After last week’s plea for a little inspiration, one of my cousins emailed, asking me how having breast cancer had affected my faith. Whether I felt like my faith was stronger, or if I had grown angry with God and turned my back on Him. I have to admit I have felt a little disappointed that I didn’t feel like my faith really grew all that much. I prayed, but not with the fervor that so many talk about when faced with such a potentially serious illness. So when I got that email last week, I was reminded of my disappointment. I figured I’d think on it and decide how– or if– I’d address the question.
On Sundays, my friend, Lucy, and I teach a group of high school girls, and last week’s lesson was on faith. Only, it wasn’t on our faith, it was on God’s faithfulness. As Lucy went through the lesson and we all discussed, I realized something. Cancer didn’t necessarily teach me anything about my own faith, but it taught me something about God’s faithfulness. He is faithful to us even when we are not, even when we can’t see what He is doing. I won’t be so dramatic to say that everything that happened in my life before the cancer diagnosis was preparing me for that moment. Yet, I can see so many ways that God made sure that I was ready when I heard those words.
Of course, there is the whole graduate school thing. When I applied to graduate schools, I really thought I would be in an immunology program. Only I didn’t get into the immunology program at Hopkins (my first choice) and the program at Georgetown (focusing on oncology, where immunology was only a component of other courses) was so much more attractive than the program that had accepted me at Maryland. And so, I ended up knowing so much more about breast cancer than the average patient.
Then there’s that lump. That first lump that I found shortly after starting at Georgetown years ago taught me so much about how doctors deal with a young woman who feels a lump in her breast. Mostly, it taught me that a breast surgeon would be the only one who could definitively address my concerns, so that might as well be my first call.
I didn’t start running until a couple of years ago. Before then, I’m embarrassed to say that I was pretty much a couch potato. My oncologist stressed that during treatment, and especially now that treatment is complete, physical activity is so important. But I’m betting that during chemo isn’t the optimal time to take up running. I was so thankful that running was already a part of my routine, so that even though I ran less during chemo and have had a hard time getting back to full force post-surgery, it still seems natural and like something that I want to do.
Oh, and the friends that God has put in my life. Of course, Sally has been, as Clay’s mom says, “the best friend you could ever ask for.” I’m thankful for all those at our church who prayed for me and drove, frequently more than an hour round trip, to deliver meals to my family. Really, though, one kind of expects at least some of that support from a church. But I was also so blessed by my neighbors, the way they rallied to bring us food, watch the kiddos, and chat with me about whatever I needed to chat about. When we moved into this house years ago, I had no idea how very important the location would be. I was even grateful the ill-fated camping trip we took with our neighbors just a few weeks before my diagnosis when we lost Turner in the dark campground for at least ten minutes! It gave our family, and especially Clay, who doesn’t spend as much time at the bus stop, such a great opportunity to get to know these families better.
So many more things I could add… The fact that my tumor for some reason spawned a cyst that allowed it to be palpable years before I’d have a mammogram… The friend of my daughter whose mom introduced me to another woman whose friendship has been so important to me this past year… The scarf that happened to be in a swag bag and became my go-to head covering… The fact that I didn’t get around to finding a job to start as soon as Turner headed to kindergarten… The fact that I’d followed Ashley all through her cancer journey and knew how I’d want to deal with my own hair loss… Our house, with all those fabulous neighbors, happened to be just a mile from a top-notch breast cancer center… The first time I’d heard from my graduate school mentor in nine years was just after my surgery and she was able to help my get involved with the patient advocacy group at Lombardi…
I quickly realized that God knew what my body would have to go through, and I prayed simply that He would make my body strong. But not until this week did I realize that perhaps it’s not all about me. Maybe I didn’t need for cancer to teach me anything about me and my faith. Maybe I needed cancer to teach me some more about God and His faithfulness. Not only did He know what my body would need to go through, He knew everything I and my family would have to go through, and He was faithfully making us ready all along.