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God, I Won't Have Cancer

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When I was twenty-two years old, I went before God with an ultimatum. I said to Him, “You can give me any kind of illness you choose, just not cancer.” I did not listen for His response. I just assumed that we had a deal. I went on about living my life free from the fear of cancer, and this was in spite of the fact that cancer was prevalent in my mother’s family.
 
I had just watched a favorite aunt, Lona Mae, die slowly from the terrible malady. Aunt Lona Mae was overweight when she was diagnosed with cancer. When she was dying, her poor little skeleton was wrapped in a huge body bag of skin. Her family turned her body from side to side regularly to prevent bedsores. With each move, you could hear a horrendous sloshing sound; it was as if everything inside her was liquid. I hated that noise.
 
She survived several months in that condition. I was with my mother when Aunt Lona Mae passed away. I was amazed as Mother began to cry. “Why were you crying,” I inquired later. Mother looked at me with her sad, over-sized, hazel eyes and said, “As long as there is a breath, there is still some hope, but when the breath is gone it is final.” I still did not comprehend her reasoning. I silently thought, “What hope was there for her even with the breath?” Because of this experience, I developed a ghastly fear of cancer.
 
When I was fifty-two years old, in the middle of a successful career as a professor at a local university, God spoke regarding my perceived deal about cancer and me. He waited thirty years, or was I the one who was waiting? When I was fifty years old, I went to God, humbled myself before Him, and declared my ignorance and naïveté in general, but most especially to things concerning the Spirit and Him. “I want to know You! Know You! Not about You. What is Your Truth? Please teach me. Just me. Please!” Note: Do not try this at home, for you will be in for a ride that is beautiful and ugly, higher and lower than you can imagine.
 
I loved working with students; it was such a joy to work as director of a program for students who had learning differences, but who wanted to attend college. I was a strong proponent of the fact that dyslexia was no reason to prevent a person from attaining a college degree and more. In the program I designed and created, we graduated more than 300 students during my tenure at the University—all of them with dyslexia. I introduced the Kurzweil Personal Reader to students with dyslexia. I helped students prove that they could learn as well and many times become more proficient at learning than their non-disabled peers do; they did it simply by trying other learning styles.
 
So why was I dissatisfied? First, I began to cry, and it was a big deal for me because I am [was] not a crier. I visited my family in Alabama and my Sister Beverly asked me, “What is wrong with you?” I replied, “I just feel overwhelmed.”
 
Beverly was no pushover for short, non-specific answers. So, she continued to probe me for a better explanation. “Something is wrong, and I want to know what it is,” she demanded. I just continued to say I just felt that I had more to do than was possible. We had planned to stay ten days with the family. After two days, I told my husband, Charles, that I must return to Florida. As usual, he gave in to my needs. I had not even visited all my children who lived in Alabama. I felt that I would go spastic if I did not get home. Charles’ lovely sister, Susan, told me, “I know how it feels to be depressed.” I barked at her, “I am not depressed!” She knew partly what was wrong, but I didn’t.
 
Monday came, Tuesday went, then Wednesday passed; at that point, I called Charles on the phone and said, “I am depressed.” I had to call Susan and apologize to her. I had a very narrow criterion for depression; I thought you had to be unhappily married to get or be depressed. Was I ever in for a lot of learning about the emotions and the mind! You bet I was depressed, that and so much more.
 
Charles encouraged me to make an appointment with our personal physician. I refused for several months, always arguing that everything was just fine. But finally, I gave in to his demands that I go for a routine checkup. As part of the exam, I went for a mammogram. Several days later, I arrived at work excited with my day, when a surgeon’s nurse called to inform me that I had an appointment with Dr. Snyder on the next Tuesday at ten a.m. “What was going on?” I asked myself.
 
The nurse was giving me the canned responses of it probably being nothing and that most times it is not anything to be alarmed about. I said, “Hold on, you are calling from a surgeon’s office. Does he think I have cancer? I can take it; just answer me straightforwardly.” She responded with a simple, “Yes.”
 
Charles and I have always been extremely close, so we went to see Dr. Snyder together. Dr. Snyder suggested that we do a biopsy as soon as possible. I said, “Wait! Give me plan number two.” He began to explain about a long needle that he could use to extract some tissue for testing. I said, “Go get the needle.”
 
Dr. Snyder boldly stated that most women do not choose that route, but I was not most women. I had to know as soon as possible. Before we left I asked him point blank to tell me the truth about what he thought, and he said that he was 99 percent sure that I had cancer. He would be able to let me know the next day based on the needle biopsy he was preparing to do.
 
