Sharing the news
It was a clumsy affair. As a counsellor, one would think that I would have all the textbook answers on how to share the news. But no. I first wanted to contact each loved one in person, wanting to make them feel OK about the dreaded news. I soon became overwhelmed by the magnitude of this task. I started leaving voice notes and sending WhatsApp messages. Some messages were quite cryptic, and people wanted more information. Some messages carried way too much content, leaving people perplexed.
Some said I spoke too soon; others felt I did not speak up soon enough. To add some extra burden, I contracted Covid during this time and lost my voice due to that. I physically could not coach each friend through the dark parts of the ugly news. Hearing how some friends grieved after receiving the news broke my heart. The dread and shock people experienced became quite a tidal wave. I soon had to take a treasured friend’s advice that I am not responsible for making everyone feel OK. That was one of the first hard lessons on this journey. She said I had to trust God that He will be working with each of them. He has my loved ones in His hand, just like He has me. I had to step away and let God do the healing.
Paul and I reflected on our decision to share the news widely. It felt tempting to keep it just “close to home”. But then, the lesson of just a few days before the diagnosis was still fresh in my mind…
The lesson came when the student was ready. It was a few days before the cancer journey started. Like most other Sundays, we had a wonderful time at church. We love worshipping and fellowshipping with our congregation. The sermons are always impactful, but this Sunday’s sermon left an exceptionally lingering taste. It dealt with the topic of the church community. We read about the early Christian church (Acts 2:42 – 47). Verse 44 claims, “and all who believed were together and had all things in common”. It was juxtaposed against our current Westernised church culture, where the Self and authentic selfhood often take the front seats. The “all things in common” only happen when we have enough time, energy, or surplus funds. The chasm between these two examples of church life was explained through the lens of 1 Corinthians 12:15-27. Two scenarios were highlighted: Sometimes, one body part feels it does not belong to the body. Therefore, it shies away from working together with other members. Other times, one body part thinks it does not need the rest of the body. These are two key reasons why the Western church often doesn’t experience the blueprint one-ness that the early Christian church experienced.
I was challenged by this message. I could not shake the nagging conviction: Do I act like the eye, saying, “I don’t need the body?” I love being part of the church, but I learned to be the giver, not the receiver, from early childhood. Growing up as a pastor’s child, I would experimentally counsel the children while my parents would counsel their parents. My love for God was always linked to using the gifts He gave me. Over the years, I have developed an intuitive approach to helping people in need. I realise now that it has become more than serving God and loving others. I t became part of my identity. In times of trials, it was never easy to share with others. How could I, the giver, be asking for help? My pride created a wall not easily penetrated.
Whilst reflecting on this sermon, little did I know that my situation would change very soon. A short few days later, God would break open this wound and come to heal it. So, when the cancer diagnosis struck, I immediately knew, “this time, I cannot shy away from the body of Christ; I need to lean in”.
A feast in the valley
After sharing the news with most loved ones, I had this incredible sense of God’s presence. As I prayed one day, I saw a picture of a mountaintop. A large wooden gate barred the entrance to the other side of the mountain. As I approached the gate, it opened, disclosing a beautifully lush, colourful valley filled with more beauty than I had ever seen before. It felt like God said to me, “now go and feast”. At that moment, the realisation dawned on me that the valley I was entering would not be dark. He will light the way (Psalm 119:105). He will let me feast, even in the presence of my enemies (Psalms 23:5). I can feast on His grace, shown through all the love of the people He sends my way.
When we had that first consultation with my gynaecologist, he declared, “we’re gonna fight this thing…
you just have to gather the right troopers to help you”.
For him, those troopers meant the best medical team. For Paul and me, it meant gathering the people who would stand with us before God in prayer. And boy, God sent the best troopers!
The medical troopers were excellent. After the first ultrasound at the radiologist showed abnormalities, I could (literally) run straight to a doctor-friend at Netcare N1 City ER. She jumped in to arrange a consultation with my gynaecologist for the following day. Because she is also a cancer survivor, she could encourage and coach me during those first hours of dread.
My gynaecologist and general surgeon were the first to investigate and give a diagnosis in the following days. Together with their personal assistants, they were empathetic and helpful in every possible way. That resulted in having a diagnosis and treatment plan as quick as eight days after the first scans.
The treatment plan involved firstly surgery (hysterectomy and removing other visible cancer as far as possible). The surgeon and his team were the best. The anaesthetist is also a good friend and gave me super special care.
Following surgery, I will have to go for chemotherapy for approximately six months. I was scarcely diagnosed when the oncologists contacted me to come and see them. They have showered me with care ever since then. That meant that I was quickly registered under the oncology benefit program of my medical aid. It helped with the timeous application for related policies to payout. This relieved a substantial financial burden.
The list goes on and on. My dear GP, the naturopath, the genetic counsellor, and more. Physios, occupational therapists, and a dietician offered assistance right from the start. The physio practice prayed over me during my first session there. What a blessing.
