize how sick I was and how close I brushed with death until my oncologist told me that my kidneys had started to shut down. I had to spend several days at the cancer center getting on powerful antibiotics and rehydration. Luckily, with encouragement from my family and my very compassionate oncologist who adjusted the chemo cocktail to something that I could better tolerate...I managed to finish up all my chemo treatments. Though it wasn't walk in the park, it was something doable. 

While I was emotionally numb during the mastectomy phase, and I was to sick to care in the chemo phase, it was during the radiation phase that I started to get angry. I was exhausted, and tired of driving to the cancer center everyday for six and half weeks. It got old fast and I gotten tired of this cancer crap. By this time I was tired of being bald, wearing wigs, feeling ugly, and just plane tired of being tired. I felt that if I was going to cross the finish line that I would be crawling over it. I was so angry and while entertaining these thoughts I got angrier, and as I was pulling into the cancer center there was this bald headed girl who obviously was fighting some kind of cancer, who was lifting up some construction barrels over her head and hurling them down the sidewalk. And I thought to myself, "Yes, I get it, I want to join you in your barrel throwing party, this path is so long and frustrating." I wanted to give her a hug, but by the time I have found a parking space she had moved on. But, it was a great reminder for me that there were other women that were fighting this disease, going through what I was going through, feeling what I was feeling, and that I wasn't the only one suffering.

So, what kind of conclusion did I come to? Did I know God, and did He know me. At one point when I was really suffering from stomach cramps, I whispered to the Lord that I still loved Him, and it was in that moment that I felt an intimacy and closeness with God that I have never experienced before. Indeed I knew God, and I was bound and determined that no matter what was taken from me, no matter how much I suffered, whether I felt like it or not that I was still going to choose to love God. I was not going to stop loving Him nor was I going to stop praising Him whether the feelings were there or not. Here I learned that my faith wasn't to be based on feelings but on Gods promises.We don’t live on explanations, we live on promises, and the promises of God are based on the character of God..who is good all the time. 

Did God know me? Looking back I can now see the hand of God working throughout this journey. He had provided and placed people strategically along this path. On my first day of chemo and I was a nervous wreck he placed a woman who sat right across from me that was finishing up her chemo. She talked and looked just like Paula Dean. She was so funny, and calming and talked me down off the ledge. She encouraged me. Then on my last chemo treatment the nurse comes up to me and whispers in my ear, sit in the middle row, today is a day of hope. So I sit in the chair that I first started out in, and across from where "Paula Dean" was sitting was a lady who was starting her first day of treatment!!! What was given to me, I was able to give to her--encouragement. And after my first treatment, when I brushed with death, I knew that I was going to need somebody that had walked this path before me and that I could talk to. Perhaps they had a cancer support group as our church. So, I called our church pastoral care staff and on the other end was the kindest, gentlest voice ever. Low and behold she herself had been through breast cancer five years prior and even had the same oncologist that I did. This was truly a God thing and I could go on and on with examples, but indeed God knew me and knew what I needed and never failed to provide for me every step of the way; whether it be strength, encouragement, friendship, a shoulder, presence, or love. 

Yes, I lost a lot. But what I gained was so much more. I gained an intimacy and revelation of God that I never could of imagined. I gained deep friendships. I no longer fear death because I am secure about my salvation. I love Jesus more than I ever have. My family has always been close, but we grew even deeper together. I have a second chance at life and now know what is important. Love God. Love others. I would gladly give up what I have lost, to have what I have gained. I have learned that when God takes something away, that you can be sure that He is going to replace it with something much better-beyond your wildest dreams.

You will never hear me use the word "cured" because breast cancer is a beast that likes to come back more than any other cancer. But I am dancing with NED! (No evidence of disease!) and I hope and pray that the music plays for a very long time.

"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."

Thank you Teresa for sharing!


Kristin said...

What a strong testimony. It gave me great comfort. I especially found strength in this "We don’t live on explanations, we live on promises, and the promises of God are based on the character of God..who is good all the time."
God bless you, and God bless Teresa!

Maria Egilsson said...

Kristin, thank you for commenting. I was touched as I read Teresa's words and so glad that she allowed me to share her message of hope and courage during a difficult journey. Blessings to you Kristin and I so appreciate you taking the time to read and to comment.

ladibugcrazi said...

thank you for sharing this was difficult to read without tears filling up my is truly an inspiring story....and although my cancer experience is a little different in ways of where and what type,...I could relate with her and knew the feelings she spoke about in her story. It's like your dreaming what's happening to you and going through the motions in slow motion sometimes. This really struck home for me and I'm grateful for being able to read it and learn from it also. love and peace, gail