I’d like to take a moment to tell you a story about a fellow cancer patient named Rachel. We met while receiving our chemotherapy at Tripler Army Hospital in Hawaii. Our encounter was brief but it was one of the most unforgettable moments of my life. Sitting there chatting about our situations and our cancer prognosis I came to learn that God constantly reminds me how blessed I am even in the midst of what I believe to be a curse.
Just moments before I sat down in a chair beside Rachel, I had been in my doctor’s office receiving what I believed to be fairly dreadful news. All along the hope had been that my chemo would shrink my tumor thus allowing me to have a lumpectomy rather than a mastectomy. The previous appointments had given both myself and my doctor hope that it was working as the tumor appeared to have gotten considerably smaller.
However, weeks before I had submitted some blood work to be tested in the genetics department. It would tell me if I had one of the BRCA gene’s known to signal an increased risk for certain types of cancer. Among those would be breast cancer and ovarian cancer and it was called the BRCA1 mutated gene. You may recall that Angelina Jolie, one of Hollywood’s leading ladies, suffered from the same mutated gene and opted to have a double mastectomy and surgery to remove her fallopian tubes. Her decision was prompted in part, by the death of her mother who died from breast and ovarian cancer.
The results were back and I had the BRCA1 gene. As I sat there hearing that my hopes of a lumpectomy and breast conserving surgery were gone forever I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. Suddenly, I was no longer going to be able to save my breast and would be facing not a single mastectomy but a double mastectomy as well as a hysterectomy. In addition, there was concern noted by my oncology ob/gyn, that I may need to have my cervix removed. I was feeling extremely sorry for myself and hardly acknowledge my two aunts sitting in the room with me as the bad news was delivered.
I somberly made my way to the chemo room to start my IV’s and fought back the tears that were welling up inside me. Just once I wanted to have my doctors give me good news and not bad news about my cancer. As I sat in my chair staring at the ceiling, my aunts asked if there was anything they could do for me. I mumbled something about a drink or some chips but really I just wanted a moment to be alone. As they headed off to get me something they thought I needed or at least wanted, I noticed a young girl sitting beside me.
She had the same nearly bald head as I did, a tell-tale sign of the chemo treatments that tends to be unmistakable. I noticed that she had a lot more hair than me and I thought, “She must be nearly finished and cancer free.” Boy was I about to have my preconceived notions smashed. I struck up a conversation by asking what type of cancer she had as I noticed she had already undergone a double mastectomy. I knew it was breast cancer but there are many types.
Rachel told me she had been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer…not unlike my own diagnosis. She had made her discovery while breast feeding her baby girl. Her initial thought was that it was an infected milk duct, common with breast feeding moms. However, as the weeks past and the lump grew larger she noticed her nipple inverting and decided to go see her doctor. In the midst of the cancer discovery, they also discovered Rachel was 21 weeks pregnant.
She opted not to terminate the pregnancy even though it was suggested by doctors. She held off having some of the harsher chemo treatments until after the birth of her healthy baby boy. Then she finished her chemo and was scheduled for a double mastectomy. The surgery had gone well but the radiation and reconstruction surgery was problematic. It was during one of the examinations 6 months after her surgery that doctors made the discovery that Rachel’s breast cancer had returned and spread to her bones and other organs. She was diagnosed as Stage 4 terminal.
As I sat there listening to this 27 year old mother of three young children, all my earlier frustration melted away in compassion for her pain. She was finishing her last treatment at Tripler, and heading to Maryland the next day, to hopefully join a research study to give her a chance. I couldn’t help but notice that she was sitting in that chair alone. I, on the other hand, was surrounded by two of my wonderful aunts who had flown all the way from South Carolina to Hawaii just to be by my side.
At that moment, I realized this was no chance meeting. God had orchestrated this meeting and I wasn’t going to miss its intended mark. I spoke to Rachel about faith and the hope that only exist in a relationship with Christ. She shared with me that she had the same faith and hope and I saw a smile and a glow that told me it was true. How else could a mother of three children under the age of 4, facing such a prognosis alone…find a way to smile at a stranger? In truth, what I soon realized was that this young woman had more faith and hope than I did despite facing a much harsher prognosis.
I whispered a prayer of forgiveness for not trusting that God had my situation under control. I thanked Him for sending my aunts to be with me and to help me at home. I thanked Him for reminding me that there are always others in worse situations than our own and we should never think it’s the end. He is the Alpha and Omega so if I start with Him and finish with Him there really isn’t anything other than a happy ending awaiting.
So now, I’d like to ask that those of you who pray to add Rachel to your prayers even though she will not know we are praying. Our Father in Heaven will know and hear. We may never know what miracles He works in her life because of our prayers…at least not while we are on Earth. Yet I have this confidence, not in the flesh but in the spirit that God will do something amazing.
I’ll close with Philippians 3:7-11:
But whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ-yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.