Ten Years After Cancer: Life Lessons that Remain True

In 2009 my husband was diagnosed with Stage III Testicular Cancer. It presented as a 10cm tumor near his right kidney, and he was extremely sick…so sick, I thought he was going to die. We were parents of two small children. We owned a small business with a staff of 17.

Rich’s cancer diagnosis coincided with the recession of 2008/2009…the time when people were losing their homes, foreclosures became commonplace, and bankruptcy lost some of its stigma because so many people had to file.

My husband grew sicker as the chemotherapy began to do its work of “melting the tumor like butter,” as Rich’s oncologist said. As he endured infections and nausea, I  fed him a steady diet of milkshakes and omelets because that’s all he could keep down.

I watched our business’s sales plummet by 40%, and I thought we were going to lose everything. I kept this from Rich, because I didn’t want him to worry. I just wanted him to get better.

One night, as I sat down to journal, I began to make a list of business ideas and promotions to help spur our sales. I wracked my brain, trying to come up with the magic fix that would save us from the plummet. As I wrestled with ideas and tried to figure out how to implement them, I asked for God’s direction…I asked if these ideas would work. I asked for His blessing on them.

I heard in my spirit His still, calm voice:

“You could do all of this work, but the outcome will be the same.”

What do you mean, the outcome will be the same? If I could just do more, or perform more, or come up with one magical idea…things will be okay. I can save the day.

“You can choose to focus your energy on your business, or your husband. You can be up all night programming sales into your website, or you can rest, so you can take care of Rich and your kids. The outcome for your business will be the same.”

At that moment, my priorities came into immediate perspective.

Rich came first. Taking care of him and being there for him however was needed had to be my very top priority.

My kids came second. This was a huge change for me, because ever since I’d had my daughter five years earlier, my kids took the number one position in my life. I realized that God was giving me the opportunity to teach them that we all are important, and when one person is going through a hard time, the rest rally to help lay a firm foundation of love and care beneath him.

I came third. I wrote in my journal, read my Bible and began working out every morning…a half hour exercise video served as my prozac. With Jillian Michaels, I punched, stomped and kicked cancer and all it was doing to our family and life. I got into good shape!

Everything else came after that.

That’s the year I learned how to not do everything, because there physically was no way I could do everything.

That’s the year I laid down my ideas of how life was supposed to go, and instead accepted that God had a different plan.

That’s the year I learned that hard things happen, even if you do everything possible to avoid them. People will ask lots of questions, pondering ways you could have avoided the bad circumstance (What was Rich’s diet? Does he exercise? Is there any family history of cancer? Does he carry his cell phone in his pocket?)…but in truth, some hard chapters are just there to live through, and if you choose to, they will grow you closer to God in ways that easy chapters never could.

That’s the year I learned that, when you stop doing everything, some people will come alongside you and hold your hand, telling you that surviving is enough…and others will be there, reminding you of all the ways you are failing.

That’s the year I learned that my performance is for an audience of one: God. And if I’m listening to Him, and earnestly trying to follow His lead each day, then it doesn’t matter what the outcome is, or what other people think of me…it’s between them and God.

That’s the year I learned that God is my provider…not my business, and not my husband. Gifts and money came from unlikely places, sustaining us through one of the most challenging seasons of our lives.

That’s the year I learned that nothing in this world is guaranteed; that health, good fortune and our livelihoods are temporal. You can’t base your peace or sense of worth on any of them.

That’s the year I learned that the one solid thing I can hang onto is God’s faithful love and peace. Despite all human reason, God’s presence persists through it all, providing each step, one minute at a time. Sometimes those steps are dances of joy…and sometimes they feel like I’m trying to walk with two broken legs. I’ve learned that both types of steps are okay as long as they move me forward, and closer to God.

I never wanted cancer written into my life. But nearly ten years later, I can say that God wove deep truths into my life during that time; truths that continue to echo in my spirit today. Remembering God’s faithfulness and grace continues to encourage me when difficult circumstances come my way. Because They never fail.

2 Cor 12:9 “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

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