That was a very long day. I tried to be positive while I waited; then, I remembered mother’s statement about having hope until a terrible thing is final. As long as I did not know for sure that I had cancer, there was hope. In addition, I had Scarlett O’Hara down pat. I could put off worry until another day. Charles says I am the penultimate Scarlett O’Hara. In addition, of course, I had a deal with God. I could be that one percent; couldn’t I? No! I could not!
 
Dr. Snyder called me at home and requested that Charles and I come to his office. I asked if he could just tell me over the phone; and he responded in the affirmative. “Yes, you have cancer. It is small, but it is cancer.”
 
I began having migraine headaches when I was eleven years old. I hung up my telephone; I fell across my kitchen table with a full-blown migraine, the visual aura, the blindness, all of it. I was so despondent; how could I have cancer? Had God not heard me? Although I must quickly say I was not angry with God; I had learned a long time ago in another trial the abject danger of being angry with the Almighty. In spite of this, I was in shock. My faith was shaken to the foundation. Thankfully, I had a foundation.
 
However, I did not speak with Him for a few days while I awaited my surgery date. The night prior to my surgery while taking a long hot bath, I spoke for the first time. I said, “Well God, I do have cancer. I do not understand. Didn’t we have a deal?”
 
I knew that in my heart He had never given me any indication of an agreement to my request/demand. God said to me as clear as I have ever heard anything, “Yes, you have cancer, but through it you will learn Me in a much deeper way than you have ever known; and in fact, a way you have never even known was possible.” I replied, “You will have to give me a sign. I need a sign that I have indeed heard from You.”
 
My eyes went to a painting on the wall of a rose that Charles painted for; he named the artwork “The Rose of Sharon.” The rose was in the sky with blood dripping on a dark world and bringing light to it as the drops reached the water; at that point, I began to sing a song, “It’s the ___ that gives me strength from day to day, it will never lose its power.” I wondered what word went in that blank space. I went downstairs and asked my daughter, Leslie, about the missing word from the song. She said, “It is Blood, Mama, it’s the Blood that has power.” There I had my two signs.
 
I have had so many great times with God, but I would be remiss if I let you think it has been an easy road, for it has not. I had a retinal detachment and my right eyeball came completely apart. The surgeon took my eye out; put a silicon belt and buckle around it, and gave me almost perfect vision. Death almost claimed my life from a second bout with breast cancer. To make things worse, I had a breakdown with my nerves at the same time. That is another story for another time, and it was far more damaging than cancer.
 
The surgery went well with my first cancer episode, with the exception of the radiation. There is no way to prepare someone for the experience of being placed on a table in a large room, having a nurse aim a big machine coming down in a point and placing it ever so carefully on the big X which was carefully measured prior to appointment. When she was sure it was, in fact, just right, she left the room and took refuge behind a big thick wall. From my vantage point, I could see her peering through a large window at me and then hear the machine as it began to hum. Panic told me jump and run, but I didn’t. I prayed until the machine went quiet. I was thankful when the nurse said I was free to dress and go. I left with a slightly burned breast, and a lot of hope that cancer would not return—I don’t remember how many times I was treated with radiation, but it was lot. Moreover, each time I carried the same fear and hope with me. Unfortunately, in my case, cancer did return—in the same breast and in the same spot.
 
However, I am happy and peaceful because God is true to His word, [maybe not true to mine]. I do know Him so much better than I ever imagined was possible, and my life is heaven on earth. Charles takes very good care of me. We have three sons and two daughters who are all happily married; we have sixteen grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Praise God! He has truly blessed our family.
 
God always keeps His Word. I do know Him beyond my wildest dreams. He reveals Himself to me moment by moment. I now reside, peacefully and cancer free, in my lovely Florida home on a quiet cul-de-sac overlooking a beautiful lake. I read and write a lot and speak with my sister, Mona, who is an artist and writer, and we discuss God, politics, and sometimes our large family. We come from a family of eight. Mona has a book in publication about my work at the university. When I was in my journey through darkness, I would tell her stories of the students and me. She transcribed them and put them into a book. I thank her for her efforts, time, and love.
 
So, I will end my story by saying that I am truly thankful that I had cancer. It was a blessing to my family and me. Life is good. Most of all, I do still have my wonderful husband Charles who calls me his Queen. When trauma comes our way, we can push into God and learn Him more, or we can do a host of other things. I just know that I did what was right for me. I called out to my Father God with no ultimatums this time—just a plea to know Him better.

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