By Kathy Bruins
“You have cancer,” my doctor told me on September 11, 2009. My “911” event began. Just like on September 11, 2001 and the sorrow I felt for our country, darkness surrounded me on this September 11 also and I couldn’t see clearly. I felt the ugliness inside of being diseased. Like many circumstances in life, it wasn’t until I looked back that I discovered there also had been beauty in the journey.
What Will Happen?
My diagnosis was stage 2 breast cancer. I didn’t expect this, for no one in my family has had breast cancer. Feeling fine, I wondered how this could be.
“God, what are you doing?”
I believe God is always there and has a plan for me—whatever that may look like. I did want to know now what was plotted for my future. Would I become ugly? Was I going to die? Would I have a breast removed or have chemo? All of these fears came flooding in. I felt numb by the reality and unsure of what to do. So many questions came to mind. Who should I call? Do I need to make the rounds of phone calls like is done with a funeral? I hated telling people bad news.
Fortunately God had it timed that my husband, John, and I planned on leaving for a weekend away the day following the diagnosis. Getting away was the perfect solution for us, as John was also dealing with the emotional weight cancer brings. There was beauty in our time together—it was meaningful, but we knew that when we returned, we would face the beast and begin informing others of the dark news.
How Will I Tell People?
God called his servants to support me in prayer before the news was out. I received a few phone calls and cards all basically saying that God had put me on their hearts and although they didn’t know what was happening, they were praying for me. It was amazing to learn how much God cared about me, and I glowed with that truth.
Being a leader at my church during this time made me wonder how I was going to handle my responsibilities. Also I didn’t want people’s pity or giving me long faces when they saw me. But I knew they would notice a difference once I began the chemo and radiation planned after surgery. The minister announced my illness during prayer time. The responses were very gracious for the most part, along with stories of others’ experiences. But there were also the long faces.
In preparing me more for this stormy journey, God shined a light on my path. A newsletter I was creating had the theme of Praying Through the Difficult Times in Life. I also led a Bible study on Max Lucado’s book Fearless. There was a nudge to model these lessons. These were opportunities to equip me for the upcoming treatment. These exquisite examples of God’s love showed me the control he had over this disease and me.
Feeling scared one day, God showed me in his Word a verse I now carry daily in my heart. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). In many ways God made this vibrant verse come alive in me.
How Will It Feel?
Lumpectomy surgery and lymph node biopsy were scheduled for October 6. The biopsy would show if cancer cells had spread. This was done by injecting dye in the area earlier that day. That sounded fine until I came to the hospital and the nurse apologized that I had to have the dye injected. She said I could scream if I wanted to. At that point, I did want to scream and run. Then the doctor came in to inject the dye and also apologized regarding the pain of the injection. With nowhere to run, I turned it over to the Lord and with heart pumping wildly, I got on the table for what I expected to be a very painful event.
The nurse took my hand, and the doctor started injecting the dye. What I feared to be torture turned into a field of lilies. I did not feel any of the injection at all. The doctor kept asking me if I was doing OK. I said that I was doing fine. He actually thought I was just being brave. (My dentist could have told him otherwise!)
I went back to the hospital later in the day for the surgery. My minister was unable to pray with me, but God took care of that too. My very good friend Lynne was nudged by the Holy Spirit that morning to be at the hospital early instead of coming later in the day as she planned. Her prayers encouraged and calmed me and the family like a balm.
After the surgery, the doctor gathered with my family and said he believed he got all the cancer out, which was a larger tumor than expected. The lymph nodes were clear. Hallelujah!
On December 7 I had surgery to put in a port for the chemo, and December 9 was my first chemo treatment. I was told my hair would fall out about 14 days after the first treatment. My husband set up a barber shop in his bathroom. My outer look changed, but God’s beauty could still be seen in my smile.
The tiredness from chemo was hard—even harder than the hair loss. I normally have a busy life, and things changed a lot with treatment. But again God had a plan. I was attending a conference on ministry leadership and ran late getting there. I quickly sat at an open chair in the back. During discussion time, I met a gentleman at my table. He was an editor at a local publishing company looking for writers for an adult curriculum. I was a writer looking for Christian writing jobs. Perfect fit. That became my project during chemo and radiation—I sat and studied God’s Word and wrote about it. The editor was in no hurry for the manuscript, so I could take my time. This project helped me feel useful for God’s kingdom.
Chemo finished and radiation began. I am someone who can spend 10 minutes in the sun and get burned. Yet through all 33 radiation treatments, I hardly received any change on my skin. The radiation oncologist was amazed. He asked me why I thought this happened, and I had an opportunity to tell him about my great God.
Cancer isn’t the end. In some circumstances, it’s a new beginning. I had an opportunity to experientially learn about God’s love and grow in my trust of him. The Lord turned situations that could have been dark and ugly into beauty because of his presence. Even if the cancer took my life, the time I spent learning more about God and seeing his great grace and beauty flowing over me was priceless.
Kathy Bruins is an author, speaker, and dramatist who lives with her husband, John, and yellow lab, Charlie, in Southwest Michigan.