I wanted to have a snappy introductory paragraph to grab my readers’ attention so I begin to do research on Christian symbols, namely the cross and the fish (Ichthys), in hopes of opening with a little history. However, I realized that the research was leading me down the rabbit’s hole of debate and heated arguments over the history and cultural aspects of these symbols. As I said in my first blog post, I am not here to debate, but to tell my stories. There are pages and pages on the internet about the history and use of Christian symbols and while some do have merit and while I am aware of the controversies and debates over wearing a cross as jewelry or having the outline of a fish on your bumper, my story is about how God used these symbols, as well as others, in our journey of fighting my husband’s cancer. Up to that point in my life, it was the most frightening and difficult time that I had faced. I needed God’s strength and guidance more than ever before.
Rick and I both sat dazed on the hard plastic chairs in the empty medical clinic. It was almost closing time and we had already had a day filled with gut-wrenching news that Rick did, in fact, have cancer. We had no details about where it was or how far it had progressed. Our family doctor had sent us to a free clinic because Rick’s current job as a car salesman did not provide health insurance. Going to this free clinic was a formality in order to be sent to the local medical center which happened to be one of the best in the state. As Rick sat with a blank look on his face, I was at the front desk receiving instructions about what we were to do next. I was literally and physically shaking.
The lady looked up at me with kind eyes and said, “Sweetie, why are you trembling?”
I replied with the only words that would come out of my mouth, “I’m scared.” What an understatement! As I looked at her for what seemed like the first time, I noticed her cross necklace as my eyes moved to meet her’s and she said,
“Give this to God; it’s too big for you.”
Within the next two days Rick was taken from one test to the next. At first the doctors believed that the cancer was in his colon so we met with a specialist and to our surprise he offered to pray with us before we left.
After more tests and sleepless nights, Rick was finally diagnosed with stomach cancer. It seemed as if we were just floating through time, in shock and disbelief. Because of my diagnosis of Lupus and Fibromyalgia early in our marriage, Rick was always the strong one – the one who took care of me, and now I needed to find the strength and courage to be his caregiver and take care of all of our financial needs for the next several months. We were told that he would need surgery and were stunned to find out that the surgeon would need to remove his whole stomach. So many questions formed in my mind, foremost how could anyone live without a stomach and how could I possibly live without my husband, friend, and love of my life. I kept asking the surgeon, with desperation, for a timeline or a guarantee that Rick would survive, but he could offer neither. Although I had no promises from the doctors, I continued to see little signs here and there that God was my hope.
On the day of the surgery, I sat with Rick as we waited silently for it to begin. Our pastor had already prayed over him and an Anesthesiologist came in and explained to us what he would be doing before and during the surgery. As he wheeled Rick away I got a glimpse of his silver ring with the shape of a fish. It was at that point that I realized that God was providing a road map, a path lit with strength and perseverance. I felt that he was telling me that He was with us and that He would be with us every step of the way. I walked into the waiting room and saw the familiar faces of family, friends, our pastors and other church leaders. I held on to the signs that God had given me as we waited and prayed. After what seemed like a lifetime, the nurse called a few of us back to talk to the surgeon. Rick had made it through the surgery but we would have to wait a few days to find out if the cancer had spread to the lymph nodes. From what I had read, if his lymph nodes were clear then we would be in good shape. The biopsies came back and the cancer had spread to 60% of his lymph nodes. My heart sunk. Again, I begged the surgeon to give me hope, but he could not. I cried out to God to save him.
Rick spent 19 days in the hospital due to complications from the surgery. When we finally got to go home, it was with the news that the surgery was only the first step; he would need chemotherapy as well as radiation to treat the remaining cancer cells. It broke my heart as I watched him bravely endure the treatments as well as learning how to eat with no stomach.
Even with all of the fear and uncertainty, all along the journey we would continue to receive little signs that God was in control and that He was our strength. For example, the first day in the chemo lab we were greeted by a sweet and funny nurse who would be with us for all of the treatments. She always wore a pin that said “God is in control”. Each time I sat with Rick during the treatments, that pin gave me hope.
During the first year when everything was so uncertain, Rick read and studied the book of Job. God spoke to him in a huge way and his relationship grew to be stronger than it had ever been. Although we were in the middle of a whirlwind of doctor’s appointments, therapy sessions, and trying to take care of our two teenage daughters, Rick had a quiet, still spirit. A friend insisted that we attend a day retreat and although we couldn’t stay long, we won a door prize. It was a large cross with the word “TRUST” written on it. Every time a new problem would come up I would hear God’s voice saying to just trust Him. He gave me my miracle; Rick has been cancer free for 12 years.
I have other stories from this season of our lives, stories of how a church came together to support us during our worst nightmare, stories of growth in not only Rick but also in my daughters, and the many prayer warriors who were devoted to Rick’s recovery. I hope to continue to share my stories, in no order, just as God directs.
It’s not easy to completely put your faith in God’s plans and although we had a happy ending to this chapter, not all of my stories end in the way that I would want. But my stories really aren’t about me – they are about Him and His glory.
If you are in a season of conflict or uncertainty, keep your eyes open and God will direct you, maybe not in the same way that he did for me, but He will show you that He is in control and He will give you the strength to walk through the worst times of your life. It’s all a matter of hanging on, if by only a thread, to the promise that He loves us and knows what is best, not just for us, but for building his kingdom.
One of my passions is praying and encouraging others who are struggling with pain and uncertainty. I would be honored to pray for you or someone you know. You can leave a comment or send me an email.
“Cast your anxiety on the Lord because He cares for you” 1 Peter 5:7 NIV