More than the troopers fighting the disease in the medical sense, God sent troopers to fight this battle spiritually. He sent them in the hundreds!! Friends from our current church and prior churches leaned in to plead to our Almighty Creator for healing. Our elders prayed for me and anointed me with oil, according to James 5:14. Friends, work colleagues, previous patients, fellow school-moms, family members, and other C-Club members (see Paul’s blog) jumped in. The circle of support is still growing wider by the day. We have received many gifts, food parcels, school lifts for the kids, errand runs, and more. It caught me off-guard that people could care so much. I always knew there were many people I loved and who loved me. Yet this response brought a new dimension to this love. The one common denominator, our love for Christ, became illuminated in a way I have never seen before. It’s like hundreds of lights were switched on in the darkness, all of them connected by this common thread:
- We have been saved from our sins through Jesus’s sacrifice; we can live as redeemed people.
- We live to glorify God and love our fellow human beings.
- We have a sure hope that when we die, we will live in glory with our father because Jesus Christ’s payment has cleared our debt and we could become grafted into the family of God the Father. (Romans 8: 12-30)
- We can trust in God that He will listen to our prayers, give to us what is good and that he will work out everything for good for those who love Him and obey His commandments (Matthew 7:7-11; Romans 8:28)
- We understand that suffering is there to purify our faith and draw us closer to Him (James 1:2-4)
- He will never leave us nor forsake us; nothing can separate us from His love ( Hebrews 13:5-6; Rom 8:38).
This journey is not without a sense of loss and fear. The list for myself includes:
- Losing my health
- Lost my independence (and thereby a bit of my sanity!)
- Losing the ability to control my life
- Losing my ability to fulfil the roles that have formed part of my identity
- Fear of losing good times with my husband and children
- Fear that I will make other people suffer
- Fear that others might see me suffer
Looking these things in the eye and still experiencing joy, is only possible if one is pulled closer to God during the process. He purifies our faith this way, teaching us how to trust Him more. And THAT experience trumps all loss. An unexpected added lesson for me is that as we share in each other’s sufferings, it is not just the person suffering who reaps the benefit of strengthened faith, but also those who walk alongside this person. May all of you who have signed up to pray for me and support us experience this strengthening of faith in the richest sense.
Woven together into one body
After the surgery, I am physically experiencing how, if one area of the body is affected, the rest of the body struggles too. I cannot stretch or bend without pain because my stomach muscles are cut. Using my arms especially has an impact on the core stomach muscles. How does a body part that we don’t even see (those deep core muscles) support so many other body parts? This is a vivid reminder that the church members, as the body of Christ, also have a significant impact on each other (1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
We cannot thrive in this world if we try to live individualistically driven lives. We are as connected as different body members are united in one body. And that body of Christ is bigger and more powerful on this earth than meets the eye. We should never underestimate His design, pulling us together in a way that is so counter-cultural. We are fallible human beings, but we can experience unparalleled deep connections in Him.
One dear friend shared wisdom on how we, as members of Christ’s body, are co-worshipping Him when we show love to one another (John 13:34-35). She said that by acknowledging my gratitude to those who give, I also recognise God’s mercy, goodness, provision, and everything that goes with serving each other. It becomes worship. The act of worshipping God happens through the one who serves as well as through the one being served. The dynamic is powerful. A mutual thankfulness, a fullness of heart, and sacred awe fill our souls when we are in this act of giving and receiving.
We engage in the act of worship as we pray together, hope together, praise together, encourage together, and patiently endure together. The Bible is overflowing with this theme. Some Scripture phrases that drove this home for me:
- Matthew 18:20: “For when two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.”
- 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 speaks of “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we are comforted by God”.
- 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says,”… encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing.”
- Ecclesiastes 4:11-12 “if two lie together, then they have heat; but how can one be warm alone? And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.”
This journey is still fresh. I imagine myself riding an Argus and hitting “Ladies Mile”, the first beacon for me to know “ I am part of this huge adventure with thousands of other people”. At that point, one is not exhausted yet. One’s stamina and endurance haven’t been tested to the full yet. One still doesn’t know if calamity might strike – cramping muscles, a flat tire, or even an accident. Will all the body parts do their job right through the journey? I don’t know. Planning the journey is crucial, but fearing the unknown steals from enjoying the moment. I can prepare for the future but, during this cancer race, I shouldn’t fear the unknown. I can feast on this moment in time where I can experience God’s goodness. I can enjoy witnessing so many other Christ-followers cheering me on or doing this race with me. I am not alone. God is with me, and His body is alive and working!
My prayer is that God will heal me physically. But also that through this journey, He will heal those whom the church in the past has hurt. May He open their eyes and experience the Land of Feasting, only understood by those who have allowed themselves to be ingrained in that vibrant and living body.