No woman in her 20’s expects to hear the words you have breast cancer. I know I didn’t. I was young and in good health. I had just given birth to my third daughter. I loved my life and I was sure it just couldn’t get any better. Then came the diagnosis that would turn my world upside down and challenge me in ways I never could have imagined. Given the choice of course I would not have chosen to have breast cancer but now that I have been down that road I would do it again in a heartbeat. You see cancer changed my life in the most amazing ways. I learned many lessons from my battle with cancer.
The first lesson I learned is that God loves me and choose me for this purpose. In the book of John we are told that "You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit-fruit that will last-and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you" (John 15:16). From the day I heard those words “you have cancer” I knew that it wasn’t all about me. God was getting ready to do great things in my life and the life of my family if we would just surrender and trust him. I’m not saying we never shed a tear, I’m not saying we didn’t wonder how would get through the journey and I’m not saying it was easy. We prayed from the beginning that we would be able to “draw close to him” and trust him. We learned to take everything day by day and moment by moment and to “lean not on our own understanding but in all our ways to acknowledge him” (Proverbs 3:5) and let me tell you he made what would have otherwise been a bumpy crooked road straight.
The second lesson was about learning to be joyful and to share that joy with those around me. Don’t get me wrong I was happy with the way my life was. I was in love with my husband of 10 years and raising three wonderful children. I was happy. I wasn’t always joyful though. You see you can be happy and smile and enjoy your life but to find and experience Joy is something altogether different. Joy comes from such a deep part of your soul and joy is what makes you triumph through such dark and hard times. Growing up I had a youth minister who had a passion for the book of James. I had no idea when I was younger that his passion for such a small book in the bible would become one of my greatest comforts while fighting cancer. In the very first chapter of James it says to “Consider it pure joy, my bothers (and sisters), whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be made mature and complete, not lacking anything”. Now I know I’m still lacking and I’m not sure I will every truly be mature but I can tell you that even in the face of trials there is Joy! With each round of chemo I struggled to keep up with work, to play with and enjoy my children, to teach bible study, to keep up on everything it means to be a wife, and mother, and friend and sometimes I even struggled to get out of bed. Sometimes I didn’t make it out of bed and that’s ok because it was in my weakest moments, during my hardest and sickest days that I discovered who I was and who God wanted me to be. It was during those days that I learned what it meant to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer” (Romans 12:12). I prayed daily that God would show me his will for my life and use me for his purpose and he has, and he does, and I’m confident that he will continue to use me and my Joy to bless those around me.
The last lesson I learned was about compassion. It was about learning to be encouraging and compassionate to others. There is a world of people out there scared and hurting. Everyone faces trials and as Christians we are called to be like God, to be “compassionate and abounding in love” (Psalm 86:15). So many times we take this command of helping others and showing compassion to mean helping only those we go to church with or our friends but God clearly calls us to do more. He says not simply to just help someone here and there but to “cloth ourselves with Compassion” (Colossians 3:12) and I can’t help but believe that he meant for us to become so full of compassion for others that your heart aches to help people. You can’t truly understand what it is to be compassionate until you have been in need of the compassion, love and encouragement of others. This was one of the greatest and most humbling lessons I learned while fighting cancer. To have both friends and strangers taking compassion on me and showing me support in ways I never could have imagined changed me in a way I can’t even begin to describe.
I believe everything happens for a reason. Each trial and each hardship helps mold us into the people that we are meant to be. I pray that you take your trials and hardships and use them to discover that purpose that God created you for. Maybe like me it will take facing your own mortality to find that purpose and then again maybe for you its more simple than that. I pray also that you are able to find joy even in your trials and I pray that you use your experiences to learn what it means to be compassionate.