The top of my hand is tender and sore, and I think it happens because of the chemo they put through my veins. It’s been 7 years now. In about two weeks it will be 7 years since I was diagnosed with cancer.
For those of you who don’t know my story, I was 16.
When I tell people now, most of them have trouble believing me. I think because they’ve only ever seen me as vibrant and healthy and it’s a struggle to imagine anything different.
But weren’t we all different at some point? At least internally. And don’t we all go through seasons of struggle, where we’re broken into a million little pieces and fragile to touch?
I remember the first time they gave me chemo. It was such an out of body experience…I could literally feel this mass of murderous cells that was suffocating me begin to shrink. I didn’t know it was possible for it to work that fast. I told my mom, who was probably more shocked than I, and she asked the nurse if it was physically possible that the chemo destroy the cancer that quickly. She said it was. And I felt this tiny glimmer of victory – like we were moving in the right direction. And that IV administering those cell-killing, life-saving drugs, was hooked up to my hand that is sore, and I had to ask them to slow down the treatment because the fast movement of the fluid was hurting the tiny veins in my hand and arm. Violently pulsing through. It made them cold. And I watched as the fluid left the bag, clinging to the hope that it would soon be over. But through the pain, it was working. What was internally killing me was now dying and in the midst of this terrible battle, I was being brought back to life. I didn’t even know I was dying, and here I was being rescued. It’s funny how you only appreciate the rescuing when you realize how desperate you are for it.
I remember this specific moment of being in the car about a year after I completed treatment, the weight of guilt crushing me. I opened up to my mom…
“Mom, this person fighting cancer says when they look at me, they gain hope. That if I could do it, they can too.”
I was so burdened because this person didn’t have the same diagnosis I did. Their odds of survival weren’t high, their cancer kept spreading, and their body stopped responding.
I’m pretty sure they call it “survivor’s guilt”. I felt like I was giving her a false sense of hope. Like I was living a lie. That at any moment she would realize that her story isn’t my story and neither one of us really have any control and things might look really different for her in the end.
After struggling through the process of dealing with this guilt, this is what I learned: There was nothing false about my hope. My hope wasn’t in that I would survive and have a long life here on earth. I did hope that. I really, really, really hoped that. I wanted to go to prom. I wanted to graduate. I wanted to change the world. I wanted to fall in love and get married and have kids. I still had my little girl dreams that I sincerely hoped with everything in me wouldn’t be dashed and cut short. But that’s the thing – yes, they would be cut short from an earthly perspective. But really, how does eternity cut anything short? How does eternity interrupt the sovereign plan of God? It doesn’t. Eternity is the ultimate sovereign plan of God. It would’ve been interrupting my plan. And we know His plans are always better and always for us. And our hope is always and only rooted in Jesus. How could we be more hopeful for anything than being with Him in eternity?
Ultimately, Jesus wins the battle, not us. And it’s more about how we fight the battle than anything else. In the end, we always win. Because He always wins. True victory doesn’t always look like what our human hearts and finite minds hope for. It’s more about what our eternal souls hope in.
Cancer taught me so much about Jesus. I wish I could write it all out for you, but if I ever even finished, you’d probably leave this page before getting to the end. Maybe not. Because I think we’re all really, really hungry for the truth that sets us free. Starving for hope. Desperate for Jesus. I have to be honest in saying, I have never, ever felt closer to Him than when I was the most broken. When I flat out couldn’t move. In a lot of ways, mentally and emotionally numb. Literally, physically unable to breathe. And even though I wouldn’t wish cancer upon my worst enemy, whatever it takes to get you to that place, that place of feeling the presence of God so heavily you can almost taste heaven, I would probably wish that upon you. Because honestly, whatever you’re facing almost goes away in light of the radiant hope that fills all the dark places.
We’re so quick to forget it, to forget that it’s the pain that refines us. It’s the pain that saves us. Kind of like how chemo was killing my cancer even though it hurt. When He rids the sin in our lives, it’s painful, but it’s saving us. His pain saved us as He took our place baring our sin dying on our cross, but now it is our struggle that shapes us. What God does in us in the midst of our struggle is a truly supernatural work that can only happen as we are desperate for Him. When we’re down to nothing, completely hopeless, we learn what true hope looks like. We come face to face with God. And while it probably seems a bit strange to post a blog about cancer on Christmas Eve, I really just feel that it’s the most appropriate time ever. Because this is why He came. Hope came down to save us from ourselves, to be with us in our darkest, ugliest, most desperate places…to provide something to cling to and look forward to and keep us going. He came to be with us now and make a way for us to be with Him forever. This is Christmas. Heaven coming down to breathe life into a dying world so we can eventually end up there where we belong. This is Jesus. Jesus is Hope. Even in the midst of tragedy.
To read my journal entries from when I was fighting cancer, check out my book, Because He Loved Me, available here.