This post is the transcript of a short speech I delivered this morning at a women’s bible study at our church. The 7-week study started right before my cancer diagnosis and ended the day before my double mastectomy. It played a large part in fueling my peaceful positive attitude over the past few months.
In the first week of September, I returned from a Labor Day weekend trip to San Diego with my family, I turned 45 years old, and I began my second year of a three-year accelerated BSN nursing program. I was working nights as a nursing assistant at a hospital and juggling three kids, a husband and a home. I was also helping a real estate client negotiate the purchase of a home.
I didn’t really have time to start a bible study, and I knew that. But I missed the community of this weekly gathering, and my packed schedule had an opening on Tuesday mornings, so I had signed up for Psalm 23, The Shepherd with Me, led by Yvonne Vail with the book by Jennifer Rothschild. I knew the Psalm well. Green pastures. Still waters. I figured maybe God could show me how to find just a little rest in the midst of my chaotic life. I decided that I would give myself grace and not even try to do the homework, but just show up and be fed. I had no idea just how relevant, timely, and comforting this particular teaching of this beautiful piece of scripture would be to me. I only have a few minutes, not nearly enough time to share all that has happened, but I wanted to share a few tidbits I have gleaned as God weaved these words into my life in recent weeks.
Week One: The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
The second week of September was another busy one. I squeezed in a routine mammogram that Thursday. I had been monitored pretty closely for the past few years due to family history and some issues that had turned out benign in the past. When the radiologist said he saw some new microcalcifications on the mammogram that were a bit concerning, I didn’t feel afraid, but immediately scheduled the biopsy he recommended and started researching on the internet. I thought, “God, I guess breast cancer would be one way to make me lie down and rest. And if that’s what you have for me. Right now. Then Ok, I’ll take it. And I’ll glorify you in it. Because you know very well that there have been other situations in my life where I have utterly and completely failed to glorify you.”
Week Two: He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters.
The biopsy was Wednesday Sept 18, and on Friday September 20th, I got a call from my doctor just before 2 PM. It was a beautiful day, finally a little cool out, so I was at the park with my three-year-old daughter, about to go pick up the older ones from school. You have Ductal Carnicoma in Situ, she said. Cancer. And she rushed into action, helping me schedule appointments and answering my immediate questions. Despite the early stage and non-invasive nature of this cancer, it was still cancer.
Over the next few weeks I waited a lot, met with different doctors, made decisions big and small, then waited some more…
Though the timing of this whole thing could have been better in my opinion, I was so thankful for the technology that allowed them to catch it early and I felt overwhelmingly positive, seeing the silver lining and even looking forward to some much needed rest and a break from my frenetic schedule.
Week three: He restores my soul; He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.
There’s a book I have been working on writing for many years. It’s called Believe: A memoir and a Manifesto. It’s the story of my journey through faith. How I became a Christian, and all the ways God has restored my soul, even when I failed to follow where he led.
With this diagnosis, God has given me a strength, a patience, a sense of calm and peace, that I want to shout out from the rooftops. I will be forced to lie down and rest, and I feel confident that God will restore my soul and lead me in the way He wants me to go.
Week 4: Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
To be honest, this isn’t the hardest valley I have walked through, and I know many of you are facing valleys that are much more heartbreaking than this one. Because of early detection and treatment, it is very unlikely that I will die from breast cancer. I most likely won’t even need chemotherapy or radiation after the surgery. David uses the words walk through because valleys have a beginning and an end. We don’t live there forever.
I decided to withdraw from my classes and take care of my health. I continued to work right up until last week, but I’m on a leave of absence now until the doctors clear me for heavy labor again. I’m at God’s mercy, not entirely sure how He will use this in my life, but knowing that He will use it.
In the valley, I make the Lord my strength. I hold onto my loved ones. And I sing. I look for the e door of hope. And more than that, I seek to become a door of hope to other people. I look for the gift in my grief.
Week 5: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.
God is reminding me once again that he chose me. He protects me, and He calls me His own. What God wants to lavish on me is more than I have the capacity to hold. He wants to fill me with grace and peace and joy so that I overflow with love and hope.
Week 6: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
So tomorrow…the day after this beautiful study concludes…in God’s perfect timing, I will undergo a double mastectomy. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared. And I have learned that this surgery is just the beginning of much more lengthy and complicated reconstruction process than I first realized it would be. Beyond the immediate fears are all the peripheral things. Finances, nursing school, work. The medical part is covered by insurance, but how will we pay our bills? Will my husband be able to step up and take on that responsibility completely without my contributions?
I breathe in deeply and I feel at peace, knowing that God is with us, we are His, and that my husband doesn’t need to do it on his own.
I am forgiven and I am pursued by God’s goodness and lovingkindness, and I will live in His house forever. I cannot fix or control a single piece of this situation. So, I give it all to Him to take care of. I surrender all.
This is the melody I have been humming to myself these past several weeks: Randy Thompson’s 23rd Psalm